Let’s be honest…There are far more questions than answers right now on the new PGA bonus program the Tour is calling its Player Impact Program, which will be known going forward as the PIP. That’s right, we made it an acronym. That’s how we do!
What is the PIP:
Well, first It’s worth noting that the tour did not publicly announce the program. That’s right, a silent roll out of a HUGE bonus program paying out a whopping $40 million to select 10 players deemed to do the most to boost publicity and engagement for the game and the PGA Tour. The news rather was broken by Golfweek and then confirmed by tour officials. That got us thinking…Why? Why the hush hush, this is a big deal! Maybe because the idea was to reward the one percenters? Maybe because they weren’t sure how it would be received. Either way, it feels a little hush hush and begs the question…what’s the deal with this and why is it important to the tour?
All that being said, we have a few questions:
1. Where is the tour getting this lump sum of stashed loot?
Its not like it’s a few grand laying around, its $40 million! As it stands, there’s no corporate sponsor and there’s not likely to be one, if only because Fred Smith, the CEO of FedEx, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the tour dating to 2007, would probably lose his mind if PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan stood up and proudly proclaimed a new multi-million-dollar corporate partnership (Think Elon Musk) in order to pay 10 players millions of dollars.
2. As it is, I am curious how in the heck FedEx, whose contract with the tour runs for the next 6 years, will react to a new program that rewards players for being – wait for it…popular?
Flawed as the FedEx Cup playoff system is, the hundreds of millions the company has invested has incentivized the top players to keep playing through the end of the summer. In years past, many would simply take a break or “mail it in” after the last major championship is over. To be fair, that was precisely the point when then-commissioner Tim Finchem negotiated FedEx to sign on in the first place. FedEx and the PGA Tour are in bed so deep that the FedEx logo is imbedded in the floor of the lobby inside the tour’s new multi-million-dollar headquarters.
3. Here’s the catch: the tour laid off about 50 employees last summer in the midst of the pandemic.
Now, however, they apparently have $40 million laying around to spend on 10 of its wealthiest players. Essentially saying: “We will just go ahead and chip off what we need of the gold bar and close up the old safe when we’re done”. Now, we are not getting political here, but It’s also worth noting that the tour would not move the Tour Championship out of Atlanta in the wake of the Georgia legislature passing a controversial voting-rights bill because leaving the area would harm local charities. Sooooo, why couldn’t the tour take a chunk of that $40 million, give it to the charities it benefits in the Atlanta region and move the tournament someplace else? Not saying that’s what should have been done, but it is worth an argument that Major League Baseball did exactly that when it announced it was moving the All-Star game out of Atlanta soon after the bill was passed?
4. Therein lies the next question: Why spend $40 million this way anyway?
Aren’t there a myriad of other, more worthwhile things, the money could can be used for other than handing out millions to a small group of men who are already multi-millionaires? The tour constantly cites its charitable giving—which to be completely fair is very generous and quite substantial. This is not an indictment on the tour but rather an open letter asking the question couldn’t all or some of that $40 million be better spent? Maybe give more to charity, Maybe support local junior golf initiatives, Maybe supporting families affected by Covid-19, shoot I can think of a dozen or so other ways to spend such a nest egg. There’s no such thing as enough when it comes to charities, especially nowadays in the wake of the pandemic.
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Here’s an idea: The tour could use some of the money to increase purses at some of its lower-profile tournaments, where the bigger names don’t show up, alluring some bigger names and thus increasing interest amongst the golf community, better TV ratings and overall better golf. Right now, there are four major championships, three playoff events, four WGCs and the Players Championship that stars are expected to play. That’s 12 tournaments in 52 weeks. Really? That essentially means a top player only needs to play three more times to meet his minimum of 15 events per year. While I love incentives, The PIP does nothing to encourage the tour’s stars to play in more tournaments, or tournaments that could use their needle-moving power.
It seems obvious the PIP is simply a reaction to the threat of the proposed Premier Golf League, which was first publicly discussed a year ago. The PGL model calls for 18 events in a season for huge money (reportedly $240 million) each year. But despite all of the financial enticements, a handful of top-ranked players, including Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, have already went on record saying they weren’t interested, stymieing the tour’s launch.
The very idea of the PGL clearly scared the tour, and in my humble opinion, the PIP appears to be a direct response to that concept: If we give top players millions for doing nothing on top of the millions they are already making, they won’t be tempted by the “currently conceptual” PGL. It’s an overreaction to something that doesn’t even exist at the moment.
That said, it’s worth noting who might be among the 10 players in line this year to receive the $40 million in bonuses the tour is going to hand out.
Presumably Tiger Woods is No. 1 on the list (because the tour hasn’t made any ranking public) even though he is recovering from his horrific car accident. Woods is often the most mentioned on social-media platforms that the tour proposes to use to measure, and I am finger quoting here, “impact”. If that’s the case, he still arguably receives more attention than anyone who is actually playing golf right now.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Here is what Tiger has done to the game…Years ago, when Woods was the No. 1 player in the world by leaps and bounds, Tommy Roy, NBC’s longtime golf executive producer, told me that a survey the network had done asked viewers this question: “Would you rather watch any other player hitting a shot or watch Tiger Woods leaning on his bag waiting for his turn to play?” According to Roy, 45 percent of viewers said they’d rather watch Woods talk club selection with then-caddie Steve Williams.
Woods is 45 now and no one knows if he will ever play in a PGA Tour event again, I for one believe we will see him peg it in 2022. Even with that there are still legions of fans who would rather read one of his tweets than watch Stewart Cink win at Hilton Head—all due respect Cink, whose comeback story is truly inspiring.
Now, guess who probably should be No. 2 on the list, if popularity is the measure? How about Charlie Woods. OK, he’s not eligible (yet) but think about the interest his presence at the PNC Challenge last December created among the media, TV, print, digital, social and otherwise. Of course, I’m kidding that Charlie should be paid for the engagement he helped bring the tour, but I bring him up to make the point that paying competitive athletes (or their children) based on popularity is ludicrous.
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You know who else is clearly in the top 10, perhaps the top five? Rickie Fowler. Yes, I said it. Captain Orange. He is currently ranked 109th in the world and 128th on the FedEx points list. Remember, this isn’t about playing well, it’s about being popular. Fowler hasn’t been seen in a late group on Sunday in a long time, but he’s still on TV selling product non-stop and has a strong social-media presence. Plus, he’s a genuinely nice guy. Everyone loves Rickie, regardless of his struggles inside the ropes.
Bryson DeChambeau, aka Popeye, the sailor man, as well as Brooks Koepka, aka Brooksie would both certainly make the list for their feud and the attention it drew on social media. Bryson also won the U.S. Open last September, he now looks like a young Arnold Schwarznegger and could probably compete with Kyle Berkshire for length.
DJ, Rory, Spieth, Lefty (yes, at almost 51 Phil Mickelson) JT are likely to crack the list. Adam Scott? Perhaps given his appeal among men and women and his playoff finish at the Wyndham. Patrick Reed? Well, lets not get ahead of ourselves…Probably not so much unless it is during a Ryder Cup week and American fans are chanting, “USA,” every time he holes a putt. Then we love you Patrick any other week, not so much.
What about Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama? If this was Japan, he would be No. 1 by a massive margin. But it’s not. Collin Morikawa, the PGA champion and probably the best young player in golf? Maybe, maybe not. He’s just a superb player, an extremely bright guy and personable as they come. But he’s not big on social media. Get cracking Colin!
The larger point isn’t so much who will or will not be on the list. It’s the question again of why spend $40 million to make a bunch of very rich guys richer? To get them to sign more autographs or go on social media more often? Seriously? It’s flailing at an opponent who doesn’t even exist at the moment. It is just about the worst idea since New Coke. With luck, it will go away just about as quickly. Bye Felicia!