Social media’s cesspool of consensus is invariably miles wide and a millimeter deep, so it’s unsurprising that changes to the PGA Tour’s structure announced on Tuesday were breezily compared to that of LIV Golf. It’s a correlation that extends only so far before it veers into lazy and specious.
Leave aside the fact that PGA Tour events aren’t backed by people in the habit of dismembering critics — a crucial point of differentiation, albeit often conveniently overlooked by LIV acolytes — and the contrasts far outnumber the similarities, which are limited to cuts of another kind and the awarding of vast riches.
Entry to the Tour’s new designated events is earned through accomplishment, not granted by dint of an invitation and wire transfer from Greg Norman. A poor season will see players bounced from the Tour’s elite tier, but some LIV competitors are contractually exempt from demotion, no matter how shoddy their showing. Whatever criticisms might be leveled at these designated events—they create a caste system among tournaments, they diminish the essential appeal of sport by having fewer Davids go up against the Goliaths, they won’t recycle under-performers out of the ecosystem quickly enough, they are tantamount to welfare for the already wealthy—the reality is that they’re still meritocratic. LIV’s structure is inherently autocratic.
The PGA Tour has always been hostage to its rank and file, with every commissioner handed a mandate that lacks ambition or discretion: provide playing opportunities for the membership. That dusty directive is a recipe for diluting a product, not driving a business. And it’s why the smaller field sizes announced for designated events in ’24 will rankle the lower orders who are convinced their opportunities are dwindling.
But sport is not a democratic endeavor; trophies, like winners’ checks, are not halved for fairness. The most radical shift we are witnessing on Tour is one of behind-the-scenes influence as the pendulum of power swings hard from peasants to princelings. Rock stars are driving the bus and they want fewer seats for roadies.
These structural changes are about providing guarantees to two constituencies. Until this year, the PGA Tour could not guarantee its product to sponsors, unable to vouch for who would show up to compete. With the elevated events in ’23, it can offer that guarantee, but only for two days. Removing the cut in ‘24 turns those two days into four. The other guarantee being delivered is to players. They want a bigger slice of the pie—with fewer also-rans nibbling at the edges—and to reduce the times when they’re not paid at all. So the cut gets cut.
No-cut events are not a novelty concept—a healthy chunk of the record-breaking 142 tournaments in which Tiger Woods didn’t miss a cut didn’t actually have a cut to miss. The absence of a one-way ticket out of town for under-performers after 36 holes isn’t necessarily reductive to the integrity of a competition, but it reinforces a perception that right now the PGA Tour is too fond of the carrot and too afraid of the stick.
If fields at designated events are capped at 80, there’s no reason not to dispatch a couple dozen guys on Friday night. If the issue is paying players, send them home with a check. But world ranking and FedEx Cup points are another matter. Anyone who makes the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational will earn both. The key qualifier is “earned,” as in not handed. Next year, when the API is a no-cut event, the same dispensation applies. Points will be awarded, regardless of performance.
In designated events, there ought to be a line below which players leave with just a check and not valuable points that can help them retain a spot in the upper-tier. Performance relative to the field must remain a metric for how a player is rewarded, even absent a cut. Lousy play should have consequences beyond the battered psyche of a luckless caddie and the amount of the Monday morning bank deposit.
Sources I’ve spoken to say the Official World Golf Ranking is reviewing how to handle smaller, no-cut events and whether points should to be taken from the bottom finishers and redistributed at the top. The PGA Tour can make a more immediate call on how it disburses FedEx Cup points in limited-field events. A player who can’t finish top 50 in an 80-man field should have no expectation of receiving points that might keep him in those fields.
We’ve seen an emphasis on rewarding fine play—bigger purses, more elite events, greater bonuses—but the Tour can’t lose sight of the other end of the performance spectrum: punishment for poor play. If that isn’t to be a cut, then consequences must come in another form.
Like the FedEx Cup, which has undergone more enhancements than the false fronts in the gallery at the Phoenix Open, this plan for designated events is sure to be adjusted in time. As a response to the now flaccid threat of LIV, it satisfies player demands for rewards. Fair enough, those are earned in elite sport. But so too are penalties, and fans should see a lot more of that.