ATLANTA – Phil Mickelson’s last appearance at East Lake for the Tour Championship was four years ago, and given how things have transpired, he will probably never be back.
But he was on plenty of minds this week at the season-ending Tour Championship, especially in light of what went down prior to the tournament, when commissioner Jay Monahan announced some sweeping changes that will see a significant increases in prize money going forward along with the top players in the game coming together more often.
While many of the words that caused Mickelson considerable grief back in February were viewed as harsh—and caused him to go into exile for four months—there is a sense that his underlying message was heard.
Vindication is likely too strong a word to characterize how this went down, but Mickelson might be sitting somewhere nodding his head and saying, “What took you so long?’’
When you get past the rhetoric associated with his “obnoxious greed’’ comments concerning the PGA Tour and his belief about using the LIV Golf League as leverage to extract more from the PGA Tour, you are left with a couple of truths.
Mickelson has long believed that the star players are not compensated in relation to their worth; that there are too many tournaments and that the big names should play together more often; and that the PGA Tour was sitting on a pile of money that should be going to the players.
While his complaints about not getting to own his media rights were off-base—no sports league grants that to players, otherwise television rights fees and marketing agreements would prove to be far less valuable—he seemingly had a point as it related to other issues.
“He probably didn’t communicate it very well,’’ said PGA Tour veteran Adam Scott of Mickelson. “I think the hardest thing for the Tour is it’s trying to be all things to all people. It’s a very, very hard thing to do. It’s impossible to please everybody. They certainly can’t have everybody happy, but you’ve got to please someone.
“And I think that’s kind of what Phil might have been trying to say. He’s been on Tour a long time and maybe he felt that strongly about it. With all of the things going on, I think it’s fair to say that the balance of the pro game was a little bit out of shape. Hopefully these are steps to get the balance.’’
The big changes that Monahan announced centered around the requirement that the top players—as determined by the Player Impact Program—play a minimum of 20 tournaments, with 17 of them the same.
Along with previously announced increases for next year and those announced by Monahan last week, more than $100 million in prize money will be added in 2023. The PIP is being increased from $50 million to $100 million. Regular tournaments, as scheduled, will see prize money bumps as well.
It’s probably not as much as Mickelson got to sign with LIV Golf, but it’s significant. And it suggests that perhaps this could have been done before. Monahan said a majority of the money is coming from a reserve fund the Tour grows, as well as increased help from title sponsors.
Isn’t that what Mickelson was suggesting?
“I don’t think he was the only one who thought (some of those things),’’ Scott said. “I’ve checked in with some people in the executive office at the Tour and I’ve also thought that should be a direction the Tour goes.
“With no ill feeling to anyone. I think our product has been diluted. Our players were spread thin. And that’s changing, hopefully, that’s been identified and rectified. And it’ll be good if the mark responds and hopefully that is what they want to see.’’
Billy Horschel has been a harsh critic of LIV Golf and was not willing to go so far as to give Mickelson and LIV Golf credit. “When I heard that, it irked me a little bit,’’ he said.
Horschel noted that Mickelson was not the only player “on his high horse’’ about seeking change for the Tour.
“There has been a lot of talk among the top players over the past few years about what they would like the future model to look like,’’ he said. “It just allowed everything to speed along a little bit.
“I have tremendous respect for Phil but I can’t give him credit for what our product looks like. I give credit to the entirety of the PGA Tour, and finally, all of the players getting together and deciding what we wanted and giving them a blueprint of what it should look like and how it should go.’’
No matter where you stand on the issue of LIV Golf and all of its disruption, it happened, in part for some of the reasons Mickelson —and others—outlined: The lack of guaranteed compensation in golf as well as the notion that stars were underpaid.
LIV went off the charts with its commitment to such efforts. The PGA Tour has responded with more modest but certainly not inconsequential upgrades.
The PGA Tour’s season is complete, with the next event not for another three weeks to kick off the last calendar-year schedule.
LIV Golf resumes this week with an event outside of Boston, and then two weeks later—the same as the PGA Tour’s Fortinet Championship—another tournament outside of Chicago.
There is bound to be fallout from PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s announcement last week that the top players will be required to play all of the “elevated’’ events and 20 total in order to be considered for the lucrative Player Impact Program that will offer $100 million in bonuses to 20 players.
Jon Rahm, who won last year’s U.S. Open and presumably could be one of the 20, was at the player-only meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, ahead of the BMW Championship. So he would know what was discussed. But he seemed a bit surprised by what Monahan announced.
Rahm, from Spain, also plays on the DP World Tour, which requires four tournaments outside of the major championships for membership—and Ryder Cup participation. He was asked if the new PGA Tour edict would make that more difficult.
“If we have to play all those 20, then yeah, 100 percent,’’ Rahm said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it changes, because that puts me in a difficult position. If I go and play in Europe in the fall like I’m going to, I have to play from January to August (on the PGA Tour) 20 times. I think this is my 17th from January and I don’t think I could add any more.“Especially with Ryder Cup and having to play four in Europe, yeah, I think it’s a bit of an ask, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they revise a bit of a rule or make an exception for some players. But if they do it for players like me and Rory, they might have to do it for everybody.’’
A couple of takeaways from Rahm’s response.Was he not in the same meeting led by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy? And is what was discussed significantly different than Monahan announced?
Rahm played 18 events on the PGA Tour schedule starting in January, including all eight of the elevated events that were already part of the 2023 slate. Four more are to be added. Rahm basically has to add two events over nine months to make this work, and that seems far more doable since he did not venture onto the DP World Tour at all except for the Scottish Open—which also counts as a PGA Tour event.
He then has four events to play on the DP World Tour, and based on his past this seems imminently doable. Last year he skipped the BMW PGA—which is in two weeks—which he is planning to play this year. He played two events in Spain. Those three along with the Scottish fulfill the obligation. So would playing the Ryder Cup. As would competing in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.The idea of changing the policy would seem remote. The entire point was to get the top players together more often. And in order to assure this, some sacrifices are going to be necessary.
In Rahm’s case, he can fulfill all of his obligations by playing 23 times worldwide.
He is on his way to playing at least 21 this year. He played that many last year. He played 25 in 2019.
As for changing the policy, Rahm said: “You’re asking the wrong guy. If you want to know about that stuff, you know who of the two players you have to ask,’’ he said, smiling.