The PGA Tour has announced more changes to have top golfers play against each other more often in moves aimed at preventing more lost talent to LIV Golf.
Top PGA players are committing to playing at least 20 events next year, including 12 “elevated” events with average purses of $20-million, the tour announced on Wednesday.
The move comes amid reports that world No 2 Cameron Smith of Australia, who won The Open in July, is among seven more players leaving for the LIV Golf Series after this week’s Tour Championship.
Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen are among the players who have joined LIV Golf, which debuted in June.
The PGA issued indefinite bans for players who teed off in LIV events.
The PGA hopes to fight further defections by boosting purses to rival the record $25m on offer at LIV Golf events such as those set for Boston and Chicago next month.
The plan outlined by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan produces more events pitting top players against one another and follows a players-only meeting last week led by injured superstar Tiger Woods.
“We’ve all made a commitment to get together more often to make the product more compelling,” four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy said. “Everyone in that room realised this is the best way forward.”
Top golfers are set to play in four more unspecified “elevated” events, making 12 in all, plus the Players Championship, the four Major tournaments and three other PGA events to fill out schedules of at least 20 events, Monahan said.
“Our top players are firmly behind the tour, helping us deliver an unmatched product to our fans, who will be all but guaranteed to see the best players competing against each other in 20 events or more,” Monahan said.
“Elevated” events will include the 2023 Tournament of Champions, the Tiger Woods-hosted Genesis Invitational, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament, the WGC Match Play and the three FedExCup playoff events.
“When I tune in to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football. When I tune in to a Formula 1 race, I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car,” McIlroy said.
“Sometimes what has happened on the PGA Tour is we all act independently and we sort of have our own schedules and that means that we never really get together all that often.”
The PGA also guaranteed all fully exempt tour players will make at least $500,000 a year. The PGA had criticised guaranteed deals LIV Golf had used to lure away some top names.
“Every single member of the PGA Tour is going to benefit from the changes we’re going to be making,” Monahan said.
The Player Impact Program, a bonus programme based on fan popularity, will double to $100m for 20 players.
Woods and McIlroy also announced plans for a virtual-golf, made-for-TV series involving PGA players that starts in 2024 at a specially made venue incorporating live crowds, chips and putts and virtual tee shots into huge screens.
The format allows for Woods to compete in golf without a great deal of walking, something that has been problematic since he suffered major leg injuries in a car crash 18 months ago.
McIlroy admitted that Mickelson, an early LIV Golf backer, had points about the changes the PGA needed to make given what the tour has done to fight the LIV threat.
“There were certain points that he was trying to make. But there’s a way to go about them. There’s a way to collaborate,” McIlroy said.
“Some of these ideas, did they have merit? Of course they did. But he just didn’t approach it the right way.
“This isn’t some sort of renegade group trying to take some sort of power grab of the PGA Tour.”
© Agence France-Presse