Rob Oller | What's in a name? A ton of money for most well-known of PGA Tour players
Money grabs are nothing new, having been around since the first cave man saw a chance to pocket extra clam shells in exchange for intel on how to make fire.
No surprise then that the PGA Tour is like any other greed-inspired sports enterprise — we’re looking at you, European Super League — in that obsession with profit dictates decision-making.
But golf is different from other sports in that individual income is directly tied to performance, meaning if you miss the cut you miss a paycheck. What sets pro golf apart from other “salary sports” is an economic anomaly: play well or don’t get paid.
(The potential for lost wages also explains why logo-adorned pros are walking advertisements for everything from financial investment firms to designer watches. Or, in the case of Rickie Fowler, seemingly any product that can be promoted in a 30-second commercial. But that’s a topic for another day).
But now the PGA Tour is messing with that core tenet by creating a bonus structure that will reward golf’s biggest names regardless of how they perform on the course, according to Golfweek. The new system, named the Player Impact Program, is designed to compensate players who drive fan and sponsor engagement — players such as Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau and Fowler, ranked 109th in the world and without a tour win since February 2019.
The program, which began Jan. 1, is viewed as a direct response to the Premier Golf League, a proposed splinter tour funded by the Saudi Arabian regime that has tried to lure golf’s biggest names with the promise of a massive guaranteed payout, Golfweek reported.
The PGL has failed to gain traction among golf’s biggest stars, but apparently it was enough of a threat for the tour to create a way to reward its marquee players for value they add to the overall product, not just leader board success.
How much reward? At the end of the year, a pool of $40 million will be distributed among 10 players, with the player deemed most valuable receiving $8 million.
The No. 1 spot was locked up long ago, like maybe in 1997 when Woods won his first Masters. Woods moved the needle so much that TV money skyrocketed, and his peers benefited by becoming millionaires just for making cuts.
“Tiger should be No. 1 on that list no matter what,” Brooks Koepka told Golfweek. “He’s the entire reason we’re able to play for so much money, the entire reason this sport is as popular as it is and the reason most of us are playing. Not even close.”
No argument here, but Woods does not need the money. Neither does Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy or any of the other players listed in a tour document circulated to players that measured impact scores based on 2019 figures. That list ranked players 1 to 10: Woods, McIlroy, Koepka, Mickelson, Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Adam Scott.
“Imagine all the things that could be done with $40 million,” a former tour player told me. “Has the tour helped Lee Elder, beyond when he was playing? Ed Fiori beat Tiger at Quad Cities. His Q-Rating was high then. He just had a heart transplant. Money could be used for those kinds of players, as well.”
Instead, the tour is conducting a rich-get-richer scheme that is part popularity contest, part beauty pageant. The metrics used to determine rankings include: popularity in Google search; Nielsen Brand Exposure rating, which places a value on the exposure a player delivers to sponsors through the minutes they are featured on broadcasts; and Q-Rating, which measures familiarity and appeal of a player’s brand.
No wonder some lesser-known tour players are grousing about the reward format, arguing that once a player becomes a household name he really has to screw up to lose it. Or maybe being a screw-up helps you become famous?
That’s just one potential unintended consequence of rewarding fame, a TV golf broadcaster texted.
“Is it $40 million worth of mustard to make the player a hot dog?” the analyst wondered. “So many angles to this, and not many are positive. Do you think the TV guy might get a call if he/she says something that might negatively affect Q-Rating? Will the producer/director have pressure to show the guy on the bubble?”
Some will say “Why shouldn’t players who move the needle and market the tour make extra money, even when they play poorly?”
Because it’s golf. Loser buys the beer. He doesn’t get one handed to him.