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From The Players: Rory Says The Quiet Part Out Loud, Guys Slept Through The Meeting And Rahm Shrugs Off One Bad Week

Richard Heathcote. Getty Images.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Professional golfers, they're just like us—more than happy to to wake up for an early tee time, but a work meeting? Meh…

"What do you think?" was Xander Schauffele's response when asked if he woke up for a 7:30 a.m. player gathering to discuss new changes to the PGA Tour's designated events. He slept in. Jon Rahm opted for other morning activities. 

"Listen, when they told me it was at 7:30, and I didn't really have anything else to do until 10:00, I was going to take my time to be with my kids in the morning."

Said another player: "Made no sense to go. It was just going to be them telling us the elevated schedule change, and guys bitching about them, and not being able to do anything."

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By all accounts, that's more or less what happened. The PGA Tour announced its new model last Wednesday to, predictably, mixed responses. On the surface, there's undeniable similarity between the designated events—75ish players with no cut—and LIV Golf's format, albeit with one crucial difference: virtually every player in next year's designated events will have earned their way in with their scores. And, accoridng to Justin Thomas, one more salient differentiator.

"Well, we have an astronomically higher amount of quality players than they do in their events," Thomas said with a wry smile.

Still, a not-small portion of tour membership felt the top players used a high-leverage situation to pad their own pockets. James Hahn expressed this sentiment rather firmly in a spicy interview with Golfweek…only he, too, did not show up to the meeting to air his grievances in person. 

"Like, you say all this shit, and you're not even in the meeting," McIlroy told Golf.com's Dylan Dethier. "If you want to get informed and be a part of the process—the fact that he wasn't even in the room was a slap in the face to everyone there." 

As for the content of the meeting, tour brass laid out their reasoning behind the wholesale changes. They showed the results from simulating thousands of seasons. They ensured players that there'd still be the same 40% turnover there's been in the FedEx Cup top 50 in the 15 years its existed. By all accounts, most left with a fuller understanding of the why and the what they need to do: focus on shooting lower scores. For they, too, can become one of these "top players" lining their own pockets. 

And yet, there was one phrase that a few players took issue with. In justifying chopping the size of the Invitationals—the Genesis, the Arnold Palmer and the Memorial—from 120 to 70, the phrase "get rid of the clutter" was used. It's not the most delicate language, granted, but there's really no kind way to convey the unforgiving truth of life as a professional golfer: play good golf, and you'll be rewarded with good money. Play less good, you'll be rewarded with less money. 

Richard Heathcote. Getty Images.

Rory McIlroy says the quiet part out loud

“II hate what it's doing to the game of golf."

Rory McIlroy offered that assessment of LIV Golf last Augusts. Seven months later, a rather different tune. 

"I'm not going to sit here and lie," McIlroy said Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass. "I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf. I think when you've been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there's not a lot of incentive to innovate. This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour, and what was quite, I would say, an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we're at in the world in the 21st century."

In Rory's defense, things were different back then—all the talk surrounding the game was money, money, money, and the PGA Tour hadn't yet reacted with the changes it has since made. Last summer proved the nadir of this ongoing divide. There was weekly conjecture and speculation of a mass exodus of players from the PGA Tour, which threatened to unravel the tour that Rory had built his reputation on. It's not so doomsday now. LIV has its 48 players locked in for the year, and the PGA Tour has its top guys locked in for the year, and momentum sure seems to be on Ponte Vedra's side. 

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Rory's finally seeing what others have for months. Last week, Patrick Cantlay said a version of the same thing: that without competition, there's really no incentive to radically alter a product. Rahm, too, has long acknowledged that the best players in the world are benefitting financially from the schism no matter which tour they play on. The PGA Tour has, in under a year, upped its top-event purses to keep up with LIV's; established a Player Impact Program to reward its most popular players for the attention they bring the game; instituted a $500,000 universal basic income of sorts for its membership; instituted a $5,000 weekly stipend for non-exempt players to offset a missed cut. Just to name a few. 

Looking purely at the facts, it's difficult to come to any other conclusion—that golfers themselves are better off today than they were 12 months ago, even if fans might not be with a fractured ecosystem. Still, it's noteworthy to see the PGA Tour's de facto spokesman admit that all of this recent action he's supporting has been spurred on by The Enemy. 

Jon Rahm is not going to overthink this

Admit it: you handed the trophy to Jon Rahm on Thursday afternoon. I'm guilty of it, too—the guy had won three of his last five starts and opened the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a tremendous seven-under 65, the best score anyone would shoot all week. He'd march to his fourth title of 2023, his third designated event W, and further cement his status at the world's best player. 

It…didn't happen. Rahm played the rest of the week in eight over par to finish T-39, his worst showing sine last July's Genesis Scottish Open. It surely took a bit of the shine off what's already been an incredible year, but the world No. 1's determined not to let it snowball into anything bigger than just a rough couple of days. 

"It's not really a big deal," he said of back-to-back 76s on Friday and Saturday. "I hit five shots in the water, four of them off the tee, and pretty much all of them were very, very close to being on dry land. So it would be very easy for me to overthink it and think that something needs to change. If I were to eliminate most of those shots, we're talking about close to top 20. It's shoulda-coulda-woulda, right? But had I been playing at Riv or Torrey or at a different golf course but all of those shots would have been in play, I could have managed my game around. 

"It's the game of golf. I think when things are going so well for so long, the golf gods decide to humble you a little bit, and it took -- you know, it was my turn to suffer that for a couple days. But I came on Sunday, finished really strong over the last seven holes. I played really good seven holes from 12 to 18. I was really happy about that. So just keep on going. There's nothing, nothing to look into, really. It's golf and a couple bad days."