The PGA Tour’s ‘elevated’ events start at Kapalua, but not all the stars are there

Mark McGowan
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Rory McIlroy (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Though the PGA Tour season runs from September to August, the Sentry Tournament of Champions has always been the unofficial starting bell for me. Though Séamus Power and Rory McIlroy both won during the ‘Fall series,’ it’s otherwise an easily forgotten stretch.

If you’re reading this on Wednesday, it’s 91 days until The Masters – 91 days, 14 hours and 23 minutes at time of writing, but who’s counting? – and Kapalua is the ideal starting point for The Masters run in. Wide fairways, sidehill lies, undulating greens, and a stellar, if limited, field.

I’ve never quite understood why certain eligible players choose to skip Hawaii, even though it’s a near six-hour flight from the West Coast of the United States, and more than nine from Florida. Guaranteed prize money, guaranteed world-ranking points, and a guaranteed four rounds of competitive golf seems like the perfect way to start the year, but who am I to tell some of the best players in the world what way to work their schedules.

That being said, when the news broke that the Tournament of Champions was to be the first of 12 ‘elevated events’ on the 2023 PGA Tour calendar and that the top 20 on the Player Impact Program (PIP) list would be required to play, for the golfing fan it was manna from heaven.

One of my main gripes with professional golf – and one that’s increased over the past decade – is how seldom the game’s best players tee it up against one another. LIV Golf’s creation and the defections of Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and a handful of others means that, at best, we can only see that four times a year.

But both Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry have decided not to travel to Hawaii, meaning some of the PIP top-23 won’t tee it up, and only 17 of the OWGR top-20 will. To be clear, this is in no way a criticism of McIlroy or Lowry – I’m sure they have their reasons, because after all, it’s free money – but it is evidence that we’ve been sold a lie of sorts.

In the fine print, it states that a player may opt out of one of the elevated events for ‘personal or professional reasons.’ This, of course, is a cover all. If it’s not professional, it’s personal. 25 percent of the PIP bonus money – equating to $3 million for Rory and $750,000 for Shane – is due to be paid out this week, with the remaining 75 percent contingent on attendance at the remaining 11 events for McIlroy and Lowry, and at least ten for the remaining 18.

But there’s even finer print that suggests that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will have sole discretion in waiving the rules should a player, for whatever reason, not turn up at more than two of the elite events.

With LIV lurking in the background, does anybody really think that Monahan is going to risk alienating one of the game’s stars should they decide that, in addition to skipping one of the events for personal or professional reasons, they’d rather go to the Superbowl than play in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, or rather take a week off following the US Open at L.A. Country Club than fly cross-country and play in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut?

It’s a delicate issue, of course, and as critical as I’ve been of Monahan’s leadership, I wouldn’t begrudge him choosing the easy way out here. Of course, the 2022 PIP rankings leader was Tiger Woods. Beyond the four majors – if he even plays four – we’re unlikely to see Tiger in any other PGA Tour event and certainly not 11 of the 12.

Does Woods deserve his $15 million? Absolutely. Will he get every penny? You’d be a fool to think he won’t.

But can it be one rule for Tiger and another for the rest? It probably should be, but that’s not how these things generally work.

Regardless, I’m looking forward to the Tournament of Champions, if a little disappointed that two of the players I like watching most won’t feature, though that both are starting their 2023 campaigns on the DP World Tour is commendable and a considerable boost to the tour where they both started.

As for the ‘elevated events,’ we’ll definitely see the PGA Tour’s stars together more often, but how many will play all 12, and whether it keeps the wolves of LIV Golf from the door remains to be seen.

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