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PGA Tour makes bold changes aimed at curbing the LIV Golf threat

Golfer Rory McIlroy helped lead a players-only meeting last week that shored up support for the PGA Tour. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty)
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In its most aggressive response yet to the growing threat posed by the LIV Golf Invitational Series, the PGA Tour announced several measures Wednesday aimed at making tour events more compelling for its fans and more financially rewarding for its golfers.

The tour has lost some of its biggest names to its deep-pocketed Saudi-backed competitor, and the new measures will make the tour more lucrative for the tour’s top players while also providing more stability for younger golfers.

The tour’s top 20 players will commit to playing in at least 20 events, including the four majors and the FedEx Cup playoffs, which PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said will ensure competitive fields and a better product.

“With the best interests of the collective in mind, those players rallied together to strengthen the tour platform, recognizing that if fans are going to invest in the PGA Tour, it means a hell of a lot more if they know the players are investing right back,” Monahan said at a news conference in Atlanta, site of this week’s Tour Championship.

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That commitment was in part a result of a players-only meeting held last week in which stars such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy shored up player support and sought buy-in from the game’s best players as LIV continues to poach from their ranks with lucrative contract offers.

“When I tune into a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football,” McIlroy told reporters Wednesday. “When I tune into a Formula 1 race, I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car. Sometimes what’s happened on the PGA Tour is we all sort of act independently, and we sort of have our own schedules. And that means we never really get together all that often.

“What came out of the meeting … we’ve all made a commitment to get together more often, to make the product more compelling,” he continued.

The tour has boosted the prize money to further incentivize players. Beginning next season, the tour will elevate four non-major tournaments, offering $20 million in prize money at each, which will add approximately $46 million in total available prize money.

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The tour is also expanding its Player Impact Program, a bonus system introduced last year as a way to reward players who help promote the game, and will now reward 20 players rather than 10. The total pool of money will double to $100 million, and the top player will pocket $15 million.

The tour also has established a guaranteed minimum of $500,000 per player, money that rookies will receive upfront. Nonexempt players will receive $5,000 for missed cuts and subsidized travel.

A chief complaint from some stars who jumped to LIV Golf, including Phil Mickelson, is that the PGA Tour hasn’t done enough to empower and reward players. LIV Golf has staged three events and has signed several of the PGA Tour’s most recognizable names, prompting several changes from the PGA Tour in response.

“As much as I probably don’t want to give Phil any sort of credit at all, yeah, there are certain points that he was trying to make, but there’s a way to go about them,” McIlroy said. “There’s a way to collaborate, and there’s a way — you get all the top players in the world together, and you get them on the same page. You then go to the tour, and you suggest ideas, and you work together. You know, this is pure collaboration. This isn’t some sort of renegade group trying to take some sort of power grab of the PGA Tour.”

“Some of his ideas, did they have merit? Of course they did,” he continued. “But he just didn't approach it the right way.”

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McIroy also announced a new venture that will bear at least some resemblance to the LIV product, which includes a team format and is targeting a younger audience. McIlroy and Woods this week launched TMRW Sports, which will partner with the PGA Tour for team matches that will be held on Monday nights beginning in January 2024. The events will closer resemble golf simulator competitions than traditional golf, with a promise of 18 holes completed in two hours.

“It’s a great opportunity for PGA Tour players to show a different side of themselves,” McIlroy said. “Prime time on Monday nights, I think, it’s great for brand exposure to try to engage a different audience. We’ve all heard about the fact of how old the golf audience is, trying to get younger eyeballs on to it. And I just think it’s going to be a really, really cool concept.”

Published reports suggest that as many as seven more players, including British Open winner Cameron Smith, could defect to LIV after this weekend’s Tour Championship, and it remains to be seen whether any will be swayed by the new measures. McIlroy said he reached out to Smith two days after the British Open to make sure he was aware of some of the pending changes.

“I’ve always said this: Guys can do whatever they want,” McIlroy said. “Guys can make a decision that they feel is best for themselves and for their families. But I just love guys to make decisions based on all of the facts. And sometimes I don’t think some guys made those decisions based on having all the facts in front of them.”

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Monahan was asked whether any LIV players would be allowed to return to the tour and compete under the new measures next season, and he responded bluntly, “No.”

“As I’ve been clear throughout, every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they’ve made it,” he said. “We’ve made ours. We’re going to continue to focus on the things that we control and get stronger and stronger.”

Citing the antitrust lawsuit that 11 LIV players filed against the PGA Tour, Monahan declined to discuss whether any LIV players would be welcomed back further down the road.