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The PGA Tour Is Discussing Sweeping Changes In Response To The Saudi Golf League, Including More Team Golf And A Return To A Calendar Year Schedule

Tracy Wilcox. Getty Images.

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Sports Illustrated - The PGA Tour is planning to alter its fall schedule with a series of events that will not be included as part of the FedEx Cup season, with the potential for three overseas tournaments that will pay guaranteed money and have a team element.

The result would mean a return to the calendar-year official season that was scrapped in 2013 in favor of a wraparound season and offer the opportunity for players to have an offseason and not be penalized.

The particulars were presented on Tuesday night at Riviera Country Club during a planned Player Advisory Council meeting that was attended by commissioner Jay Monahan, according to a player who was present who wished to not be identified.

The plan, if approved, would not begin until the fall of 2023, meaning the 2024 season would begin in January.

The PGA Tour has been exploring and implementing ways to better compensate players, especially top players, in response to the potential rival leagues, including one fronted by Greg Norman as part of an entity called LIV Golf Investments, which is backed by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund.

Among the discussed aspects of Norman’s new league are guaranteed payouts and a team concept.

The Associated Press reported last fall that the Tour was considering a fall “global series’’ with big purses, no cuts and guaranteed payouts based on where players finish in the FedEx Cup. 

The series would likely be played in Asia, Europe and potentially the Middle East, to be preceded by six other tournaments that would serve as a place for players who wanted to compete while offering an opportunity to improve their position in the FedEx Cup standings going into the following year. Only those players who finish among the top 50 would be locked in, according to the player who attended the meeting who said numerous details are still to be worked out.

In addition to the change in the fall, the PGA Tour plan is to increase the total FedEx Cup payout from $75 million to $100 million by 2024, with $20 million going to the winner. The Tour wants to increase the Comcast Business Solutions regular season bonus pool from $20 million to $30 million and to up the total Player Impact Program from $50 million to $70 million.

“The numbers are really big, they are impressive,’’ the unidentified player said. “But we’re still really talking about just 10 or 12 guys. A lot of other players have value, too. Way beyond that. And that’s why you keep hearing about these other alternatives.

“We’ve all been asked to consider that question, 'What would you do if you were commissioner for a day?' Would you have 20 tournaments with $25 million purses. Or $20 million purses with 25 tournaments and cut back on the number of exempt players? Would you have fewer exempt spots and get more of the top players competing more often? I don’t know what I’d do.’’

The crux of the proposed new league is guaranteed money, some of it in the eight-figure range that would give certain players “ownership’’ of a four-man team. The purses for the new league would be $20 million per tournament, with 54-hole events and no cuts, another form of guaranteed payment. 

The big change in the fall schedule on the PGA Tour would potentially give players the opportunity to take time off, if they desire. One current complaint is that there is virtually no offseason, and those who elect to take time off in the fall find themselves well behind in the FedEx Cup standings when they resume playing.

The proposed league from LIV Golf would consist of 14 tournaments, with 10 likely to be played in North America.

“When there’s only a proposed 14 events, you might pick to play some other events, there seems to be time for a legitimate offseason," said Adam Scott, who added that he’s been approached about the new league but would not offer details.

“I think that’s really missed on the PGA Tour from all aspects but certainly from the top players. I think we would all like to see a break where you’re not penalized for taking a break. I think that’s one of the big things.’’

Wow, this is quite a response from the Tour. Or at least a potential one. Unless you're a golf fan living under a boulder, you've heard of the Saudi Golf League by now. Just a bunch of middle easterners who are trying to shake up the game by throwing ungodly amounts of oil money at the world's best golfers. We're talking 9 figures for guys like Bryson DeChambeau and Ian Poulter to jump ship and join their proposed tour. The PGA Tour has come out and threatened that anybody who joins them would be banned, and for months it's been a discussion point at press conferences on Tour.

All of that objectively seems #bad, and a strong majority of players have basically said as such. The PGA Tour is far from perfect, but it has the framework of damn near everything that we hold near and dear as fans of the game. And that game has grown significantly over the past few years (and past 3 decades really, thanks to Tiger) to where the Tour is making money hand over fist. 

Understandably, the players want a bigger cut… as they should. And the Tour has proactively been trying to find creative ways to do that. Hence, the Player Impact Program and larger FedEx Cup and event purses. For example, this week's Genesis Invitational has gradually been bumped from a $7M purse in 2017 to $9.3M the last couple years to now $12M for this year's event. The PLAYERS Championship will be a whopping $20M next month. But none of those are necessarily a guaranteed payday. The PIP program only awards the top 10 players and in some ways proved to be a lifetime achievement award for guys like Tiger and Phil. I'm not saying for one second that those guys don't deserve a nice stream of income for their contributions to the Tour, it's just gotta be frustrating for guys just outside that Top 10 or guys who objectively do great things for the game (like Max Homa, Harry Higgs, etc) to not see a dime of guaranteed income for their efforts. The Saudi league has seen this as an opportunity to provide that kind of financial security (and then some), and they're clearly trying to exploit that.

Which brings us to the positive side of what the Saudi League is doing. They're forcing the PGA Tour to reconsider the way they do things and find new ways to reward the players that drive their top line. With that is the proposed changes that we see above. Most of them sound awesome. One of my favorite things about the Tour is that it's basically the only sport on the planet that runs nonstop. Outside of December, there's pretty much a tournament every single week. But that's not to say that the wraparound schedule is perfect. 

Pretty much everything in the fall besides the Ryder/Presidents Cup is a farce. The big names mostly take that time off, and the lesser players use it as an opportunity to try to pick up FEC points before the big boys come back to work. I'd love for them to find a way to make that golf a little more meaningful, especially given that it's up against football in the fall. A global series that swerves the Sunday afternoons would accomplish that in a big way. Some of my favorite mornings are waking up on a Sunday before football and catching the end of whatever European Tour event is on. If we can get some big names out there playing some meaningful golf during those times, that would be a big win. The WGC's have been great tournaments for the past two decades but they seem to be a casualty as the Tour has made minor changes over the past couple years. Why not resurrect them as an offseason series with big bucks on the line?

A team golf concept probably excites me more than anything. We all know there are cliques on Tour. Guys that get along and guys that maybe don't so much. They'd be smart to lean into that. I'm not a big NASCAR guy but the concept of guys being on teams concurrently while trying to win a race seems like a fun wrinkle. Every year when the Match Play and Ryder/President's Cup comes around, everyone raves about how awesome match play golf is and how we wish there were more events with different formats. The current 72-hole stroke model is a great one and it's clearly the best for TV purposes, but there's simply too much of it. A creative way to accomplish that would be to bring some fun team events into the fold in that offseason window. 4-team, 8-team, pairs, whatever. Give it to me.

Lastly, and this is where I contribute an idea of my own, I think there's a big opportunity for them to use the fall as a marketing tool for the up-and-coming players. As it stands, the Top 25 players in the regular season Korn Ferry standings get their PGA Tour cards for the following season, and then they have a playoff season (much like the FedEx Cup Playoffs) that combines the Top 75 in the regular season standings and those who finished 126th thru 200th in the PGA Tour standings (aka those who missed out on the FedEx Cup Playoffs and are in danger of losing their cards). I think it's a pretty awesome concept where you give Korn Ferry guys one last chance to make a push to earn a card, and give Tour guys one last chance to salvage it. 

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With proposed changes, there are a good handful of fall events that stand to get left out in the cold. The Shriners, the Zozo, the CJ Cup, the Mayakoba, RSM, etc. Some would be good fits for the global golf series, and others would be a great fit for a tweener Tour that would be like an elongated Korn Ferry Tour playoffs. Hype the shit out of those playoffs and add in some spots for guys fresh out of college who can try to fast track their way to the PGA Tour. On top of that, create an additional Netflix series similar to the one already in production and capture all the drama of these guys fighting for their PGA Tour cards. It would give some of those guys so much more of a runway to make a name for themselves and endear them to fans on their way up the ladder.

It feels like this stuff is a long ways away, but the changes are proposed to start in just about a year and a half. Pretty wild. The Saudi League seems to have intentions that aren't so pure, but their existence is doing some good in the game. Phil has been pretty outspoken about it to say the least.

Gotta say I'm excited to see how this all plays out.