Another week of angst awaits. Three more players are expected to be announced as joining the LIV Golf Invitational Series. There is some unrest among members at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside of Portland, site of the LIV Golf event.
Meanwhile, the John Deere Classic – finally removed from the week prior to the British Open – is the PGA Tour event caught up in the wake.
And it is, again, fair to wonder: could all of this have been avoided?
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan pushed back last week during a news conference at the Travelers Championship in which he unveiled an impressive array of enhancements to the PGA Tour schedule, most of which are in the manner of increased purses but also a series of big-money, no-cut fall events for the top 50 players that will offer substantial guarantees.
While it’s nowhere close to what LIV Golf has been offering, it might have been enough – with other caveats – to stave off the rival entities back when they were gaining traction more than two years ago.
What’s puzzling is Monahan was well aware of the threat at the 2020 Players Championship – on the eve of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. That week, he announced a new television rights deal that would help in “securing $12 billion in revenue through 2030.’’
He added that the “strength and security and foundation of this Tour has never been stronger, so that’s what we’re focused on," and that “we have regulations in place that allow us to protect the interests of our media partners, our sponsors and all of our constituents, and if we got to that point in time, we would take measures to vigilantly protect this business model.’’
And yet, no specifics to counter that various alternative formats were announced.
Later in 2020, the PGA Tour put in place its Player Impact Program. It was done secretly, and only later leaked, and would reward eight players a pool of $40 million based on various measures that gauged popularity (social media engagement, web traffic, etc.) rather than performance. Tiger Woods was first – despite not playing an official event – and earned $8 million. Phil Mickelson took $6 million.
And four of the eight players – Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka – who earned money from the pool have moved onto LIV Golf.
So that program didn’t exactly stop anyone from leaving for LIV. Nor is it likely that the Comcast Business program that rewards the top 10 in the FedEx standings through the Wyndham Championship will be a lure. It has not served as a reason to attract people to the tournament.
Those programs alone are worth $70 million. Monahan also announced purse increases to $15 million for the Sentry Tournament of Champions; to $20 million (from $12 million) for the Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational and Memorial Tournament; same for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. The Players Championship will go from $20 million to $25 million.
And there will be a three-tournament “Global Series’’ for the top 50 to be played in the fall, with no cut and expected $20 million purses.
Those are significant increases. But you still have to earn the money. You need to qualify for the invitationals as well as the Sentry. You need to be in the top 50 to take advantage of the Global Series. There is guaranteed money to be made if you earn your way there, which is part of the golf “meritocracy’’ that Monahan described.
But he wouldn’t acknowledge whether golfers are underpaid, which is basically the mantra of LIV Golf and why it has life, despite considerable pushback.
“The model, the meritocracy model, the mission of the PGA Tour, which is to have the best players in the world competing on the biggest and greatest stage preparing for golf’s biggest championships ... we have that. We’re going to continue to evolve that.
“And I feel like the players themselves ... that’s really a question for them. We’re doing everything we can to maximize the revenue that they play for. We’ve grown. We’ve grown from 20 percent from 2021 coming into 2022. We’re going to grow faster over the next 10 years than we have at any point in our history.
“We’re also not just about what you’re making through your competitive performance. The fact that our players control their schedule, control the brands they associated with, are able to build their own businesses without limitation … it’s a combination of what they play, what they earn in the field of play. It’s also a combination of not only what they earn outside of it, but the opportunities and flexibility that provides.
“A long way of saying I want every single player on the PGA Tour to make more money, and that’s what I’m going to continue to focus on. There’s more to come on that front.’’
Matthew Wolff, 23, who won the 2019 NCAA individual title at Oklahoma State and won in his fourth start as a pro, is expected to be announced Monday as one of the newest LIV players and will compete at this week’s event outside of Portland as the 48-player field is finalized.
The Associated Press reported unrest among some Pumpkin Ridge members and local politicians concerning the Saudi involvement with LIV, which means there is a possibility of protests.
And then the John Deere, a tournament that has fought hard while getting stuck with a difficult date, tries to remain relevant amid all the chatter.
Monahan noted that it is impossible to compete with the kind of money being offered by LIV Golf. But the huge paydays only became a thing recently, in the aftermath of all the negativity that had players scurrying back to the PGA Tour.
Could a firmer, more detailed plan two years ago been enough to stave off any rivals?
Legal Fees, Fines, Purse Payments
In an interview with SI.com at the first LIV Golf event outside of London two weeks ago, CEO Greg Norman said that players will be supported financially if legal action is necessary.
“I’ve always said to them we’ll backstop you,’’ Norman said. “I’ve been open and honest with each and every one of them. We’ll back them financially with representation because we 100 percent believe we are right. You can’t guarantee anything, but the indicators point that way.’’
This apparently is the case as well with fines. The DP World Tour said Friday it would fine members $125,000 for playing in LIV events that are opposite a DP World Tour event without getting a release.
Unlike the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour is not suspending its members; several played in the BMW International Open this week. But due to the Genesis Scottish Open being a co-sanctioned event with the PGA Tour, DP World players will not be permitted to play in it.
And yet, that leaves open the door to other tournaments.
This week’s Irish Open goes up against the LIV Golf event outside of Portland, suggesting more fines – which LIV Golf is going to cover.
Although LIV Golf officials would not comment on the fines, a source told SI.com that they are being handled by LIV. A player could be faced with more than $1 million in fines.
Then there is also the matter of LIV purses. Charl Schwartzel made $4.75 million two weeks ago when he captured the individual ($4 million) and was part of the winning team ($750,000).
There has been considerable chatter that players who received guaranteed contracts were being withheld tournament winnings until they exceeded the guarantee. A LIV official denied this, as did a player and an agent who spoke to SI.com anonymously.
1. It’s hard to believe Xander Schauffele had not won an official individual PGA Tour title in more than three years until his Travelers Championship win on Sunday.
2. With his victory at the U.S. Senior Open, Padraig Harrington earned himself a spot in next year’s U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club.
3. The co-sanctioned PGA Tour/DP World Tour Genesis Scottish Open is getting the desired effect in terms of field strength. The field already includes U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick as well as PGA champ Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Schauffele. The big lure is the fact that not only does the tournament provide an opportunity to get you links golf while in proximity of St. Andrews (less than an hour away), it is also a FedEx Cup event on the PGA Tour.
4. Bernhard Langer had never missed a cut in a senior major until he did so Friday at the U.S. Senior Open. The winner of 43 Champions Tour events including 11 majors had made the cut in all of the previous 63 majors he had played.
Changes to the 13th at Augusta?
Thanks to the intrepid work of David Dobbins and his @eurekaearthplus Twitter site, we continue to get a look behind the curtain at Augusta National, where the summer months are traditionally used to make tweaks to the course and where we’ve come to learn that the beauty of Masters Tournament week is often replaced by the bare bones of a transitioning golf course that is closed for the summer.
But barely a month since the club closed in late April, it is clear significant changes are taking place. The entire Par 3 Course appears to be torn up. And the bulldozers wasted no time getting out to the par-5 13th hole, where a large trench runs through the fairway (drainage) and … a new tee is being built?
Long the subject of speculation concerning the moving of a tee to make the hole play more as it was intended, there is considerable work being done on property bought from Augusta Country Club several years ago, to give Augusta National more of a buffer – and to allow for the opportunity of changing the hole.
What’s is the fact that what clearly looks like land for a tee some 30 yards back of the one that sets up the 510-yard hole remains blocked by several trees. It’s possible that is the next step. Or perhaps the club is simply getting this done now, with future plans for tree removal and shaping to come.
But the idea of making the hole longer and thus more challenging has clearly been on the mind of Masters chairman Fred Ridley.
“That's something that certainly we have considered and will continue to consider,’’ Ridley said in April during his pre-tournament news conference. “Admittedly, and I've said this before, the 13th hole does not have the same challenges that it has historically, and, I mean, I can just remember as a young guy watching the Masters, some of the triumphs and tragedies.
“And while we still have those, the fact that players are hitting middle to short irons into that hole, you know, is not really how it was designed.
“Having said that, my reluctance to date has been that it's such an iconic hole. And probably along with 12 and maybe 15, probably the three holes where the most history has been made at Augusta National.
“So that probably has been a counter to doing anything. But at some point in time, it's something that we likely will do. We just don't have anything to say about it right now.’’
Could that time be now?
The 13th played as the third-easiest hole this year, behind the 2nd and 8th holes – both par 5s. In 2021 and 2002, it played as the second easiest in relation to par. And given its length, it is always going to yield a lot of birdies.
The problem, as Ridley suggested, is the way the hole plays. Most of the time, a driver is not needed off the tee. It can be a 3-wood, 8-iron shot to the green.
Several changes were made to the par-5 15th in advance of this year’s tournament, including moving the tee and changing the fairway contour on the right side, which negated tee shots from bounding farther down the fairway. The result was not a single eagle during tournament week.
That’s not great, either. Hence the dilemma with the 13th.
The Open Countdown
The British Open begins in 17 days at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. It will be the 150th playing of the championship that dates to 1860 and years of planning have taken place to celebrate the occasion, which was supposed to occur last year but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Old Course will stage The Open for the 30th time, more than any other venue, the first being in 1873 when Tom Kidd won the tournament as it was played for the first time on an 18-hole course.
The last staging of The Open at the Old Course was in 2015, when Zach Johnson won in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.
Qualifying via the Official World Golf Ranking ended several weeks for the top 50 in the world, so the only opportunities left to get in are through The Open Qualifying Series, and Regional Qualifying and Final Qualifying.
Nine of the Qualifying Series events have already been contested, the last being the RBC Canadian Open.
This week’s Irish Open on the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic will offer three qualifying places each, while the Genesis Scottish Open next week will also offer three who finish among the top 10 and are not otherwise qualified. The Barbasol Championship, the last qualifying event played the same week as the Scottish, will offer one spot.
Final Qualifying takes place Tuesday at four sites: Fairmont St. Andrews, Prince’s, Hollinwell and St. Annes Old Links, with the R&A announcing last week that 16 qualifiers would be determined, four at each site.
One cool story to keep an eye on: Sandy Lyle, the Open champion from 1985, is listed in the field and competing at St Annes Old Links. Lyle is 64. His exemption for winning the Open ended when he was 60. He played in The Open 43 times through 2018, his first coming in 1974.
> Victory in Germany.
> Collin Morikawa had some things to say about his allegiance to the PGA Tour … and cereal.
> Matt Fitzpatrick had time to enjoy his U.S. Open victory.
The John Deere Classic has moved from its traditional date the week prior to the British Open — and the challenges that brings — to one that is exactly between the U.S. Open and The Open. It does not appear to have had much impact on helping the field with top-ranked players, although the likes of Jason Day, Webb Simpson, Cameron Champ, Brandt Snedeker and defending champion Lucas Glover are entered.
The tournament dates to 1971 (former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman won the event in its first two years) when it was known as the Quad Cities Open. It has had various names over the years including the Quad City Classic in 1996, when a new pro named Tiger Woods — for one of the rare times in his career — blew a 54-hole lead, as Ed Fiori won the tournament.
In 1999, John Deere took over as title sponsor and has been on board since, moving the tournament to TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, where it has been played since 2000.