In what commissioner Jay Monahan described as decisions that will “transform and set the future direction” of the PGA Tour, the tour’s policy board voted Tuesday night to dramatically change the format for future designated events, which will have smaller fields and no cuts.
In a memo to PGA Tour members Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, Monahan announced that eight designated events in 2024 and beyond will have fields between 70 to 80 players and no cuts. It’s another wave of dramatic changes as the PGA Tour continues to try to fend off a threat from the Saudi-financed LIV Golf League.
“Over the last year, we have spent a massive amount of time exploring how to better position the PGA Tour for continued growth,” Monahan wrote. “How to innovate and deliver a better product. How to further showcase our top performers, while staying true to the meritocracy and legacy that define the Tour. How to create a season of consequence that deepens and expands fan interest. How to make every tournament better and deliver more value to sponsors, media partners and host organizations — to the benefit of the entire membership.”
Starting in 2024, the PGA Tour will no longer require top players to participate in certain events: the Players, the four major championships (if players are eligible), the three FedEx Cup playoffs tournaments and an additional eight designated events, which haven’t yet been announced. Instead, according to Monahan’s memo, the tour will “focus on ensuring purse size, elimination of a cut and FedEx Cup points distribution to sufficiently incentivize top performers to participate in the Designated events.”
Monahan told members that field sizes for the Players and the three FedEx Cup playoffs events would remain unchanged. Fields for the eight other designated events will include: the top 50 players from the prior year’s FedEx Cup points list through the playoffs; the top 10 players from the current year’s points list who aren’t otherwise eligible; the top five players who aren’t otherwise eligible who earn the most points in tournaments between designated events; winners of current-year, full-point events; PGA Tour members in the top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking; and four sponsor exemptions, which will be restricted to PGA Tour members.
Monahan said the changes “will reward top performers, provide ample opportunity for play-in from season long performance and different intervals throughout the season, retain an emphasis on winning and be simple for the fan to understand.”
Monahan acknowledged that smaller fields in the designated events had become a “hot topic” among members. While many top players approved of the changes, members outside the top 75 in the world worried that they were being left out of the designated events, which had $20 million purses this season.
“These smaller, Designated event fields will not only deliver substantial, can’t-miss tournaments to our fans at important intervals throughout the season, but they will also enhance the quality of Full-Field events,” Monahan wrote. “Together, this approach provides a schedule that is cohesive, compelling, consequential and with clarity for fans, players and sponsors alike.”
Rory McIlroy, a player director on the tour policy board, said every player has a chance to get into the designated events, even if the fields are smaller.
“I want to give everyone a fair shake at this, which I think this structure has done,” McIlroy said. “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.”
While some PGA Tour players have heavily criticized LIV Golf’s 54-hole, no-cut format, McIlroy said those types of events have existed on the tour for a long time.
“Well, we’ve always had no-cut events on this tour,” McIlroy said. “If you think of the four [World Golf Championships], you’ve got the three playoffs events, you’ve got the CJ Cup, the Zozo. So there’s precedent there for no-cut events. The only reason no-cut events are a big deal is because LIV has come along.”
The LIV Golf League wasted little time in responding to the PGA Tour’s changes, posting to social media that “imitation is the greatest form of flattery.”
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Congratulations PGA Tour. Welcome to the future.#LIVGolf
— LIV Golf (@livgolf_league) March 1, 2023
Max Homa, the No. 8 player in the world, said he liked the changes by the PGA Tour.
“The product is important,” Homa told reporters at a news conference at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Wednesday. “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. I know it’s low-hanging fruit to jump on, ‘Oh, this is just a money grab.’
“It is a guarantee on who will be at events, more or less, and leaning more on the ‘more’ there. It is more opportunity for the top players to battle it out late on Sundays. Which, you look back at times of Phil [Mickelson] and Tiger [Woods], the two best players growing up for me watching, and they had, like, maybe two real battles. So we’re going to have more of that. We just had Scottie [Scheffler] and Jon [Rahm] battle it out in Phoenix, and that was awesome. Two of the three best players in the world going at it, so I think that’s great.”
Homa said he understood some players’ frustration with the smaller fields in designated events.
“The tour had, in my opinion, a problem in the sense that 30% of the top 50 players on this tour were playing against each other week in and week out,” Homa said. “So they looked at something that was a negative, a deficiency, and said, ‘OK, we want more of the top guys playing against each other.’ Again, for the fans, for entertainment. That’s not a good look that the only time you’ll see the best players in the world teeing it up against each other is the Players and the majors.”
Scheffler agreed that the PGA Tour had to find a way to get its best players competing against each other as much as possible — and on the weekend.
“I think it’s exciting because you’re going to have the top guys in the world playing against each other more often,” Scheffler said. “You’re going to be able to guarantee the sponsors that those guys are going to be there four days. If you’re coming out to an event to watch on Saturday and Sunday and, you know, if I’m imagining myself as a kid, I would like to get out there early.
“Let’s say I’m having a bad week. Some kid can come out and watch me play early in the day and you can guarantee that Rory McIlroy‘s going to be there on Sunday, Jon Rahm’s going to be there on Sunday. I think that’s a lot of value added to TV and for sponsors.”
The FedEx Cup points model will be adjusted, according to the memo, with increased points for the Players, the four major championships and the eight designated events. The Player Impact Program will be reduced to $50 million to the top 10 players; the bonus program will play $100 million to the top 20 this year. Monahan wrote that the $50 million will be reallocated to the FedEx Cup bonus program and the Comcast Business Tour Top 10.
The memo said the tour intends to create a schedule of designated events and full-field events so “there are no isolated weeks, creating a strong cadence for players and fans alike.”
“This schedule is designed to allow top performers the flexibility to participate in both Designated and Full-Field events,” Monahan wrote. “Full-Field events will become more consequential as they allow new and upcoming stars to rise to the top and give the membership an ability to play their way into the Designated events.”
In another change approved by the board, the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii will include the top 50 players from the previous year’s FedEx Cup points list through the playoffs, plus tournament winners from the previous year, including fall events.