GOLF

“It feels like LIV 2.0”: the tour tries to bring the game into the 21st century

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WILMINGTON, Del. – Study the BMW championship model.

Limited field.

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No cut.

Bloated purse.

It could soon become the norm on the PGA Tour, at least for the top echelon.

Tiger Woods and 22 other bold names gathered last week at a luxury hotel in downtown Wilmington to chart the way forward for a Tour that has been under siege since LIV Golf arrived earlier this summer. According to multiple outlets – including a detailed Sunday night report from No Laying Up – players came out of that invitation-only meeting with unanimous support for a proposal that would see the Tour hold up to 15 elevated events with select champs and players. massive scholarships. .

Sound familiar?

“I hate to say it,” Mackenzie Hughes said, “but it feels like LIV 2.0.”

The fact that the proposal so closely resembles the Tour’s upstart rival suggests that LIV has exploited a weakness in the market: the world’s best players currently meet in less than a third of the Tour’s scheduled events. A streamlined list of marquee tournaments would signal to fans that it’s the events that really matter, though it remains to be seen whether this focused approach will create a product compelling enough to engage audiences while satiating money-driven stars and by conjuring an existential. threat to the business.

“It’s a direct response to what we’re competing against,” Hughes said, “but why would you go with the exact same premise? If it’s too similar, people are going to think it’s bullshit. crap.

The future was essentially on display last week at BMW, the penultimate event of the season.

Compared to most stages of the Tour, the second event of the playoffs was comfortable and comfortable. A field of 70 players (only 68 competed) meant less noise, fewer distractions and lighter traffic on the range, in player restaurants and in the fitness trailer. The practice round tee sheet was uncluttered, which led to more constructive preparation. And once the tournament started, the pace of play was noticeably quicker with duos spread over six hours, with the first start not until 9:10 a.m. Of a $15 million purse, the winner received $2.7 million; even the last runner-up walked away with $30,900.

“There’s one aspect that’s very nice for the players,” Jon Rahm said.

“It’s like the old WGCs,” said Justin Thomas. “You played really well to get into it. You don’t just hand them over; You deserved it. You are one of the best players in the world. So the better you play, the more you do, the better for you.

The setup also attracts fans, especially those in attendance. Without a 36-hole cup, the Tour’s best players are guaranteed to stay for the duration of the tournament; just a week earlier, when the playoffs opened in Memphis, top attractions Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler were among those who came out early. One of the priorities going forward, according to several actors, is to ensure that the best talent always plays when the most people are engaged, and weekend coverage, on average, attracts around seven times more people. viewers than the first rounds.

“A cut is always very important at the top of the game – it separates the pitch – but it depends on what we’re trying to do with the Tour week in and week out,” McIlroy said. “As an entertainment product, keeping talent on site for as long as possible, especially throughout the weekend, is a better thing for the Tour.”

But the downsides of the reported proposal are obvious – and not just because it lacks innovation and could set back rising stars.

From a strictly competitive standpoint, something will undoubtedly be lost if the 36-hole cut is eliminated in all, or most, high events. Many regular season tournaments already seem monotonous and lackluster; this is only amplified if the fields are mostly the same and the early rounds feature no cut-line drama, with players just jostling for position. Hughes recalled his performance at the 2020 Honda Classic, where he had to “fight like hell” just to play on the weekend after a late birdie in his second round. After five consecutive missed cuts, he had once again proven himself under pressure. On the weekend he rallied to finish second, and for him, at least, it was a heroic moment that might not have happened otherwise.

“It makes golf great and you feel uncomfortable in those positions,” he said. “There is a chance that these first two days you can go home. It makes you assertive from the start. There is a standard to be met. If it’s four days, it takes away some of the fire.

Rahm opened with a BMW-style 73 but didn’t panic as he had 54 holes to cut his deficit; he ended up tied for eighth. McIlroy said he liked “having the freedom those first two days and not playing so cautiously.” Even though he’s not in contention in a guaranteed four-rounder, Thomas is trying to guard against just playing the rope – he knows a swing feel or a perfectly executed shot could spur him on the following week. Viktor Hovland prefers the traditional mid-cut, but he remains acutely aware that the current model could be a bad deal.

“It’s a tricky thing to want tournaments to be as pure as possible,” Hovland said, “but at the same time, it’s sport, and there’s a lot of money involved. You don’t want to sacrifice, but you have to compromise to find a place that works best. You just don’t want to go too far in the business aspect that dilutes the product.”

And it looks like the overall product is about to evolve: a series elevated for the elite would reshape the landscape of a tour that has long been criticized for catering to the middle class; it would represent what many see as a painful but necessary change that could create even more resentment in these divisive times. Those in Circuit A would play against the strongest on the best courses for the biggest purses (and, instead of contracts, for a guaranteed salary). Those who failed to enter the superstar series would be resigned to tournaments offering prizes similar to those of today, but would be deprived of star power and fan interest – events that could prove difficult to sell.


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“How are you going to get someone to watch the B-tour, then?” said Hughes, who colors that area gray, having placed 70th or better in the FedExCup in four of his six seasons on the Tour. “It’s great for top 60 guys or whatever, of course, and I’d love to play in those. But is it best for the Tour and its product? Probably not.”

It is important to note that this proposal, although apparently approved by the best players, remains for the moment at the conceptual stage; commissioner Jay Monahan and Tour management have yet to weigh in on its feasibility. Speaking to reporters last week in Wilmington, McIlroy warned he did not want to delve into the details of the meeting. On the overall concept, it was clear: “We need to get the best guys together more often than we do.” How they achieve this goal, however, is not yet fully formed.

If the BMW Championship becomes the blueprint for moving forward – 70-man field, no cup, demanding course – then Sunday’s final round was worth warming up to a dozen times a year. Patrick Cantlay, the reigning player of the year, scored a narrow win with a daring fairway-bunker shot on the 72nd hole. Surprise contender Scott Stallings, chasing the most important title of his career, went down with one blow. Scheffler, the Masters champion, was there. The same was true for stallion Xander Schauffele, 28, and Adam Scott, 42. It was solid ground and real golf and gripping drama – a resounding showcase of what the Tour still has to offer.

The format of the tournament is important. History and tradition are too. But the players are the product, and for the first time superstars seem keen to set their own parameters.

“I’ve said this to a lot of guys: we need to protect the integrity of the game and respect the legends that have come before us, but we need to do a better job of bringing the game into the 21st century,” McIlroy said. “It’s this balancing act.”

All that is at stake is the future of the Tour.

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