Sports · June 23, 2022

PGA Tour defends its perch under pressure from LIV Golf

CROMWELL, Conn. – Over the past month, as Saudi-backed LIV golf circuit has borrowed some of the most famous players from the established PGA Tour, it has been speculated that eventually rival organizations may have to learn to coexist.

But an avid Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, on Wednesday did not seem conciliatory. Using forceful language in its first press conference since mid-March, Monahan went on to claim PGA Tour primacy, announced a substantial increase in the future tour’s prize pool, and accused LIV Golf of trying to “buy the sport”.

“If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour is no match,” Monahan told reporters on the eve of the Travelers Championship in central Connecticut. “The PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars trying to buy the game of golf.

“We welcome good and healthy competition. The Saudi LIV Golf Championship is not that. It is an irrational threat, which is not about the return on investment or the true growth of the game. “

Monahan, who met about 100 PGA Tour affiliate players on Tuesday, told the group that the tour “will eventually come out of the current challenge stronger thanks to our loyalty and support to our players and fans.”

The LIV Golf series, however, didn’t let Monahan have the stage to herself on Wednesday. About two minutes into the Monahan press conference, LIV Golf announced that four-time main champion Brooks Koepka had officially left the PGA Tour to join the alternate tour. LIV Golf also announced a majority of the course for its first tournament in the United States, which begins June 30 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Oregon.

There were also other news in the sport. As expected, officials from next month’s British Open said they would not be excluding players aligned with LIV Golf from the main tournament. Many of those golfers, such as Koepka, have already qualified for the British Open due to their current world rankings or past major titles. That may change in the future, but as was the case with last week’s US Open outside Boston, British Open officials were unwilling to exclude players who had already met the stated criteria for eligibility for this year’s event. .

And on the player front, several PGA Tour players at the Travelers Championship complained privately that Koepka, just a week ago, was openly supporting a show of solidarity from most of the top-tier golfers who have remained loyal to the game. tour. Asked about Koepka’s defection on Wednesday, Rory McIlroy, who is second in the men’s golf world rankings, said: “I’m surprised by a lot of these guys because they say one thing and then do another.”

He added: “But that’s pretty ambiguous of them.”

When asked if he was talking about something Koepka had said months ago or recently, McIlroy replied, “All the time, in public and in private, everything.”

In addition to announcing PGA Tour plans to increase payouts in eight next year’s tour events by $ 54 million, Monahan continued to pay homage to her tour ethics as a meritocracy in which players are awarded cash prizes based on performance compared to the LIV Golf series in which several golfers signed guaranteed contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. LIV Golf events also have no cuts, meaning every player is guaranteed at least one six-figure payday.

“If you go back to the elements behind this tour, to the meritocracy of playing on the PGA Tour, how hard it is to get out of here, how hard it is to get to the top level of the game,” Monahan said. “This will ultimately be the element that will continue to make this tour the biggest in the world,” she added.

A tour player reminder released Wednesday outlined significant bag hikes across eight non-major tournaments, with player payouts climbing to around $ 20 million per event. The current average prize pool of a PGA Tour event is approximately $ 8.5 million.

Monahan said the increased player revenue would be funded by increased sponsor support and complemented by the tour’s operational reserve. The tour is also taking steps to try to reward top-tier players with more opportunities to compete in the highest-paid events, which would appear to be a direct response to the LIV Golf model of having smaller tournament courses. The memo also describes a new international series of three events in the fall of next year for top players with bigger bags and events in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.