PGA Tour changes simply don’t cut it

John Craven

Rory McIlroy at Bay Hill (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

John Craven

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The PGA Tour’s latest redistribution of wealth has left me scratching my head.

After a year spent listening to Commissioner Jay Monahan and his band of merry men speak to the meritocracy of America’s Tour, how its competitive cauldron can light a fire or smoke you out, and that real golf tournaments have cuts, they’ve just unleashed a series of rebranded WGCs for 2024, proposing to eliminate the cut altogether with reduced fields of 70-78 players cashing in.

Since the announcement, the top players have all been singing from the same hymn sheet ahead of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. They love the changes. Shock! Far from a closed shop, they highlight the avenues in, and just as importantly, out. You’ll need to be a top-50 player on the FedEx from the previous year. Or you’ll need to be a top-5 points earner in the block of regular events leading into a designated one to earn promotion. Better still, you can win a regular tour event and become a made man, eligible for all. Which is all well and good if you’re based in America, but if you’re a DP World Tour player still believing in Santa Claus, I mean, the Strategic Alliance, then you must be wondering if Keith Pelley is tied up with a ball gag in his mouth at the negotiating table.

Last year’s news of ten cards for the top players on the Race to Dubai not already exempt on the PGA Tour was encouraging news for the supposed alliance. Now said players have another hurdle to jump over in order to gain entry into the best events, while Europe’s top players in America have even less reason to come home and compete as the US-centric approach to world golf continues to dominate.

Rory McIlroy claims he’d be the last man to reward mediocrity, and far from the old days of Irish rugby where it was harder to get dropped from the team than called up to it, he predicts a rather high looking forty percent churn rate year on year if players aren’t making the grade in designated company.

If there’s one thing I do agree on, it’s that the opportunity to play your way into these designated showpieces gives context to the regular stops that surround them. But that could’ve been achieved without limiting the field to 70 players and removing a fundamental element of golf, the cut line.

‘Oh but the sponsors. They deserve to have their poster boys playing all four days.’

Please. The sponsors will have the stars for most of the week anyway. They can get their pictures next to the Genesis SUV, fulfil their corporate duties and get on with it. If the celebrated star in question has arrived without a golf game capable of making the cut, then he won’t be battling it out for their title come Sunday anyway, whether he has two rounds to play or four.

‘Oh, but the fans on site. What about them? They deserve to see an out of contention Patrick Cantlay go through the motions of a weekend.’

Fine. Introduce the cut after 54-holes. A field of 100 cut to 60 with a round to play, thus preserving the integrity of the game they’ve been claiming to uphold in the face of LIV’s arrival. I had to laugh at some people claiming that in this new model, the cut still exists, it’s just made prior to the tournament to identify the seventy odd souls set for a windfall. Talk about redefining formats!

The way I see it, an elevated event with a field of 100 would already be incredibly difficult to get into. Week-in, week-out, you’ll find immense players around the world (yes, golf exists elsewhere) on the wrong side of entry lists because the talent runs so deep. The PGA Tour’s spin doctors are hard at work but no matter how they pitch it, this feels a lot more like pulling the ladder up on such starry-eyed hopefuls than opening doors to opportunity.

But then again, golf as we know it is no more, right? It’s a product now – gag – and the direction of the game is dictated by those pulling the purse strings.

Good news if you’re already a top player. The jury remains out if it’s good news for anyone else.

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