Column: The rich new PGA Tour is not about the haves and have nots. It's the haves and have more
Thoughts and prayers for the players who only kept full PGA Tour cards without guaranteed access to the signature events.
They belong to the other tour in 2024, which still beats working in the lumber yard.
The tour has yet to announce prize money for next year except for the $15 million purse to start the year at The Sentry, $20 million at seven other signature events, $25 million for The Players Championship and a $25 million bonus for the FedEx Cup champion.
But it doesn't have a history of shrinking purses. Those other tournaments (not including opposite-field events) averaged about $8.5 million last season. And while players won't get free laundry and dry cleaning, or a menu containing pastured eggs and wild-caught seafood in player dining, they at least get access to cold plunges and courtesy cars.
This isn't a case of the haves and have nots. It's the haves and have more.
"If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can't compete," Commissioner Jay Monahan said in June 2022, when LIV Golf was just starting to buy top players and Saudi Arabia's national wealth fund was an enemy instead of a partner.
And now the signature events will have $20 million purses (same as LIV) with $4 million to the winner (same as LIV).
The amount of money and amenities came into view last week when Sports Business Journal obtained a copy of a memo sent to tournaments with a list of requirements — not requests — to deliver "the world-class experience commensurate for a PGA Tour event."
Along with cold plunges and better nutrition (who knew the tour had a vice president of food and beverage?), tournaments now must have a "flushable restroom" on each nine holes of the course for family members. How did Barbara Nicklaus survive all those years without one?
What got the attention of Nate Lashley was another memo with results of the Player Impact Program that doled out $100 million to the 20 most popular players.
Rory McIlroy finally dethroned Tiger Woods, pipping him by 0.0113 points in the overall score of six metrics. Woods lost too much ground in the "TV Sponsor Exposure" category, perhaps because he played only six rounds, the last one on April 1. No fooling.
That was worth $15 million to McIlroy. Woods had to settle for $12 million, followed by Jon Rahm ($9 million), Jordan Spieth ($7.5 million) and Scottie Scheffler ($6 million). They represent a combined 25 majors, which apparently was lost on Lashley.
"How many golf fans actually know what the PIP on the PGA Tour is?" he wrote on Instagram, posting the results for all to see. "Would love to hear from golf/PGA fans if they think this $100 million was spent well?"
The responses were not what he wanted to see.
"There's 150-200 members of the PGA Tour and they just spent $100 million on 20 players. Seems a little ridiculous," he wrote. "Time for new leadership on the PGA Tour. This is an absolute kick in the face to the rest of the PGA Tour players."
What he failed to recognize is that a majority of that list has a least some measure of star power. The others won majors or came close trying.
Coming in at No. 16 on the PIP was Wyndham Clark.
A year ago, Clark finished No. 70 in the FedEx Cup and No. 85 in money at $1,544,055 (about $200,000 less than what Lashley made this year). Clark had yet to win on the PGA Tour.
And then he won the Wells Fargo Championship against a strong field, and a month later he held off McIlroy, Scheffler and Cameron Smith to win the U.S. Open. And then he was in Rome for the Ryder Cup. He's in the Bahamas this week playing with the elite in the Hero World Challenge.
Lashley wasn't criticizing the PGA Tour on behalf of everyone, but he's not a lone voice.
Emiliano Grillo spoke out against the new model a week after he won Colonial, which all but assured he would part of the signature events with their smaller fields and no cuts for all but three such events.
"The essence of the tour is you eat what you kill," Grillo said. "If you're playing those, you're ahead of the guys that are behind. You're getting more points, you're playing against the best players, but it's less competition. We've seen the case where guys who are 100th or 130th won the tournament, and nobody is surprised."
The PGA Tour has tried to protect the meritocracy — the hallmark of golf — by providing avenues for anyone with a tee time to get into those $20 million events.
It just smacks of the rich getting richer. The whole year has felt like that.
Lanto Griffin cared less about money than he did a fair fight. In comments to Golfweek two weeks ago, he wondered how he was supposed to compete against the top 50 from the FedEx Cup who are guaranteed spots in all the signature events.
The winner at signature events like Pebble Beach gets 700 points. The winner at regular events like Torrey Pines gets 500 points. Fair enough. But from fourth place through 27th place, points are at least double for the signature events.
"Give them all the money they want," Griffin told Golfweek. "But when you start giving them the points, I've got a problem with that."
The leading 10 players from a swing series of tournaments get into the next $20 million event. That's a start. It's still a tough road against a group of 50 who are assured of being in all of them. Someone will emerge with a great year. Others will fall out, just like always.
But it's now a tale of two tours. Playing better has always been the answer. Now that's just to keep a job. It takes playing great to have more.
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