While the gossip, conjecture and supposition has crackled through grillrooms and boardrooms surrounding the threat posed by the prospective disruptors of professional golf, perhaps the most important question has been relatively overlooked:
What if, after all of this discussion about various proposals, the PGA Tour winds up stronger than ever?
It’s possible these new groups, brimming with ideas, cash and bravado, are pushing the PGA Tour to a better place.
Because of them but without them.
“The PGA Tour has been very successful and continues to improve and do things and I think we have a commissioner in Jay Monahan who understands that some things need to change in the future to continue our success and to fend off any challengers that may come in the future,” Billy Horschel said last week.
That’s why the $40 million Player Impact Program was created. It’s why any player who tees it up 15 times in a PGA Tour season will receive a $50,000 bonus.
It’s why there have been ongoing discussions and published reports about creating or re-creating events that will feature limited fields with guaranteed money (which means no cuts and a clever way around the no-appearance fee rule) to further enhance the opportunities available to the top players who drive the business of professional golf.
If nothing else, the Greg Norman initiative and the PGL have created competition for the PGA Tour, something it hasn’t often faced. Competition is a good thing.
There are plenty of ideas on the table – including creating special one-off limited field events in attractive international destinations (think spectacle) or minimizing FedEx Cup points in the fall when the top players tend to stay home – and the discussions continue. Change is coming to the tour soon.
Throw in the strategic alliance with what soon will be called the DP World Tour (aka the European Tour), backed by a reported $70 million investment from its title sponsor, and the PGA Tour has broadened its reach. It is the sport’s dominant brand – its challengers would call it a monopoly – and it intends to remain so.
The proposals being put forth by Greg Norman’s LIV Golf Investments group backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the Premier Golf League’s concept have pushed the PGA Tour to be both reactive and proactive.
If nothing else, the Norman initiative and the PGL have created competition for the PGA Tour, something it hasn’t often faced. Competition is a good thing – that’s why young golfers are counseled to play with better players because of how it can push them to get better.
The proposals that are being floated are built on good ideas, like Norman had all those years ago when he envisioned a global tour that died a quick death, only to be repackaged as the World Golf Championships. That’s why the tour is reportedly looking into restructuring its fall schedule and considering a team concept, though the team thing feels like trying to force something into a sport that doesn’t need or want it.
While the outlier proposals have some merit, the larger question is whether there is enough wrong with professional golf today to dramatically change it going forward. There isn’t.
Tweak it, sure. Completely rebuild it? Not so much.
The new groups see themselves as adding to the sport, inserting themselves – to borrow one of their phrases – at the top of the pyramid. They see a good thing and believe they can make it better and make a healthy profit.
That’s where golf becomes a business, not a game.
The players, particularly the stars, see this as their chance to leverage the tour into giving them more freedom and more money. Why, some have asked, does the tour have to be involved in something like the Brooks Koepka-Bryson DeChambeau match that was put together independently?
Even if the tour donates its portion of the event to charity, players would like to have the ability to do their own thing at times.
That’s not saying the PGA Tour hasn’t done enough – its pension plan is said to be an exceptional benefit – but the players feel it can do more.
To be clear, players aren’t rushing to leave the PGA Tour. It’s still where they want to play and, chances are, it will stay that way.
An agent for one of the game’s new stars has told his client that. At the end of the day, the agent said to his client, you will be better off on the PGA Tour. If you play well, there will be more money than you can spend, you can pick your schedule and you can play for a piece of the history that’s been built up across decades.
Things change in business and in life. This is one of those times in professional golf.
The PGA Tour seems intent on changing with the times because it should and because it must.