LIV Golf’s shadow casts uncertainty on PGA Tour events, including Nelson and Colonial

For the self-proclaimed honorable sport of golf, this week’s occasion and backdrop are sublimely symmetric.

It’s the 150th British Open. At the Old Course at St. Andrews, the hallowed home of golf.

Lurking this week, though, on the Royal and Ancient club’s sacred grounds is an Ignoble and Current tiff that threatens the fabric if not the existence of the 53-year-old PGA Tour and the 50-year-old PGA European Tour.

LIV Golf, funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, has lured about three dozen players from the PGA and European Tours, which in turn suspended those players’ memberships. The British Open and other majors are among the few tournaments in which LIV players can compete alongside those from golf’s established tours.

Grudgingly, that is. And perhaps only temporarily. On Saturday the R&A, which governs golf outside the United States and Mexico, announced that LIV CEO and commissioner Greg Norman, a two-time British Open winner, was not invited to Monday’s Celebration of Champions at St. Andrews or the Champions Dinner.

“The 150th Open is an extremely important milestone for golf and we want to ensure that the focus remains on celebrating the championship and its heritage,” the R&A statement read in part.

LIV Golf’s brazen challenge to golf’s establishment is a fluid, volatile situation with near-daily developments updates that are being closely followed in PGA Tour host cities, including McKinney’s AT&T Byron Nelson and Fort Worth’s Charles Schwab Challenge.

“Any time there’s a new story, we’re watching it and trying to analyze what, if anything, it means,” AT&T Nelson tournament director Jon Drago said. “It’s just so early, it’s hard to tell much.”

It’s been less than two months since the 2022 Nelson was played May 12-15, amid trickling reports about early defectors committing to the debut LIV Golf event June 9-11 in England.

On June 22, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, in reaction to the growing threat of LIV and its megadollar bonuses and no-cut 54-hole tournaments, announced that there will be wholesale changes to the PGA Tour’s 2023 regular season and FedEx Cup playoff schedules .

In a way, the timetable puts the Nelson and late-May’s Schwab Challenge at Colonial in a position of strength: Their 2023 tournaments are 10 months away, by which time much of the PGA Tour-LIV Golf drama will hopefully have played out and battle lines clearly drawn.

For the Nelson and the Schwab, that should be ample time to clarify the considerable current uncertainty strange though that is to contemplate with both events having been well-attended a year after the pandemic.

For the Nelson, it was the second year of a five-year commitment to host the tournament at McKinney’s TPC Craig Ranch.

“The main thing we’re trying to do is make sure we keep our eye on the ball for our short-term future with 2023. We’ve got such momentum. We’ve got an engaged community, ”Drago said.

“We can not take our eye off that, but we also can not be naive and not be watching what’s going on.”

Professional golfer Jordan Spieth tees off across the water on the par-3, No. 13 during the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

The most important issue facing the Nelson and other PGA Tour events: prize money. Clearly, there’s pressure from LIV and seemingly a mandate from Monahan to increase purses. But by how much? And where will the extra money come from?

The answer to those questions becomes even more important as the PGA Tour contemplates a future with most likely fewer events, again taking into account defecting players who cited the positive of LIV’s shorter schedule: eight events this year; 10 in ’23; 14 in ’24 and ’25.

Among the PGA Tour’s current 47 events, the Nelson and Colonial have well-positioned themselves among the upper-third tier, largely through their longstanding reputation and tradition, strong title sponsorship and competitive purses.

This season, the Nelson’s $ 9.1 million purse ranks 15th among tour events – including the four majors, FedEx playoffs and WGC Match Play – while Colonial’s $ 8.4 million purse ranks 20th.

During his June 22 news conference, Monahan said the Tour welcomes healthy competition but blasted LIV as “not that. It’s an irrational threat; one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game. ”

Nevertheless, clearly in response to that threat, Monahan announced $ 53.8 million in purse increases to eight Tour events, increases ranging from $ 5 million to $ 8 million.

None of those events were the Nelson or Schwab. Monahan did not specify where the extra money would come from, though he did say the Tour has cash reserves, some of which was used to assist tournaments during the pandemic when the Nelson, for instance, had its 2020 event canceled.

Will tournaments besides the eight specified by Monahan be expected to likewise increase purses? Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, for example, will see their respective $ 12 million purses soar to $ 20 million in 2023.

And how might PGA Tour charities be affected? The Nelson through the years has generated more than $ 172 million in charitable giving, primarily benefiting the Momentus Institute.

“I do not know if the titles [sponsors] of those events are paying for it, or if those events are paying for it, ”Drago said of the dramatic purse increases. “We found out the same way that everybody else did when they raised those purses.”

That’s how fluid and unpredictable the PGA Tour has become because of LIV’s incursion. Pro sports have had many such battles through the decades: NFL-AFL, NBA-ABA, NHL-WHL and, yes, the splintering of the PGA of America in the 1960s to the PGA Tour, largely due to players’ dissatisfaction with purse sizes .

LIV’s arrival has been sudden by comparison, and it’s too soon to predict its staying power and ultimate effect on the PGA Tour. And tournaments such as the Nelson.

Notably, the Nelson has two years on its title sponsorship agreement with AT&T, one of the most influential sponsors in golf, including of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Masters.

It also seems notable that North Texas’ Big Three players – world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, no. 12 Jordan Spieth and No. 13 Will Zalatoris – appear to be strongly committed to the PGA Tour. In the past 10 days, Zalatoris and Spieth have issued emphatic denials when rumors and reports surfaced about their potential interest in LIV.

“Categorically untrue,” Spieth said.

Zalatoris: “I have been vocal about this since February and nothing has changed.”

That seemingly is good news for the Nelson and Colonial, not that successfully hosting Tour events for five and seven decades, respectively, should not alone put them in positions of strength.

“Certainly we hope they’re going to be playing us for a long time,” Drago said of 26-year-old Scheffler, Spieth (28) and Zalatoris (25).

“And we’re a 54-year-old PGA Tour event and plan on continuing to be one.”

Showing the money

On June 22, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced significant purse increases for eight Tour events starting in 2023. What is unclear, however, is how much other Tour events will have to increase their purses. In 2022, the AT&T Byron Nelson’s purse ranks 15th on Tour and Fort Worth’s Charles Schwab Challenge’s purse ($ 8.4M) ranks 20th.

Event 2022 purse 2023 purse
1. Tour Championship $ 75M ?
2. Players Championship $ 20M $ 25M
3. US Open $ 17.5M ?
4. Masters $ 15M ?
(tie) PGA Championship $ 15M ?
(tie) FedEx St. Jude $ 15M $ 20M
(tie) BMW Championship $ 15M $ 20M
8. British Open $ 14M ?
9. Genesis Invitational $ 12M $ 20M
(tie) Memorial Tournament $ 12M $ 20M
(tie) Arnold Palmer Invitational $ 12M $ 20M
(tie) WGC Dell Match Play $ 12M $ 20M
13. Zozo Championship $ 9.95M ?
14. CJ Cup at Summit $ 9.75M ?
15: AT&T Byron Nelson $ 9.1M ?
16. Wells Fargo Championship $ 9.0M ?

Note: On June 22 the PGA Tour announced that the season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions purse will increase from this year’s $ 8.2M to $ 15M next year.

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