It isn’t known how far along the PGA Tour had progressed towards its initiative to counter the LIV Golf Series with an expanded program of “elevated” high-dollar tournaments prior to the Aug. 16 players-only meeting in Wilmington, Del. But with four months’ worth of hindsight, it appears the gathering of nearly two dozen high-profile tour pros at the Hotel Du Pont can be viewed as a turning point for the tour in its ongoing fight with the Saudi-backed upstart. Just eight days later at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Commissioner Jay Monahan laid out the tour’s plans to which top players had given their blessing—if not insisted be put in place—thus shoring up its base of big names and assuaging fears that more LIV defections were coming.
That Tiger Woods flew in from his home in Florida to lead the meeting, along with Rory McIlroy, underscores the gravity and importance of that moment. And whatever was said that day—players in attendance have been tight-lipped about specifics—was embraced by those in attendance, which then apparently gave Monahan the green light to proceed with the plan to designate 13 tournaments for increased purses ranging from $15 million for the Sentry Tournament of Champions to $25 million for its flagship event, the Players Championship. Additional moves to retain talent, including up-front stipends for true tour rookies and fast-track access for top college golfers, also might have come out of the Delaware gathering.
It was veteran tour member Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a long-time member of the PGA Tour Policy Board, who more than hinted at just how consequential the proceedings were that Tuesday before the BMW Championship, the second event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“The important thing is the players got together and decided this is the direction we want to go,” Love said. “We understand the game and we understand access and … a little bit we understand marketing. And we have to do what Tiger and Rory and the big guns want to do to sell to FedEx and RSM and … our mission here is playing opportunities.”
At last week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, Woods, the tournament host, provided a glimpse of what was discussed, noting that the tour can’t compete dollar for dollar with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which backs LIV and spent a reported $750 million in 2022 to get the nascent circuit off the ground. “But what we can do,” Woods said, “is talk about better opportunities for younger players getting onto the tour, what it means to play the tour, how important it is, how important it is to have a legacy, be able to win major championships.”
He continued: “There was a lot of talk of that and ways in which we can increase purses, reward players that are more visible than others that drive the tour, reward them, and also give better access to the tour at different ages and in different ways than we ever have in the past. It was a long meeting. A lot of different options were [discussed]. Then we’ve had many subsequent meetings, FaceTime meetings, trying to figure it out and make it better and also worked with the tour to try and make it better as well.”
During his prime, Woods often liked to refer to the “process,” whenever he was working through swing changes or rehab from his many injuries. It appears that whatever changes that are occurring on the PGA Tour in 2023 and beyond is part of a process in which Woods and his fellow “top players” have been considerably influential. There have been “subsequent meetings” and work with the tour “to figure it out.”
In other words, the process continues.
It seems plainly obvious that Woods and others didn’t get together to hear themselves talk. They saw how things were progressing, and the momentum LIV had developed as it was luring more pros to their circuit, and decided it was time to take definitive action. They wanted concrete commitments from the tour, and in exchange would provide concrete commitments back. If there’s a lesson from the Delaware meeting, it’s that the fate of the PGA Tour isn’t just up to the people sitting in offices in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but the folks who peg up the ball every week.