The top 20 players on the tour will commit to playing in at least 20 events, including the four majors and the FedEx Cup finals, which PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said will ensure competitive fields and a better product.
“With the best interests of the collective in mind, these players have come 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 in a press conference in Atlanta, place of this week the Tour Championship.
That engagement was partly a result of player-only meeting held last week in which stars like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have encouraged player support and sought buy-in from the game’s best players while LIV continues to poach from its ranks with lucrative contract offers.
“When I tune in to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football,” McIlroy told reporters Wednesday. “When I tune into a Formula 1 race, I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car. Sometimes, what happened on the PGA Tour, we all act independently and we kind of have our own schedules. And that means we never really get together that much often.
“I think what came out of the meeting … we all made a commitment to get together more often, to make the product more compelling,” he continued.
The tour boosted the prize money to further motivate players. Beginning next season, the tour will feature four non-major tournaments, offering $20 million in prize money at each, which will add approximately $46 million in total available prize money.
The tour is also expanding its Game Impact Program, a bonus system introduced last year as a way to reward players who help advance the game, and will now reward 20 players, instead of 10. The total fundraise will double to $100 million and the top player will pocket $15 million.
The tour also established a guaranteed minimum of $500,000 per player, money that newcomers will receive upfront. Non-exempt players will now receive $5,000 for missed cuts and subsidized travel.
A major complaint from some stars who have jumped to LIV Golf, including Phil Mickelson, is that the PGA Tour hasn’t done enough to empower and reward players. LIV Golf staged three events and signed several of the PGA Tour’s most recognizable names, prompting several PGA Tour changes in response.
“As much as I probably don’t want to give Phil any credit at all, yes, there are certain points he’s tried to make, but there’s a way to deal with them,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “There’s a way to work together and there’s a way – you get all the best players in the world together and you get them on the same page. You then go on the tour and you suggest ideas and you work together. You know, this is pure collaboration. This is not some renegade group trying to take some power from the PGA Tour.”
“Some of his ideas, did they have merit? Of course they did,” he continued. “But he just didn’t approach it right.”
McIroy also announced a new venture that will bear at least some resemblance to the LIV product, which includes a team format and is aimed at a younger audience. McIlroy and Woods this week launched TMRW Sports, which will partner with the PGA Tour in a series of team matches that will take place on Monday nights starting in January 2024. The events will more closely resemble golf simulator competitions than traditional golf, with a promise of 18 holes completed in two hours .
“It’s a great opportunity for PGA Tour players to show a different side of themselves,” McIlroy said. “Prime time on a Monday night, I think, is great for a brand show to try to engage a different audience. We’ve all heard about the fact of how old the golf audience is, trying to get younger eyeballs to it. And I just think it’s going to be really, really great concept.”
Published reports suggest that up to seven more players, including British Open winner Cameron Smith, could defect to LIV after this weekend’s Tour Championship, and it remains to be seen if anyone will be swayed by the new measures. McIlroy said he contacted Smith two days after the British Open to make sure he was aware of some of the pending changes.
“I’ve always said this, guys can do whatever they want,” McIlroy said. “Guys can make a decision that they think is best for themselves and their families. But I just love guys to make decisions based on all the facts. And sometimes I don’t think some guys made those decisions based on having all the facts in front of them .”
Monahan was asked if any LIV players would be allowed to return to the tour and compete under the new measures next season, and he replied bluntly, “No.”
“As I made clear, every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they made it,” he said. “We did ours. We will continue to focus on the things we control and get stronger and stronger.”
Citing the antitrust lawsuit that 11 LIV players filed against the PGA Tour, Monahan declined to discuss whether any LIV players would be welcomed back further down the road.