PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The pesky question of a rival league that would siphon its biggest reason for existence and render inconsequential much of what PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was lauding Tuesday could not be avoided.
It has been a topic of discussion at every tour event played in 2020 since news broke that the Premier Golf League was looking to guarantee the top players in the game untold riches while harpooning a circuit that loosely dates to 1929.
And make no mistake, if the Premier Golf League comes off as pitched — 48-player fields, minimum payouts, signing guarantees and $10-million purses — the PGA Tour would not prosper in its current form.
There would be no need for the grandiose Players Championship this week at tour headquarters, with a $15-million purse and $2.7 million going to the winner. Why? Because a good number of the players that spectators and television viewers want to see — the ones that by their very presence make such a sporting spectacle possible — would be missing.
And so it was that Monahan faced several questions about the Premier Golf League during a week he would much rather the attention be focused on the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass and the flagship event of his tour. Aside from a widely-circulated and strongly worded memo to players in the aftermath of the PGL news, it was the first time Monahan addressed the subject.
“I think the value that we provide to our players … securing $12 billion in revenue through 2030, the strength and security and foundation of this tour has never been stronger,” Monahan said. “So that’s what we’re focused on.”
Monahan is correct in that the PGA Tour has history on its side. This is where — in some form or another — players from Walter Hagen to Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer to Jack Nicklaus to Tom Watson to Tiger Woods and today’s young stars such as Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy have made their name.
They’ve built a record that is compared and contrasted to the greats that preceded and followed. And there is no denying what that means in the big picture of a sports enterprise that should be about more than glorified exhibitions and big prize money.
But even McIlroy — who has come out strongly against the PGL and sided with the PGA Tour — suggested that it “could be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward and reward the top players as they should be.”
What does that mean exactly?
McIlroy last week suggested that the tour have more no-cut, smaller-field events. That would certainly cater to the top players. He also suggested that there are too many tournaments, and that the scheduling glut in golf is both a hardship to players and fans.
Asked for his thoughts on the matter last week, Phil Mickelson said he could “go on and on” about tour improvements — before stopping himself from doing exactly that.
The bottom line is there has long been a growing sentiment among the top big-name players — and their representatives — that they subsidize the rest of the tour.
The thinking goes that players such as Woods and Mickelson and McIlroy and Koepka and other top-ranked stars help sell the television rights deals, corporate hospitality and tickets that allow for a huge increase in purses and FedEx Cup bonus money over the next decade.
And yet, when they tee off at TPC-Sawgrass on Thursday, those same players (minus Woods, who is not playing this week) are guaranteed zero, while the 100th guy in the FedEx Cup standings who the average fan doesn’t recognize stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if all goes well.
It’s a fair point with no easy answers.
Monahan had no specifics, other than to basically say that the PGA Tour is going to be throwing more money at its players in the coming years. With a new broadcast and digital rights deal announced on Monday that will go through 2030, Monahan said he could see the Players purse one day getting to $25 million. He said he could see the total compensation from the FedEx Cup, which is now $70 million, going to $100 million.
Undoubtedly, purses on the PGA Tour that are in the $6-million to $7-million range will be rising over the next decade, too.
But that enriches everyone, while not necessarily addressing the overriding issue that the Premier Golf League has exploited — guaranteed money to the stars.
Appearances fees have long been viewed as a way to solve this dilemma, although if the money comes from the sponsors, not all could afford it and you run the risk of some tournaments that struggle for strong fields being impacted even more.
A marketing pool of money to be disbursed among the top players regardless of their performance has also been floated, although how much money, where it would come from and how a player would qualify for it are all questions without answers.
And there’s even been an idea put forth to give each tournament — say $2-million — that it can use to disperse to players in whatever way it wants. Give all $2-million to Woods? Divide it up among McIlroy, Koepka, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas? Let the free market reign.
Monahan spoke of the “meaningful increase in the overall dollars that we’re going to be allocating” and that “looking at appearance fees at this time would be premature.”
Will bigger purses and FedEx bonus money be enough to put PGL talk to rest?