Tour commish on limited, no-cut fields: Change ‘can be uncomfortable’

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was confidently defiant as he came armed with loads of data and talking points for his annual press conference at The Players Championship on Tuesday.

The Tour’s announcement last week of limited, no-cut fields for eight designated events in 2024 sparked controversy throughout the golf world. While recognizing it might not be the perfect solution out of the gate and that change “can be uncomfortable,” Monahan said all of the tour’s modeling suggested this was the best approach moving forward.

“At the heart of the changes announced is our effort to present the best possible PGA Tour to our fans and provide maximum benefits for every PGA Tour member across the board,” he said. “We’ve looked at all possible competitive models, and it was evident and perhaps obvious that whatever we do differently, we must showcase our top performers competing against one another more often.”

The notion of the tour’s top players competing for larger purses in limited, no-cut fields led LIV Golf defectors Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood to take to social media to stir the debate about how that differs from the Saudi-backed rival league.

PGA Tour veteran James Hahn, ranked 305th in the world, told Golfweek he hates the changes. He accused the tour of being “hypocritical” while hiding what he believes is the true intention of funneling more money to its top players so they won’t leave for LIV.

Monahan’s response is that players still must qualify for the designated events and continue to earn their way into the marquee tournaments.

“I would ask you, do you think we really look the same? The players that are competing in our events in this new format next year will have earned the right to compete in them and they will have earned it through top-50 position in the FedEx Cup this year as well as their performance in the fall and ultimately in these swings,” Monahan said.

“That’s what this organization has always stood for. The PGA Tour has always had limited-field, no-cut 72-hole stroke play events. In fact, Jack Nicklaus won 17 times in that format. Arnold Palmer won 23. Tiger Woods won 26. To me, those wins, those, the format did not diminish those accomplishments as we sit here today.

“I think as we look out to 2024, 2025, 2026, the same will hold true.”

When the PGA Tour responded to the LIV Golf threat by creating designated events with full fields competing for $20 and $25 million purses for the 2022-23 season, the collateral damage has proved to be the regular tour stops in between.

With the top players in the world building their schedules around the designated events, last month’s Honda Classic didn’t have a single top-15 player in the field as it sat between the Genesis Invitational and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Next week’s Valspar Championship faces a similar dilemma as it follows the Arnold Palmer and The Players.

Peter Malnati is one of five players on the PGA Tour’s Advisory Board. After initially being adamantly opposed to the proposed changes, he admitted last week that he now believes they will help the full membership.

As the 220th-ranked player in the world, Malnati held the concern shared by many of the tour “grinders” that the changes would only benefit the cream of the crop. But following a seven-hour meeting at Bay Hill during which the tour presented data on the percentage of players on average move in and out of the top 50, he came away convinced that limited, no-cut fields will only strengthen the full-field events.

“I just couldn’t believe how much I had transformed my view on what we were doing,” Malnati told Golfweek. “I think everyone thinks that we’re screwing up and I really actually don’t think we are.

“It was the only way to protect the little guys. … When I saw the numbers, you couldn’t ignore it.”

And that’s the point Monahan attempted to drive home on Tuesday.

“When you look to the future, being able to balance our entire schedule between designated and full-field events is absolutely critical,” he said. “By keeping these field sizes at 70 to 80 players, that allows us to make the field sizes at all of our full-field events as strong if not stronger going forward.

“All of our modeling suggests that.”

One of Monahan’s “data points” was a look at the number of top 30 players in the world rankings who competed against each other at non-majors. According to the tour’s data, that number was less than 40 percent, compared to 95 percent at the majors.

While acknowledging this transition year has led to some difficulties for regular tour stops, Monahan also pointed out the storylines they have generated. The most recent was Chris Kirk earning his first win in seven years following a well-documented battle with alcoholism. He outlasted Eric Cole, a journeyman pro with 54 mini-tour victories on his resume.

Monahan believes these types of storylines will continue to be created under the new model. Meanwhile, unheralded players like Kurt Kitayama will have opportunities to qualify for designated events and pull off remarkable feats such as his win at Bay Hill last week.

“The analogy that I’ve been playing around with, one great chapter does not make a great book,” Monahan said. “A few great chapters cannot stand alone. It is the whole story, the ebbs and the flows, the transitions, the connectivity between each. That’s what makes a book great, and that’s what you need to do to deliver a bestseller.

“That’s what we’re attempting to do with our new competitive model. I’m confident our fans, partners and players will get what they’re looking for – the most competitive compelling consequential Tour in the world.”

Monahan acknowledged the “awkward” element of reigning champion Cam Smith – who lives in the area – not being in the field to defend his Players title this week. He’s one of four players who finished in the top six last year who have since joined LIV Golf.

However, the 144-player field does include the top three players in the world rankings, which has changed hands several times between Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy already this year. Rahm arrived at The Players ranked No. 1 for the second consecutive year, but Scheffler and McIlroy again have an opportunity to wrest it away from him this week.

Woods won the second of his two Players titles in 2013, and there has been a first-time winner every year since.

“When you have top players competing together more often, as we’ve said we’re going to do, those same storylines are going to come through and the connectivity over the course of the season I think is something that right now we don’t fully understand, but when we get into it I think it’s going to be extremely compelling and is going to help all of our events grow and succeed,” Monahan said.

“I’m going to say this: It’s a great time to be a PGA Tour fan and a PGA Tour player.”

–Field Level Media

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