‘Hot guys vs. top guys’: Rory McIlroy backs revamped PGA Tour schedule, as LIV Golf hits back | CNN

‘Hot guys vs. top guys’: Rory McIlroy backs revamped PGA Tour schedule, as LIV Golf hits back

CNN  — 

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson didn’t go head-to-head enough during their heyday, according to one leading US golfer on Wednesday.

If the PGA Tour’s revamped 2024 schedule succeeds in pitting the golf’s major stars against one another more regularly, the sport’s latest rivalries could be about to get more showings.

The new schedule offers increased prize purses, smaller fields, and no cuts, much like the breakaway LIV Golf Series.

“It is more opportunity for the top players to battle it out late on Sundays,” world No. 8 Max Homa told reporters.

“Which, you look back at times of Phil and Tiger, the two best players growing up for me watching, and they had like maybe two real battles. So we’re going to have more of that.”

World No. 3 Rory McIlroy is another supporter of the revamp, describing as it as “trying to get the top guys vs. the hot guys.”

Unveiled by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan in a letter to the Tour’s membership, the new schedule will include eight “designated events” made up of between 70 and 78 players.

Eligibility criteria, as well as which events are to be marked as “designated,” are set to be specified at a later date, a press release from the Tour said.

However, it added that the “framework” for eligibility will “reward top performers” on the Tour – including the top 50 players from the previous year’s FedEx Cup rankings, the top-30 PGA Tour players in the world rankings, and tournament winners during the season.

And with no 36-hole cut line, all golfers competing will play the entirety of the events that offer elevated purses, as well as FedEx Cup points.

Though involvement will not be mandatory, these two factors, as well as the competitiveness and “prestige” of the tournaments, will “incentivize” participation, the Tour added.

“These smaller, Designated event fields will not only deliver substantial, can’t-miss tournaments to our fans at important intervals throughout the season, but they will also enhance the quality of Full-Field events,” Monahan said in the letter to players.

“Together, this approach provides a schedule that is cohesive, compelling, consequential and with clarity for fans, players and sponsors alike.”

The new scheduling will not affect the majors, The Players Championship, as well as three FedEx Cup Playoff events. Their existing format is set to remain unchanged, with designated events run in addition.

‘Imitation is the greatest form of flattery’

Designated events were first announced by the PGA Tour last August, with 12 on the 2023 schedule. The first on this season’s calendar was the Phoenix Open in February, as Scottie Scheffler secured $3.6 million in prize money.

Though still including a cut line, the increased purses at these tournaments were offered as a response to the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series last year.

Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), LIV Golf offered huge amounts of money for players to leave the established tours – the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour – to join the new series.

PIF pledged to award $250 million in total prize money for the tour’s inaugural season. Of the $25 million prizes purses offered at each of the first seven events, $20 million was a guaranteed split between players. Played across three rounds as opposed to the typical four, golfers could not be cut as part of a team-based format.

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Congratulations PGA Tour. Welcome to the future,” read a tweet from LIV Golf’s official account Wednesday.

The inaugural LIV Golf event was hosted at Centurion Club in St Albans, England in June 2022.

Ahead of the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, a host of its big-name golfers were quizzed on their views about the revamped schedule.

Consistently outspoken against LIV Golf, accusing it of “ripping apart” men’s professional golf, McIlroy has previously been dubbed the de-facto spokesperson for the PGA Tour.

Asked whether the new schedule’s restricted eligibility criteria could leave lower-ranked golfers “on the outside looking in,” the four-time major champion said he was firmly behind the new plans.

“I love it,” McIlroy told reporters Wednesday. “Obviously I’ve been a part of it and been in a ton of discussions. I think it makes the TOUR more competitive.

“I’m all about rewarding good play. I want to give everyone a fair shake at this. Which I think this structure has done. There’s ways to play into it.

When Scheffler was asked whether designated events were threatening to create a “closed shop,” the world No. 2 said: “I think it’s exciting because you’re going to have the top guys in the world playing against each other more often.

“You’re going to be able to guarantee the sponsors that those guys are going to be there four days. I think that’s a lot of value added to TV and for sponsors.

“I think it’s a better model overall for the Tour to have a set of events that are aspirational and that give guys access to those events.

“If you earn your way in to those events, the top 50 in the FedExCup this year gets into all of ‘em … I think it’s more of a reward for the guys that are playing the best on the Tour.”

McIlroy discussed his thoughts on the new schedule on Wednesday.

Scheffler: Money not a factor

Discussing the increased spotlight on prize purses, Scheffler insisted that money was not a “motivating factor” for players on the PGA Tour.

“We get paid a ridiculous amount of money to do what we do out here, but I don’t think money is the motivating factor for too many guys,” Scheffler said.

“You can’t really base life decisions when it comes to money. When you’re out here playing golf tournaments you’re never thinking about the money, you just want to win the tournament.

“So as being kind of a golf purist, that’s the motivation. I want to be able to play well, win tournaments and get the most out of my game.”

In response to the absence of a cut line at designated events, McIlroy highlighted the absence of cuts at various existing PGA Tour events – including the CJ Cup and the Zozo Championship – as proof there is a “precedent” for the format.

“The only reason no-cut events are a big deal is because LIV has come along … There’s been no-cut events since I’ve been a member of the TOUR and way beyond that as well,” McIlroy said.

“It keeps the stars there for four days. You ask Mastercard or whoever it is to pay 20 million dollars for a golf event, they want to see the stars at the weekend. They want a guarantee that the stars are there. So if that’s what needs to happen, then that’s what happens.”

Homa’s ‘rant’

Perhaps the most impassioned defense of the new scheduling however, came from Homa, who warned he could “rant on this for awhile” regarding the changes as the 32-year-old American delivered a four four-minute monologue.

While he understood “gripes” around the limited fields, Homa said that discussions with Monahan had confirmed his belief that the plans were positive for the game.

“I think it’s easy to frame these changes as a way to put more money in the top players’ pockets, but it has been made to make it easier and more fun for the fans,” said Homa.

Addressing concerns over restricted fields, Homa highlighted the example of an unnamed golfer who had become a “running joke” due to his participation in a PGA Tour event. According to Homa, the player was a professional golfer but was no longer a practicing pro.

“Those people will be in a ton of the events,” he said.

Homa in action during the pro-am prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“Now the sponsors have to say, ‘Well do we want … a chunk of the field [being] guys that won an event years and years ago that have jobs or have retired well before that,” added Homa.

“It is a major in a way or a major field every single week.

“So I think it will be a new and improved challenge. I think it’s important that we all test each other against one another each week. If you don’t, you will get pushed aside and have to work your way back up.

“It will be a different kind of stress that we haven’t had before, but I do think it will be stressful.”

Asked if he wanted a break before continuing with the rest of his press conference, Homa declined, quipping: “Sorry guys. I think a lot and you just heard my brain spill out.”