The PGA Tour’s answer to LIV Golf’s question from the last couple years — So, what are you going to do now? — is seemingly a reimplementation its somewhat-successful, not supremely entertaining World Golf Championship events from two decades ago.
It was revealed last week that the PGA Tour is moving in 2024 to a model of eight designated events featuring 70-80 golfers with it sounding unlikely the traditional 36-hole cut will remain. These events will consist of the top 50 players from the previous year’s FedEx Cup as well as 20-30 golfers who have played their way into the designated events by having success at the non-designated (full field) tournaments in the current year.
So again, is this just the WGCs all over again?
According to those at the forefront of the decision, that is decidedly not the case. Nor is it, like many affiliated with LIV would love for you to believe, an imitation of that league.
“If you go back and you look at [the WGCs] and look at how they have evolved, and you look at field composition, I think depending upon which of the four events that you choose, you had field sizes anywhere in the high 40s up into the low 70s, and anywhere between 20% and 35% of those players were not PGA Tour members,” said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
“Also, I think as we’re talking about today with these designated events, the criteria is very well understood. It will be consistent. That was not the case with the World Golf Championships in the past, and there are ways over the course of the year to play yourself in or to play yourself out of these events, which I think is an important characteristic that doesn’t necessarily like in real time the hottest player exists the way it is in this model going forward.”
This is true, and it’s the best part of the 2024 changes. Players have called this new model “the best players and the hottest players,” and that is accurate. It will be the 50 best from the year before and 20-30 of the hottest from the current year (who weren’t also the best from the year before). It’s a far more open system than LIV, which has the potential of churning just three spots a year. This model could see five times that amount of churn per week, not to mention the year over year turnover in the top 50, which the Tour says is up to 40% per year.
This is also far different from what was first proposed during the BMW Championship last summer.
“The presentation in Delaware was very self-serving for the 20 players in that room,” said Rory McIlroy on Tuesday. “We were looking at fields of 50-60. We were looking at only 10 players dropping out of that top 50 every year, so a retention rate of 80%. The Tour were like, ‘Look, the typical retention rate for the top 50 has historically been around 60%, so let’s try to get back to that number.’
“So the structure that has been rolled out here is vastly different from the one that we all talked about and the guys saw in Delaware, and I think for the betterment of everyone. I think, if we had have went down that road, it doesn’t serve the membership anywhere near as well as what this structure does.”
The structure overall is going to be good, even if there are quibbles with parts of it, notably the no-cut, small-field nature. Monahan addressed those issues, too.
“By keeping these field sizes at 70-80 players, that allows us to make the field sizes at all of our full-field events as strong if not stronger going forward,” he said. “All of our modeling suggests that. Candidly, we have seen some challenges with player fields early in the season. We’ve had a 20% decline in exempt members that are participating in some events. That’s something that we recognized was going to happen as we came in this year when we made the changes last summer.
“We feel that, ultimately, by having field sizes the way that we are going to have them next year, that puts the entire body of work, the book that I was talking about, in the strongest possible position because those tournaments are going to have a number of players that are playing in these designated events that we’ll be playing.”
Pushing some of those middle-class players down into the non-designated events helps promote those events and keep them afloat.
Interestingly, McIlroy noted that he will probably play some of the non-designated because he wants to not skip three whole weeks of play until the next designated tournament (this is the proposed cadence).
Overall, the system is solid. It maintains meritocracy and promotes clashes between the best golfers in the world, all while keeping the integrity of its infrastructure. Would some tweaks improve it? Yes. Would the fields be better at 90 players instead of 70? Yes. Would a cut be preferred? Yes.
However, none of this precludes the product from being terrific, and hopefully, far better than what we ever got from the WGCs.