‘Elevated events’ and increased purses: Details of the PGA Tour’s upcoming changes

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ATLANTA — PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced another series of sweeping and lucrative changes Wednesday ahead of the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.

In its ongoing battle with LIV Golf for the best players in the world, the PGA Tour committed another $146 million to its players in an attempt to keep them.

The changes come about a week after Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy led a meeting of 22 players at a hotel near Wilmington Country Club in Delaware. The players presented their proposals to Monahan, and the tour quickly implemented many of their suggested changes.

“It’s atypical, but I think when you’re in a situation like this, that’s understood,” Monahan said.

Here’s what we know about what’s changing on the PGA Tour in the 2022-23 season:

Monahan referred to changes affecting “top players.” Who are they?

By the PGA Tour’s definition, players who finish in the top 20 in the Player Impact Program will be considered “top players.” They will be required to compete in the 13 elevated events, if they’re eligible to compete in them, and three other non-elevated PGA Tour events to receive their PIP bonuses at the end of the season.

For the 2022-23 wrap-around season, the top 20 players in the current PIP formula and revised one will be considered top players.

What are the elevated events?

There are now 13 elevated events that will include top players: the three FedEx Cup Playoffs events (FedEx St. Jude Championship, BMW Championship and Tour Championship), Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Sentry Tournament of Champions, The Players and four yet-to-be-determined ones from among existing PGA Tour tournaments.

Who gets to play in the new elevated tournaments?

Those details are still to be worked out. It isn’t exactly clear whether they’ll include the top 70 players in the world who are PGA Tour members, the top 50 or the top 30. Or even somewhere in-between.

The “top 20 players,” who will be defined by the revised Player Impact Program, might be able to gain exemptions because of their popularity, including Woods, even if they don’t play in the required 20 events.

If they’re eligible, the top players would also compete in the four major championships — the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Open — as well as three other additional PGA Tour events.

“I think if you’re trying to sell a product to TV and to sponsors and to try to get as many eyeballs on professional golf as possible, you need to at least let people know what they’re tuning in for,” McIlroy said. “When I tune into a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football. When I tune into a Formula 1 race I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car.

“Sometimes what’s happened on the PGA Tour is we all act independently and we sort of have our own schedules, and that means that we never really get together all that often.”

Can the PGA Tour lure back players who left for LIV Golf with these changes?

Even if players wanted to come back, many of them signed multi-year contracts with LIV Golf. The top players, including past major champions Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, have deals that reportedly included signing bonuses between $100 million and $200 million. The aggressive changes the PGA Tour made still wouldn’t affect their financial bottom lines.

Besides, Monahan was rather blunt when he was asked Wednesday if a player who defected to LIV Golf and had second thoughts about leaving after seeing the PGA Tour’s improvements could come back. Would his suspension be lifted?

“No,” Monahan said. “They’ve joined the LIV Golf series and they’ve made that commitment. For most of them, they’ve made multi-year commitments. As I’ve been clear throughout, every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they’ve made it. We’ve made ours. We’re going to continue to focus on the things that we control and get stronger and stronger.”

McIlroy hoped the increased purses and additional elevated events might influence some players to stick with the PGA Tour. McIlroy said he talked to Open Championship winner Cameron Smith two days after he lifted the Claret Jug at St. Andrews. Smith is reportedly close to leaving for LIV Golf, along with six or seven other players shortly after the PGA Tour regular season ends.

“Guys that are thinking one way or another, honestly I don’t care if they leave or not,” McIlroy said. “It’s not going to make a difference to me. But I would at least like people to make a decision that is completely informed and basically know this is what’s coming down the pipeline. This is what you may be leaving behind. I just don’t want people making decisions [when they’re] hearing information from one side and not from another.”

How will the Player Impact Program be affected?

Besides doubling the number of players who will benefit (10 to 20) and the amount of money that will be distributed ($50 million to $100 million), the PGA Tour is adjusting the formula for how players will be measured on their impact on the tour — or pretty much their popularity. Tiger Woods finished first in PIP last season, after Phil Mickelson suggested on social media that he had won.

Monahan said the winner in 2022 and 2023 will receive a $15 million bonus.

The tour hired a research company in September 2021 to conduct “an expanded player awareness survey” to look at data for more players and to track awareness results among fans.

“Additionally, we identified significant changes in social media platform engagement, specifically around how people engage with this medium, which platforms are currently popular, and what date is available for measurement,” the tour said in a statement. “Social media is also a driver of awareness and a player’s level of engagement is a driver of their awareness score.”

As a result of the study, starting in 2023, two separate awareness scores will be added and the social media component will be eliminated. Players will be measured by internet searches, general awareness, golf fan awareness, media mentions and broadcast exposure.

“Ultimately, and this is from people that are far smarter than I am, it’s from our data analytics team who’s put a lot of time and effort into this, [senior vice president for data science and technology solutions] Mike Vitti in particular,” Monahan said. “When you look at the social media index, social media and all the platforms are changing, and your ability to measure them becomes more and more challenging. Some are in the index; some are not.”

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Rory McIlroy says it was ‘amazing’ to have Tiger Woods and his presence in the room to talk about the future of the PGA Tour.

Will these changes create greater division in the PGA Tour?

The PGA Tour has always been a circuit driven by superstars, whether it was Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player or Tiger Woods. The sport’s biggest names are the ones that sell tickets and attract sponsors, advertisers and TV partners.

With past major champions like Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka defecting to LIV Golf, the tour realized it had to take care of its main attractions better.

“This isn’t some sort of renegade group trying to take some sort of power grab of the PGA Tour,” Rory McIlroy said. “This is, ‘OK, how can we make this tour better for everyone that’s going to play on it now and everyone that’s going to play on the PGA Tour going forward?'”

But McIlroy insists that every member of the PGA Tour will have an opportunity to compete in the elevated events and earn a lot of money in the Player Impact Program if they perform well on the course.

“The reason we’re trying to do this is we’re trying to build a tour for the future [and for] young, ambitious players that want to be the best players in the game,” McIlroy said. “If you want to be the best player in the game, the PGA Tour is where you want to be because it is a pure meritocracy. There’s nothing stopping guys from playing in these elevated events. There’s nothing stopping guys from getting in the PIP. You just play better. You work your ass off, you play better, and if you do that, you will get into these events.”

Monahan agreed that there was a clear pathway for younger players to break into the upper echelon.

“Ultimately, to be a player that’s having the greatest impact on the organization, it starts with your competitive success on the field of play,” Monahan said. “When you have competitive success, obviously you’re on television more, people are following you more, you all are telling more stories about these players, and you’re becoming more known to fans, golf fans and sports fans and the general population.”

Where will the new events be played?

Monahan said the tour was still working out some of the details surrounding those events. He said the elevated events would probably rotate through existing PGA Tour tournaments in the U.S.

“When we come back and announce what we’re doing with those four events, where those events are being played, what the eligibility requirements are for, what field sizes are, these are the lot of the things that we’re going to be working through over the next 45 to 60 days,” Monahan said. “We’ll be able to answer that uniformly.”

With the four elevated events rotating through the other existing ones, such as the WM Phoenix Open or AT&T Bryon Nelson, those tournaments would have stronger fields than they’ve had in the past when top players skipped them.

“I think overall every single member will benefit from this, and I think the tour as a whole will,” Jordan Spieth said. “I actually believe that the sponsors, and I would imagine pretty much all the tournaments will probably see a better field however many times it’s going to happen.”

How did the PGA Tour come up with all this money?

By introducing four additional elevated events for the 2023 season, the PGA Tour has now committed $99.8 million to increased purses for next season. The tour estimates that the four new elevated events will lead to approximately $46 million in increases alone, after it had previously pledged a total of $48.8 million to bump up the purses for the three FedEx Cup Playoff events, Sentry Tournament of Champions, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament, WGC-Dell Technology Match Play and The Players.

That doesn’t even include the $100 million the tour pledged to double the money awarded through PIP in 2022 and 2023.

So, where is all of the money coming from? Jay Monahan said it’s coming from three primary sources: increased revenue from the 2021-22 season, reserves and sponsors and partners.

“This year that we’re in, the tour is having its strongest year in history of the PGA Tour and is performing well ahead of budget,” Monahan said. “Secondly, the tour through the years has been very prudent in managing its finances and building reserves and being in a position to be able to invest in programs that are going to help the tour grow. That’s what they’re there for, and that’s what we’ll continue to use them for.”

Back in February, when Phil Mickelson was still a member of the PGA Tour, he criticized the tour’s “obnoxious greed” for, among other things, controlling players’ media rights. While Mickelson might have had some valid points, the six-time major champion probably didn’t go about airing his complaints the right way.

“As much as I probably don’t want to give Phil any sort of credit at all, yeah, there were certain points that he was trying to make,” Rory McIlroy said. “But there’s a way to go about them. There’s a way to collaborate. You get all the top players in the world together and you get them on the same page. You then go to the tour and you suggest ideas and you work together. This was pure collaboration.”

Will the changes affect the PGA Tour’s tax-exempt status?

Since the players-only meeting in Delaware, there had been much speculation about whether the PGA Tour would renounce its nonprofit status, which would have allowed it to generate an influx of cash to compete with LIV Golf. The PGA Tour operates as a tax-exempt 501(c)6 organization and transforming itself into a for-profit business might have cost it between $50 million and $75 million in taxes each year.

In a court filing in response to three LIV Golf players’ federal antitrust lawsuit, the PGA Tour’s lawyers wrote that 98% of its net profits are distributed to charities, players and tournaments each year.

“The 501(c)6 status and the integrity of that and all it does for us, that’s always going to be a central fabric to who we are as an organization,” Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said the tour might look to create for-profit subsidiaries, such as the one being formed by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in partnership with the PGA Tour. Woods and McIlroy plan to introduce a new tech-infused golf league, with players competing on three-man teams on a virtual course, in January 2024.

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