PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — While acknowledging that the emergence of the LIV Golf League led to radical changes on the PGA Tour, including future events with limited fields of 70 to 80 players and no 36-hole cuts, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan insisted Tuesday that the rival circuits won’t be the same.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the Players at TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday, Monahan said that despite dramatic changes to the PGA Tour’s model for 2024 and beyond, it will still be vastly different from the LIV Golf League, which is built around 12 four-man teams competing in 54-hole tournaments with no cuts and shotgun starts.
“I would ask you: ‘Do you think we really look the same?'” Monahan told a reporter when asked about the similarities between the circuits. “You know, the players that are competing in our events in this new format next year will have earned the right to compete in them and they will have earned it through top-50 position in the FedEx Cup this year, as well as their performance in the fall and ultimately in these swings. That’s what this organization has always stood for.”
Starting in 2024, the PGA Tour plans to have 16 designated events, including the four majors, the Players and three FedEx Cup playoff events. The field sizes and formats for those eight tournaments won’t change.
The other eight designated events, which will include the Genesis (which Tiger Woods hosts), the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial (which Jack Nicklaus hosts), will have limited fields of 70 to 80 players with no cuts. The Tournament of Champions in Hawaii will be another designated event, with about 50 to 60 players and no cut. The other four designated events haven’t yet been designated; the tour no longer plans to have them rotate from season to season.
Monahan said it’s important for the PGA Tour to have its best players competing in events more often and to have them playing in all four rounds for fans, media partners and sponsors. Monahan said more than 95% of the tour’s best players were competing against each other at the majors; it was less than 40% at tour events.
“The heart of the changes announced is our effort to present the best possible PGA Tour to our fans and provide maximum benefits for every PGA Tour member across the board,” Monahan said. “We’ve looked at all possible competitive models, and it was evident and perhaps obvious that whatever we do differently, we must showcase our top performers competing against one another more often. This is what fans want, and this is what fans have been asking for.”
Eligibility for the eight designated events will include players in the top 50 of the previous year’s FedEx Cup points and all players not otherwise eligible from the following criteria: the top 10 players from the current year’s points list; the top five players in points from the current swing; top 30 PGA Tour members in the Official World Golf Ranking; winners from the current season; and four sponsor’s exemptions.
Monahan announced the approved changes in a memo to members last week. On Tuesday, Monahan had a meeting with members at TPC Sawgrass. Not every player was there; world No. 1 golfer Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas said they weren’t in attendance.
McIlroy, who has been heavily involved in drafting the changes, said the overall mood in the meeting was better than he anticipated. Although most of the tour’s top players have embraced the changes, some players ranked outside the top 50 in FedEx Cup points are worried about not having enough access to get into the designated events, which have $20 million purses this year.
“I think when more information and data was presented to them, the people that maybe had reservations about it I think came around or at least were more informed on their opinions,” McIlroy said. “I think it was good for them to see that and to see what the thinking is behind what we’re really trying to do here. I think the temperature in the room was nowhere near as hot as I anticipated it to be once the information was sort of laid out.”
Along with limited fields, not having cuts in those eight designated events has also been a hot topic among players. Monahan and McIlroy noted that Woods has won 26 PGA Tour tournaments that didn’t have cuts. Palmer won 23, and Nicklaus won 17.
“To me, those wins, the format did not diminish those accomplishments as we sit here today,” Monahan said. “I think as we look out to 2024, 2025, 2026, the same will hold true. I think when you get to the question about what got you to that point, and you’re right, there was and there still is a lot of discussion and debate on whether or not there should be no cuts.”
Monahan said the cadence of the 2024 schedule, which will be released sometime this summer, will keep the nondesignated events relevant because players will have an opportunity to play their way into the bigger events. There are expected to be two or three nondesignated events sandwiched between designated ones.
“I think there’s enough jeopardy built into the system,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, there’s going to be eight events with no cuts. But I think the cuts that you have to make to get into those events, making the playoffs [and] getting into the top 50, there [are] certain things that you have to do to qualify for those events. I think that’s more than fair to warrant eight events a year that are guaranteeing the players four days.”
McIlroy revealed for the first time on Tuesday that when he and Woods met with a group of about 20 top players before the BMW Championship in August, they initially proposed a new model in which the top 50 to 60 players on the PGA Tour would be competing in 14 designated events each season. Under that plan, about 80% of those players would have remained eligible to compete in the elevated events with higher purses from season to season, according to their models.
In the end, the star players agreed to reduce the number of elevated events from 14 to eight. Retention in the top 50 is expected to be about 60% in the adopted model.
Monahan confirmed that the WGC-Dell Technologies wouldn’t be on the tournament schedule in 2024. The lone remaining World Golf Championship event, the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, hasn’t been played since 2019 because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Monahan said it would be “difficult to foresee” when the tour would play there again.
“I would never say anything has run its course,” Monahan said. “But I think right now you see the direction the PGA Tour’s heading in. It is with these designated events. It’s with the concentration of the best players on the PGA Tour competing in them, and I really don’t expect that to change as we go forward.”
When news of the PGA Tour’s changes broke last week, LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman tweeted that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
McIlroy said there’s no question the threat from LIV Golf, which has signed past major champions Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and others, sparked change on the PGA Tour.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie; I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf,” McIlroy said. “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 with the media landscape.”
Added Rahm: “Without LIV Golf, this wouldn’t have happened. So to an extent, like I’ve said before, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things.”