KAPALUA, Hawaii — Forward of this week’s Sentry Event of Champions, rivals obtained a “Participant Advance Sheet,” as they do earlier than each occasion. However one entry listed underneath “TOURNAMENT NOTES” stood out.
“This season, on the request of the membership, insurance policies have modified to permit caddies entry to locker rooms always to have the ability to help the participant as wanted.”
Caddies getting locker-room entry could not look like a giant deal. However the discover is important due to what it represents: the PGA Tour is new and improved and it’s in search of to make adjustments in response to the rise of LIV Golf. This variation felt like a very direct response as a result of LIV scored instant factors with its members final 12 months by making life simple for his or her caddies. The truth that the Tour is altering its caddie coverage demonstrates two issues: 1. They’ve been spurred to motion by their competitors and a couple of. PGA Tour gamers have realized they’ll make precise adjustments.
This week is certainly the start of professional golf’s subsequent chapter. Final spring and summer time, LIV Golf threw a sequence of haymakers on the institution, however the Tour’s prime execs consolidated by summer time’s finish, forming a plan for 2023 that may cease the bleeding. That plan? Prime execs would conform to play a set of “elevated” tournaments — guaranteeing stronger, extra thrilling fields — and in flip these occasions would pay out extra money. The transfer was deemed important due to the corresponding bounce in money but in addition due to the best way Tour execs agreed to work collectively to impact change. In a league outlined by its rugged individualists, that doesn’t normally occur. Up to now, the adjustments have had their desired impact: no top-ranked execs have left for the reason that finish of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
However change doesn’t all come naturally to the PGA Tour. Want a reminder? Simply learn the ultimate sentence in that participant discover:
“Please observe that caddies are requested to not loiter or linger within the participant locker room when not aiding their participant.”
In different phrases, caddies are allowed into the locker room simply so long as they don’t get too comfy. Which begs the query: On the eve of a pivotal 2023 match season, has the PGA Tour modified sufficient?
In equity to the Tour, there are very actual adjustments going into impact this week. Cash is certainly a very powerful to the vast majority of gamers; no one likes to really feel underpaid and so it’s useful that the Sentry Event of Champions purse has jumped from $8 million final 12 months to $15 million this 12 months, with $2.7 million going to the winner and $200,000 assured to the Thirty ninth-place finisher (in a 39-player area). Practically each prime Tour participant is right here, with one notable exception: vocal chief Rory McIlroy is utilizing his solely “skip” of the season (each prime professional will get one) to overlook out on Kapalua. (Shane Lowry is the one different eligible professional who’s absent; after I talked to him on the Hero World Problem he had a easy rationalization: “Have you learnt how far it’s from Eire to Hawaii?”)
The purse hike and the sturdy area are every indicators of issues to return. Final 12 months the Tour made a sequence of choices that promised the wealthy would get even richer, doubling PIP payout to $100 million. It gave its rookies a lift, too, guaranteeing $500,000 to each full member and match stipends for members with partial standing. It additionally lined up 13 “elevated occasions.” These 13 plus the 4 majors would make sure that a big majority of “prime gamers” will compete 17 instances in the identical fields for common purses of $20 million, dwarfing the Tour’s earlier payouts. Everyone is making extra money and followers are profitable out, too, by getting readability on which tournaments actually matter.
However for all of the adjustments, this 12 months’s Event of Champions feels quite a bit like final 12 months’s and the 12 months earlier than that, too. The construction is similar. The faces are the identical. Even the information of the day — logging which tools corporations have signed which gamers — is shockingly acquainted. Large-picture, all the things is similar: they’re nonetheless contesting the match over 72 holes of particular person stroke-play golf.
If LIV Golf’s 54-hole individual-team hybrid shotgun-start format was a revolution, the PGA Tour’s response stays a wager on the established order. That’s all properly and good so long as the Tour doesn’t overlook why it made adjustments within the first place. However there’s a clumsy pressure between hyping up the large occasions with out leaving the others behind, and the Tour appears not sure whether or not or not it must be bragging about this week as the start of one thing huge and new. Even the terminology “elevated occasions” has all however disappeared from its current communications, and a narrative on its web site homepage touts the power of area for its upcoming (non-elevated) tournaments in California, a transparent reminder that it desires these occasions and their sponsors to be glad, too. And its FedEx Cup factors system does little to tell apart star-studded elevated occasions from the others. In case you don’t take a look at the end-of-week payouts you’d be forgiven for pondering that nothing had modified.
However the adjustments have been sufficient to fulfill its prime stars, at the least for now. McIlroy and Tiger Woods have been outspoken proponents of the plan and helped make it a actuality. Jon Rahm, who had some preliminary reservations, praised “the route” of the PGA Tour.
“I imply, they’re making the required adjustments to adapt to the brand new age and I feel it’s higher for everyone,” he stated on Tuesday.
Will Zalatoris has purchased in, too, and stated he doesn’t plan to skip even a single elevated occasion. “Why does F1 work? Nicely, Lewis Hamilton’s going to be there at each single race. So is Max Verstappen,” he stated.
Even pure skeptic Patrick Cantlay sounds optimistic.
“I feel the fellows are excited with simply all having the ability to play in opposition to one another and feeling like there’s going to be  tournaments this 12 months the place many of the prime 50 gamers on this planet are all taking part in the identical occasion,” he stated.
However different execs acknowledged that this feels principally the identical.
“It doesn’t really feel that a lot totally different, to be sincere,” Justin Thomas stated. “I feel perhaps come week’s finish it’d, however simply to this point all through the week it hasn’t felt any totally different.”
“I feel with the designated occasion really feel, it’s just a little bit, I imply, I don’t know,” Scottie Scheffler added, trailing off. “I feel this one nonetheless at all times will get a fairly good area.”
However he, too, referenced his pleasure to be up in opposition to one of the best execs on Tour more and more usually.
Scheffler was additionally the newest to reference the 2024 season, which is able to run January to August and be the primary PGA Tour schedule with no fall portion. It can additionally mark the debut of a supplemental tech-infused golf league that may air competitions on Monday nights between high-profile gamers together with Woods, McIlroy, Rahm and Thomas. There’s an elevated sense amongst gamers that the Tour is getting nearer to maximizing its potential, each in participant earnings and in fan leisure. (That’s hardly unanimous, however it’s larger than it was final spring.)
There’s lots about the way forward for males’s skilled golf that the PGA Tour can’t management. It could actually’t management the sum of money the Saudi Public Funding Fund decides to pour into the sport in 2023. It could actually’t management the extent of curiosity followers will reveal in LIV’s new-look league. And there are execs it received’t be capable to retain as a result of easy indisputable fact that they’ll earn more money taking part in for LIV.
There’s additionally no query the Tour misses the vary of personalities who’ve fled to LIV. The elevated occasions would have been extra compelling with Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed. The Event of Champions is lowered with out its defending champion Cameron Smith.
Like all good New Yr’s Decision, the PGA Tour is starting 2023 by specializing in what it can management. It’s laser-focused on retaining its current expertise. It’s doubling down on its current product. That will not be a golf revolution. However there’s little doubt it’s a step in the precise route.