When Tiger Woods hopped into his private jet Tuesday with Rickie Fowler in tow and flew north to Delaware to meet with a small group of his PGA Tour peers, he was there because he’s Tiger Woods.
In this fractured moment in professional golf, Woods has a voice and a presence that is weighted not just with his accomplishments but with his stature in the game.
The PGA Tour needs Woods, and he needs to be part of this struggle to define the sport he has dominated for most of the last three decades. The tour, as this plays out, needs Woods to help it survive the ongoing threat from LIV Golf.
Whether he’s ever competitive again or not, this is where Woods steps into the role that the late Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have occupied before him. The sport needs a great player’s reasoned voice, and Woods has accepted the role.
If published reports and word trickling out of the private meeting are accurate, Woods didn’t make the trip solely as a caretaker. There are ongoing discussions about revamping the PGA Tour structure, creating something akin to a super tour within the overall tour with the game’s top stars playing a series of high-dollar, no-cut events – a modified version of what LIV is making work.
“He is the hero that we’ve all looked up to. His voice carries further than anyone else’s in the game of golf. His role is navigating us to a place where we all think we should be.”
According to the published reports and sources, the potential changes Woods was discussing with Rory McIlroy, Colin Neville of The Raine Group, which provided financial backing for the Premier Golf League concept, and others involve the creation of 12 events with 60-player fields and $20 million purses, essentially creating a two-tier tour. The
limited-field events would be in addition to the major championships and the
FedEx Cup playoffs, and top players would likely be expected to play a few of
the other tour events.
Also, there has been an ongoing
discussion about transforming the tour from a non-profit organization to a for-profit
business, cracking the door on equity opportunities. It’s an idea that has been
floated for a while and has the potential to open different avenues for the
The Tuesday meeting that included Woods
and McIlroy did not include commissioner Jay Monahan. The commissioner was part
of a previously scheduled Player Advisory Council meeting last week where it is
likely that potential tour changes were discussed.
Any changes to the tour’s
structure likely would not take effect until 2024, after the final wraparound season is
complete, given that the new season starts next month.
Woods’ hands-on involvement speaks
to the moment.
There was a time when it was easy to wonder whether Woods would do this or remain in his famously private world. In his playing prime, Woods tended to stay outside whatever battle was being fought, focusing on the next tournament, the next major, the next conquest.
Now that he’s closer to 50 than to 40, Woods is in a different place. With a body that may never allow him to play the way he once did, Woods remains the game’s pre-eminent force not just because of what he’s done but because of who he is.
If Woods can enhance his already lucrative business portfolio while stabilizing the PGA Tour, all the better for him. It’s where the professional game finds itself, teetering on the edge of enormous change.
“He is the hero that we’ve all looked up to,” said Rory McIlroy, who has been a brilliant thinker through this turmoil. “His voice carries further than anyone else’s in the game of golf. His role is navigating us to a place where we all think we should be.”
Like they did during the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland last month, a small group of prominent players gathered with Woods to discuss how the PGA Tour deals with the existential LIV Golf threat. They gathered again before the BMW Championship, adopting an omertà of sorts about their discussions, though elements of the discussion have begun to seep out.
Woods needed to be there because, as McIlroy said, he cares deeply about what is happening and the moment allows him to help reshape the tour where and how it is needed.
“I think it’s pretty apparent that whenever we all get in the room, there’s an alpha in there, and it’s not me,” McIlroy said.
For years, Woods never allowed himself to be one of the guys in the locker room. He may have wanted to be, but he was wired to win above everything else, and he carried himself that way.
He’s different now. Some of it is the result of being a father, and some of it is how he’s been embraced by McIlroy, Fowler, Justin Thomas and others who are a generation younger. They see him not just for who he was as a player but who he is now.
That’s why Woods loves being part of the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He’s in the middle. He’s still Tiger, but he’s the guy others can poke fun at or go to for advice. It’s why he’s sending middle-of-the-night texts to team captains about pairings for matches that won’t be played for weeks or months.
Whether it’s true or not that LIV Golf offered Woods close to three-quarters of a billion dollars to join their enterprise, what matters is where Woods stands today.
By siding with the PGA Tour, Woods isn’t just intent on protecting his legacy. There is no danger of anyone ever confusing what happens on the LIV Golf circuit with what has happened over the last 75 years on the PGA Tour.
Woods believes in the game’s inherent meritocracy. He believes in digging it out of the dirt and climbing mountains. LIV rewards players on the front end, and it’s fair to question what that does to competitive fires. Woods also understands how money drives the professional game and that the PGA Tour can’t continue to operate as it has.
“I know what the PGA Tour stands for and what we have done and what the tour has given us, the ability to chase after our careers and to earn what we get and the trophies we have been able to play for and the history that has been a part of this game,” Woods said at the Open Championship last month.
There are changes coming to the PGA Tour, and Woods has inserted himself into the discussion. He has called some players rumored to be leaning LIV’s way and talked to them about what they’re potentially giving up versus what they may gain. Some may still go. Others will stay, not necessarily because of what Woods says but because of what he has shown them through his career.
Woods has planted his flag.
“I think if someone like him is passionate about it, no offense to all of us, but that’s really all that matters,” Justin Thomas said of Woods’ involvement.
Without hitting a shot last week, Woods worked to make a difference. It’s a role that fits him well.
Top: Tiger Woods during the 2022 PGA Championship