Change is coming to the PGA Tour in 2024. Whether that is a good thing depends upon who you ask.
During a board meeting held Tuesday in Orlando ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Palmer’s Bay Hill Lodge & Club, the Tour approved reducing the size of fields and eliminating the cut at several of its designated events. It also created a pathway for players in the regular events to get promoted to the tournaments with the strongest fields and largest purses. The moves should please sponsors and television honchos, who can rest easy knowing that the biggest names will be guaranteed to play in all four rounds, As for members of the rank-and-file? They may perceive the Tour as becoming more of a closed shop.
“I love it,” said Rory McIlroy, a player director on the Tour’s board. “Obviously I’ve been a part of it and been in a ton of discussions. I think it makes the Tour more competitive. I think we were going that way anyway. You think of the (FedEx Cup) playoffs used to be 125, 70, 30. Obviously this year they have went 70, 50, 30. So I think — like, I’m all about rewarding good play. I’m certainly not about — I want to give everyone a fair shake at this. Which I think this structure has done. There’s ways to play into it. It’s trying to get the top guys versus the hot guys, right? I think that creates a really compelling product. But in a way that you don’t have to wait an entire year for your good play to then get the opportunity. That opportunity presents itself straight away. You play well for two or three weeks, you’re in a designated event. You know then if you keep playing well you stay in them. So, for example, someone like a Chris Kirk last week that wins Honda, he’s set.”
Arnold Palmer Invitational: Photos
But it also is a fundamental change for the Tour, creating designated events that are a cross between the World Golf Championships, which have slowly petered out for a reason, and LIV Golf, which has smaller fields and no cut, too. It likely won’t sit well with the Tour’s rank-and-file, who are going to have fewer playing opportunities. For the fan, part of the appeal of the Tour has always been that it is a true meritocracy and that if a player doesn’t survive the 36-hole cut, he goes home empty-handed.
“I think it’s easy to frame these changes as a way to put more money in the top players’ pockets. But it has been made to make it easier and more fun for the fans,” said Max Homa, a member of the Tour’s player advisory council. “I know it’s low-hanging fruit to jump on, ‘Oh, this is just a money grab.’ This is to make it better for the fans. It is a guarantee on who will be at events, more or less, and leaning more on them there.”
McIlroy pointed out that no-cut events are nothing new for the Tour, citing the World Golf Championships, the FedEx Cup playoff events and fall events such as the CJ Cup and Zozo Championship.
“Is there going to be a few more of them? Maybe. That’s still TBD by the way,” McIlroy said. “But if we do go down that path there’s precedent there to argue for no-cut events. It keeps the stars there for four days. You ask Mastercard or whoever it is to pay $20 million for a golf event, they want to see the stars at the weekend. They want a guarantee that the stars are there. So if that’s what needs to happen, then that’s what happens.”
Homa and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler both noted that one of the side effects of the larger fields this year at the big-money designated events has been diluting fields at regular events such as last week’s Honda Classic.
“If we made these fields very large in these designated events it would ruin non-designated events that have been staples of the PGA Tour, that go to cities that people love watching these events with their families. It would ruin them,” Homa said. “No one would play in half of them because it would no longer fit your schedule by any means.”
Scheffler used the dilemma of 100th ranked player in the world to prove his point that a player of that caliber is going to play in the $20 million events and skip events such as Honda.
“It’s double the money and all that stuff,” he said. “But now all of a sudden you have those 50 guys that aren’t going to be playing in the next event and that event is going to suffer and there’s a chance we’d lose events because of that because guys aren’t playing. So the math isn’t necessarily that simple.”
“Purses aren’t going down out here,” Scheffler continued. “The guys that may not be able to get into those 70-man fields are going to be playing a lot of other events where the purses aren’t going down. So I think it’s going to benefit the membership as a whole.”
“At the end of the day we’re selling a product to people,” McIlroy added. “The more clarity they have on that product and knowing what they’re buying is really important. It’s really important for the Tour. I think this solves for that.”