Top PGA Tour players commit to 20 big-money events

The PGA Tour issued its boldest response yet to the rival Saudi-funded league on Wednesday with a plan for the top players to commit to a 20-tournament schedule where they will compete against each other up to 17 times for average purses of $20 million.

The tour is also doubling the bonus pool of its Player Impact program to $100 million spread over 20 players, and it is changing the criteria to be more geared toward media exposure.

Players starting their career will receive $500,000 at the start of the year which will count towards their earnings until the number is exceeded.

“This is not some kind of renegade group trying to take some kind of power grab from the PGA Tour,” said Rory McIlroy, a player-director of the tour board. “This is, ‘OK, how can we make this tour better for everyone who’s going to play on it now and everyone who’s going to play on the PGA Tour going forward.’

Of the sweeping changes PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan laid out, the most significant was what emerged from a private meeting with 23 top players last week: a new model that ensures the best play in the same tournaments more often.

“These players came together to strengthen the tour platform, recognizing that if fans are going to invest in the PGA Tour, it means a lot more if they know the players are investing right back,” Monahan said.

The 20-tournament commitment begins in January with the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua and assumes top players are eligible.

Most of the key tournaments were already in place – the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the Memorial; Kapalua and Match Play; the three FedEx Cup playoffs; the four majors and The Players Championship.

Still to be announced are four tournaments that Monahan said will be rotated among existing events during the FedEx Cup season — January through August — although the Scottish Open is under consideration to host a $20 million event.

Players will also be required to play three other tournaments during the FedEx Cup season. It would throw out a lifeline to tournaments that would otherwise struggle to attract top players.

But for the trip, it was a chance to guarantee when and where the best players could be found.

“When I tune in to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football. When I tune in to a Formula 1 race, I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car,” McIlroy said. “I think what came out of the meeting last week … is the fact that we’ve all committed to coming together more often to make the product more compelling.”

The changes came quickly. Top players began gathering at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland last month, culminating in a players-only meeting involving 23 top players in the BMW Championship.

Tiger Woods flew to Delaware from his home in Florida for the meeting. Woods and McIlroy are seen as the leaders of change among players, although all accounts indicate that the majority of them were behind the changes.

“I think the one thing that’s happened over the years is that we’re all our own little independent businesses,” McIlroy said. “I think this is the first time in a long time where we kind of all sat down and said, ‘Let’s try to be business partners.’

“How can we all pull in the same direction here to benefit everyone and to help the whole trip and to help each other.”

Eligibility does not change, and field sizes for elevated tournaments already on the schedule remain. Four of the eight events have a 36-hole cut. Monahan did not say what the eligibility would be for the four new tournaments.

The “top players” who commit to the 20-tournament schedule are defined by the Player Impact Program. The program would pay the top 10 players from a $50 million bonus pool, with the ranking based primarily on Q-rating and social media. Now 20 players are worth $100 million, with metrics like TV exposure, fan awareness and media coverage.

The announcement comes at the season-ending Tour Championship, where the winner of the FedEx Cup receives $18 million. The LIV Golf Series is expected to announce a new group of PGA Tour players likely to include as many as six players.

The tour has already suspended players who have joined LIV Golf – some have withdrawn – as soon as they play in Greg Norman’s rival league.

LIV Golf, backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, has paid big names — such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka — huge signing fees said to be worth $150 million or more.

Each event has a purse of $25 million for a 48-man field over 54 holes. The individual winner of the LIV event receives $4 million. The money has been attractive enough to attract about two dozen PGA Tour players.

Monahan declined to say whether there was a way back for those who have traveled to LIV. He cited the ongoing antitrust lawsuit filed by several players against the PGA Tour.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge denied a request by three LIV golfers seeking to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Associated Press reporting.

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