Rory McIlroy was asked a simple question Tuesday morning: have enough European players won the Players Championship? The number is five. Is that a fair return?
McIlroy is prone to giving long answers but not necessarily quick ones. He needed to think about it a bit, but really he needed some data. Nothing about him is knee-jerk. It’s all analytical. He can afford to be that way because, well, his numbers are better than most.
“I guess I would have to look at historical averages,” McIlroy began. Yes, that’s right.
“So you’re saying five European winners in 40, so over 10 percent? I don’t feel that’s a bad average. But yeah, I would have to dig into it more.”
Well put! McIlroy trusts sample sizes. He trusts the science. In an age where players try to overwhelm algorithms with words and opine on what’s best for themselves versus a membership of 200-plus, trusting the science is imperative. Which brings us to the future of the PGA Tour, where the science is getting challenged in a major way.
Next year’s schedule will feature eight designated events that will feel exclusive. Fifty spots will be reserved for the top 50 players in the 2023 FedEx Cup. The remaining 20-30 places will be filled by players playing well and a couple of sponsor’s exemptions. In other words, there’s a top tier now. An upper-class, if you will. The way to access it comes from good play and good play alone. But not everyone likes it. McIlroy’s response this week is going to be his response next month and next year: “Shoot the scores.”
McIlroy shared that mentality Tuesday morning, in the moments after the Tour players meeting, just before his pre-tournament press conference. “There’s going to be some players within the membership that feel aggrieved that they might not get into event they historically have gotten in to,” he told Todd Lewis of the Golf Channel. “But there’s one thing that changes that: shoot the scores.
“This has been a merit-based system, it always has been. And it will continue to be. The players who play the best and shoot the scores are the ones that are going to benefit from the changes.”
He said it twice there. Shoot the scores. He’s probably been saying it a lot privately. It should be the Tour’s official slogan. Why? Because PGA Tour status has long been one of the trickiest things to explain. If there are only 130 spots in a field, who gets to fill them? Who gets first pick? Win a tournament and you’re good for almost three years. Graduate college and play good-not-great in seven specific tournaments? We’ll see you later on…maybe. Finish 115th last year? Eh, it’s starting to get dicey. Finish 143rd, it’s really dicey. Lead a fruitful 10-year career, lose some of your skill, take a year off for a sprained wrist, you’re probably still good! The system was rewarding keeping the best players involved but did not focus on elevating the elite players from the simply great ones.
All that has changed.
Access to the biggest purses next year will be determined by the scores of this year and nothing else. Shoot the scores this year and you’ll benefit next year. If you don’t, you’ll still have a chance to gain access in a few specific events by, yep, shooting the scores. There will be no grandfather clauses about career earnings or medical exemptions that help players of old enter designated events. You want in, go ahead and compile a season-long scoring average of 70ish. Score well enough to earn 1,000 FedEx Cup points? You’re probably good, but 1,200 would guarantee it. Finish in the top 10 four times? That should be enough, but a fifth will certainly do the trick. Finishing in second will be a lot more valuable than finishing fourth, as decades of PGA Tour payouts have told us.
Shoot. The. Scores.
Ironically, it’s a mindset players have long been comfortable with. Tour pros have collectively accepted tropes of Eat what you kill, or simply Play better. It’s the oldest saying on Tour. Members have long committed to the idea that they make 90% of their money from 10% of their tournaments. Now, they’re being told access to the big pot of gold might require good play at more than 10% of your tournaments. Do you have it in you? Go out and shoot the scores.