NAPA, Calif. – Thanks to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy (and Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson to some extent), change is coming to the PGA Tour.
While the best players have agreed to play against one another in a minimum of 20 events between January and August starting in 2024, the Tour’s nine official fall events are about to receive a demotion.
The top 70 in the FedEx Cup regular season points race will qualify for the playoffs and retain their cards for the next season. Numbers 71-125? They will have to duke it out during the fall to retain their playing privileges in what will essentially become eligibility events. Without FedEx Cup points at stake or any punishment for not playing during the fall, the top players have been given the option of an extended vacation from September through December. It’s the off-season some of them have long been asking for, but PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and his business development team have their work cut out explaining to title sponsors why fields will be watered down.
“The Tour knows this isn’t awesome for the sponsors of the fall events to tell them that the guys who finish top 70 don’t have to play your events and probably won’t,” said Tour veteran Peter Malnati, co-chairmen of the Player Advisory Council. “They say they are going to make them stronger and I’m just taking them at their word for now.”
Malnati said he spoke to Monahan at the RBC Heritage.
“He looked me right in the eyes and said these events are going to be stronger,” Malnati said.
Fall events have always been the red-headed stepchildren, airing exclusively on Golf Channel during a time of year when college football and the NFL rule the roost. That’s baked into the sponsorship price. But current sponsors, such as Fortinet, which this week drew five of the top 30 that made it to the Tour Championship including Hideki Matsuyama, have to be wondering whether that will ever happen again. What is the future of the fall events?
“I had that same question myself,” said Stewart Cink, a former PGA Tour policy board member. “It’s hard for them to thrive if they’re not getting top players. We’ve been down this road before. There’s a reason we went to the wrap-around schedule.”
A veteran Tour pro, who asked for anonymity, didn’t mince words, saying that the fall events are going to become a glorified Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
“The Tour’s top question to us is always would you rather not have an event? It’s a pretty fair question now because it might not be a good idea to have an event,” he said. “Some events are going to go so far down the (player priority) list that it’s going to be embarrassing. We’re picking from the bottom of the barrel. It doesn’t actually make our product better. It makes it worse.”
Webb Simpson, the other co-chairmen of the PAC, also expressed concern that the number of fall events could be impacted.
“I don’t know how far the Tour is going to go with the plan that Tiger and Rory proposed. I just don’t know. I hope they don’t go away,” he said of the fall events. “I love the opportunities to play.”
How many of the nine fall events would he likely play next year if he were to finish in the top 70?
“Probably two or three,” he said. “I don’t want to take four months off after Atlanta, not everybody does. Playing two or three still feels like downtime.”
One tournament director, who asked for anonymity, said purses likely will flatline and expected more tournaments to follow the RBC and Zurich model of signing top-ranked players as ambassadors in which part of the deal will require tournament participation.
“What I don’t want to see is us lose title sponsors. If we start to lose titles in certain cities, LIV is going to go in behind them,” said the tournament director, noting LIV already laid down roots in Boston, Chicago and NY/NJ metropolitan area, cities where the Tour no longer has annual events.
Both the Fortinet Championship and Cadence Bank Houston Open are rumored to be angling to move into the main portion of the schedule, but there may not be room for them. Could a Tour event jump ship to LIV?
“God, I hope not, but it could happen,” said the tournament director. “Tournaments now have another option.”
As the final year of the wraparound season kicks off, it’s worth noting that the fall events have factored into determining the FedEx Cup champion: Of the last six Cup winners, four have won a tournament in the fall portion of the season before going on to win the season-long race. (Most recently, Rory McIlroy won the CJ Cup last fall.)
Agents and their players are still waiting to understand exactly how the fall series events will work.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of transparency, I don’t think they know what they’re doing,” said an agent of multiple players. “They’re making decisions by the seat of their pants. You could ask 10 people out here from players to reps to agents what’s happening in the fall, and you’d get seven different answers. That’s not good.”
“I honestly don’t know,” said Kevin Streelman, a Tour board member from 2017-19 and who was added to the Player Advosroy Council for the remained of the year in an August vote to replace a player that went to LIV Golf. “The storyline will be the top 125, but we’re going to have to do something to incentivize the top players to show up.”
Malnati is trusting that Monahan will be good to his word and that the fall events will find a way to be stronger.
“Change is never easy. It always feels difficult. A lot of times it works and it’s great but right now it’s a wait and see for me,” he said.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek