More Money Is Being Handed out in Golf, Again, But There Are Still No Winners

Bob Harig explores the report of PGA Tour equity shares being awarded, some Ryder Cup eligibility news and a tour gets OWGR points (but not that one).
Apr 28, 2024; Avondale, Louisiana, USA; Rory McIlroy plays his shot from a bunker on the 18th hole
Apr 28, 2024; Avondale, Louisiana, USA; Rory McIlroy plays his shot from a bunker on the 18th hole / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

You know the plot has been lost—if it hadn’t already occurred long ago—when the social media warriors mocked Rory McIlroy after it was reported he will receive “only” $50 million in the PGA Tour’s equity share plan, while his buddy, Tyrrell Hatton, got $65 million up front from LIV Golf.

Never mind that McIlroy was to receive $27 million in Player Impact Program bonus money the last two years as well as numerous other tour-guided endorsement opportunities.

The fact that anyone on the sideline is claiming “victory” over all of this is beyond comical at this point.

Professional golfers, especially star players, are being rewarded at record levels, some of it overdue, but a good bit of it unsustainable in a commercial world that is still grappling with niche sports status and a divided game.

LIV Golf doesn’t come close to paying its way and almost assuredly never will without big changes. The PGA Tour is asking its nonprofit charitable host organizations to dip into the till to pay future purses to try and keep up. And now the new PGA Tour Enterprises is pledging approximately $930 million to be distributed to 193 players as part of a vesting program that will take eight years.

As part of that program, which was first announced in February, the Tour last week began sending correspondence to players spelling out how much of the loot they are expected to receive. The Telegraph first reported that Tiger Woods is down for $100 million, McIlroy $50 million and players such as Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth for $30 million.

Who knows if those figures are accurate, and it’s hard to believe anyone will publicly confirm them. But it’s all on paper anyway, as this money is not sitting in a vast pot waiting to be scooped up in four, six or eight years’ time.

The initial $1.5 billion in investment from the Strategic Sports Group that landed in the PGA Tour Enterprises account in late January is not earmarked for the players, contrary to numerous reports. The $930 million is based on a PGA Tour Enterprises valuation in excess of $12 billion. The SSG money is meant to be used by the Tour to grow the business, or, to bring back the kind of return that will allow for those massive pay days down the road.

How?

That is the multi-billion-dollar question.

It doesn’t take a financial wizard to see that getting that kind of return on the existing business model of the PGA Tour is far-fetched. PGA Tour events, most of which are non-profit anyway and give their proceeds to charity, make millions not billions. And hitting them up is just a small piece of the plan.

There has to be something else, something bigger and more lucrative.

Buying the DP World Tour’s rights to the Ryder Cup would be one potential avenue for PGA Tour Enterprises. The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have a working alliance and a purchase of that could come with a windfall that props up the struggling DP World Tour for years. Getting its hands on the Ryder Cup would finally give the PGA Tour a bigger piece of a huge asset, and along with the Presidents Cup, potentially bring in significant revenue.

Beyond that?

Well, that’s where golf fans should really be focused.

All of this money talk hasn’t exactly left the game in a great place. The idea of “unification” first broached nearly a year ago with the controversial and secret “framework agreement” has yet to even see all of the parties meet in the same room.

McIlroy, who captured his 25th PGA Tour title on Sunday when he won the Zurich Classic with partner Shane Lowry, resigned his spot as a player director on the PGA Tour policy board last November and is now talking about returning to that role, in theory, to knock some heads together and see about getting something done.

Because the game is divided—no matter what you think of LIV Golf or the PGA Tour or both—is not good. And thinking it is going back to the old way, and thus, being bitter toward those who have a role in this current climate, is also not productive.

Getting there, of course, is complicated. There have been rumblings that LIV Golf is perfectly content to operate separate from the PGA Tour. And LIV is planning for the future, with no signs that is conceding. If so, how does that bring the game back together?

Without changes, there is no way for players to compete on both LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. McIlroy’s idea for a Champions League-type series of golf events beyond the existing tours is intriguing, but again, how will it work? Who would qualify? When would the events be played? Would any of them count as PGA Tour or LIV events?

A deal with the PIF, in theory, would only enhance PGA Tour Enterprises and allow for some investment into some of these ideas. But getting there remains a long journey.

In the interim, the greater golf world is getting more annoyed by all the money talk. Nobody wants to hear that already well-compensated golfers are going to cash in even more. Meanwhile, TV ratings of PGA Tour events, even the Masters, are down, and fans aren’t exactly switching over to watch LIV in droves.

It's a game-wide problem that could use some serious attention. And soon.

A path to the Ryder Cup

When Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton signed with LIV Golf, Rory McIlroy was quick to say that the rules need to be amended to allow them to play for Europe in the 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black.

But as new DP World Tour CEO Guy Kinnings said last week that is not necessary.

Those players are already eligible under the current rules—although the qualification process for next year’s matches has yet to begin.

“If you look at what the qualification/eligibility criteria was for 2023, then I think there has been a slight misconception because the reality is under the current rules, if a player is European and is a member of the DP World Tour and abides by the rules as they currently are—so, if you don’t get a release, there are sanctions and if you accept those sanctions and take those penalties and work with that
—there is no reason why players who’ve taken LIV membership but maintain membership with the DP World Tour could not a) qualify or b) be available for selection,” Kinnings said in a media session with UK and Irish golf writers.

Team Europe golfers Tyrrell Hatton and Jon Rahm celebrate after a putt during the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Jon Rahm (left) and Tyrrell Hatton are with LIV Golf but may not be out of the picture for the 2025 Ryder Cup. / Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

Rahm and Hatton will face a one-event suspension and fine for playing in the LIV Adelaide event. A similar scenario exists for this week’s LIV Singapore event. Both are up against DP World Tour events, thus requiring a release.

But according to Kinnings, as long as the players pay the undisclosed fine and serve a one-tournament suspension—even if they were not planning to play a DP World Tour event—they will be eligible, provided the meet the criteria of playing in four DP World Tour events this season.

“It’s not a loophole,” Kinnings said. “That’s the rules we’ve always had and those are the rules we are going to continue to apply. They have been tested and, if everyone applies and follows those rules as they are ... ”

Asked how a player can be suspended from an event they were not planning to play, Kinnings said: “Because rules are rules. Rules are for all of the membership and it’s important for people to know how those apply and they apply to every member.”

LIV Golf has yet to announce the final two events of its schedule but it is expected to conclude the weekend of Sept. 20-22—which is when the DP World Tour’s BMW PGA Championship is contested.

That means Rahm and Hatton would likely need to play a few events prior to that time because they’ll get one-event suspensions for missing that week, thus possibly knocking Rahm out of a tournament in Madrid. The British Masters and European Masters proceed LIV’s final two events.

Following LIV’s season-ending event are tournaments in Spain, France and Scotland.

A 54-hole tour gets OWGR accreditation

During another point in time, the Official World Golf Ranking announcement that it was accrediting the Clutch Pro Tour beginning this week would have barely been noticed.

There are now 25 tours around the world that are getting OWGR points, and you’d probably be hard-pressed to know a single player competing on the Clutch Pro Tour unless he is a family member or acquaintance.

But in the era of the LIV Golf League—which has quite publicly lamented its lack of accreditation and subsequently withdrew its application—any tour stepping up to get entry into the system at least brings a bit of curiosity.

The Clutch Pro Tour is in its fifth season based in the United Kingdom as a developmental tour or feeder tour to the Challenge Tour, which subsequently allows access to the DP World Tour.

Also referred to as the Mizuno Next Gen Series, the tour has a 17-event schedule in 2024.

What is interesting is how the OWGR seemingly went out of its way to highlight aspects of the Tour that have been sticking points for LIV Golf, including the 54-hole format—which, ultimately, has never been a deal-breaker for LIV.

“The Clutch Pro Tour provides access to its official tournaments, conducted over 54 holes with a 36-hole cut, via its 2024 qualifying series held in the UAE and, for its 2025 season, an annual open qualifying school,” the OWGR said in a statement announcing the accreditation. “It also provides local and regional players opportunities, culminating with a no-cut, season-ending Championship. As such, the Clutch Pro Tour is in keeping with long-standing OWGR Eligibility and Format Criteria.”

The OWGR also noted that the process took 17 months in which the “Tour worked continuously toward the standards required to become eligible.”

LIV Golf officially applied for accreditation in July 2022. Its bid was rejected in October 2023, with OWGR chairman Peter Dawson—the former head of the R&A—basically saying that the closed nature of the league and its small relegation and promotion were the main problems.

“We are not at war with them,” Dawson said in an interview with the Associated Press at the time. “This decision to make them eligible is not political. It is entirely technical. LIV players are self-evidently good enough to be ranked. They’re just not playing a format where they can be ranked equitable with the other (now 25) tours and thousands of players who compete on them.”

How much interaction between LIV and the OWGR there was over this was up for debate and speculation. The bid was denied before LIV Golf played its first promotions event, one that saw three players and the winner of the International Series Order of Merit get promoted—with four LIV players being relegated off the tour.

This year, LIV added a new four-man team for Jon Rahm as well as two “wildcard” players to bring its total from 48 players to 54. But aside from injury, it is the same field every week.

It remains puzzling, however, why LIV Golf would rescind its bid and not try and work with OWGR to fix issues to help comply. OWGR went out of its way to say it did the very thing with the Clutch Tour. Both sides should figure this out, because it doesn’t appear the majors will offer access via LIV’s points list.

“I think it will be difficult to establish any type of point system that has any connection to the rest of the world of golf because they're basically, not totally, but for the most part, a closed shop,” Masters chairman Fred Ridley said of the LIV Golf League structure when asked about LIV getting direct spots in future Masters. “There is some relegation, but not very much. It all really depends on what new players they sign.

“Those concerns were expressed by the OWGR, but I don't think that that prevents us from giving subjective consideration based on talent, based on performance to those players.”

Ridley singled out Joaquin Niemann, who was given a special invitation, having won the Australian Open and posted high finishes at the Australian PGA and the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. He said nothing about Talor Gooch, whose three LIV Golf League wins last year and individual player title, apparently carried little weight.

The PGA Championship is in two weeks and it is expected to announce those who receive exemptions next week. Typically—although not officially—it issues spots to those otherwise not exempt via the top 100 OWGR. A majority of the field finds its way into the tournament through a top-70 year-long PGA Tour points list and PGA Tour victories.

Niemann has already been extended an invitation and Tyrrell Hatton, who remains a top-20 player, finished among the top 15 last year so he is already exempt. Defending champion Brooks Koepka as well as past major champions Johnson, DeChambeau, Cam Smith and Phil Mickelson are also in the field.

LIV players Adrian Meronk, Lucas Herbert and Patrick Reed would also be in line for exemptions, if the PGA continues to invite those in the top 100.

David Puig will be an interesting case. The Spaniard who plays for LIV was 104th going into the weekend. He has risen to that point from 239th at the end of the year, having won twice on the Asian Tour as well as a fifth-place finish at the recent Saudi Open.

LIV Golf’s success Down Under ... and other notes

There is no denying the passion for golf in Australia. For the second year, the LIV Golf Adelaide event delivered, with boisterous crowds, an enhanced party hole and even more spectators than last year. Various media reports put Sunday’s final tally at 35,000 spectators and LIV Golf announced more than 94,000 for the week.

The tournament got an added bonuses of the first-ever team playoff and it included the Australian team captained by Cam Smith. He and Marc Leishman of Ripper GC took on Louis Oosthuizen and Dean Burmester from the all-South African team Stinger GC and went two holes in a sudden-death playoff with both scores counting. The atmosphere was quite lively, as spectators cheered, for example, when Burmester left a shot in a bunker. And the Aussies won to the delirious delight of the Australian fans.

Brendan Steele hits from a bunker in a LIV Golf event.
Brendan Steele got his first LIV Golf win in Australia. / Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Steele got his first individual victory and his HyFlyers team captained by Phil Mickelson got a third-place finish and a first time on the podium (only the top three teams share in team prize money). All in all, it appeared a rousing success and makes you wonder if LIV Golf should schedule more than one event for Australia.

Greg Norman, the Aussie legend and LIV Golf commissioner, couldn’t help himself afterward. In an interview with Australian Golf Digest, the two-time major winner who has long sought to bring more meaningful golf to his homeland, took a victory lap.

“Vindication is not the right word,” Norman told the publication, before pausing. “It’s the ignorance of others who simply didn’t understand what we were trying to do. I actually feel sorry for them because they now see the true value of LIV Golf and want to be a part of it.”

The Shark might have gotten caught up in the moment.

“The support Australia gave me during my own playing career for decades was something I have never forgotten,” Norman said. “It’s why I brought LIV Golf back home—I did it for them. The people have well and truly spoken. Both individual and team golf is alive and well in Australia and they deserve it. I knew they would support this event.

“I’m feeling extremely proud right now. With what we’ve (LIV Golf) gone through over the past 16 months, both as a league and what I’ve copped personally ... the hatred ... this makes it all worthwhile.”

Some of the vitriol toward Norman is not likely to subside. To many, he’s viewed as the person who divided the game—even if it is far more complicated than that. But Norman did deliver on his idea in his homeland, and he told Australian Golf Digest that he’s looking to bring the concept to other places, such as South Africa. Next up is this week’s event in Singapore.

And a few more things ...

Rory McIlroy was credited with his 25th PGA Tour victory after winning the Zurich Classic with Shane Lowry. And he’s entered some rare air among all-time PGA Tour winners. That tied him with Johnny Miller at 23rd all time along with Tommy Armour and Macdonald Smith. He’s one behind Henry Picard. The victory moved McIlroy past Dustin Johnson, who now plays for LIV Golf. The only active PGA Tour player ahead of McIlroy is Tiger Woods (82). Phil Mickelson (45), Tom Watson (39) and  Vijay Singh (34) are the only players ahead of McIlroy whom he would have competed against. ... Not surprisingly, Scottie Scheffler is not in his hometown Byron Nelson event this week as he awaits the birth of his first child. The tournament has just four of the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking. ... A big stretch awaits as the Wells Fargo Championship, a signature event, follows and then the PGA Championship. Last year, Scheffler skipped Quail Hollow. ... The Byron Nelson is the cutoff for the PGA Championship’s 70-player points list that began the week prior to last year’s PGA Championship. The tournament can go beyond 70 to fill out its field and traditionally also invites the top 100 OWGR who are not otherwise exempt. ... LIV Golf reaches the halfway point of its 14-event schedule when it returns to Singapore and Sentosa Golf Club this week. ... The PGA Championship begins in 17 days.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.