Cut Line: A week that will make a long-term impact (and welcome back, Monahan)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In this week’s playoff edition, we welcome meaningful points projections, the rollout of a refined 2024 schedule and some straightforward clarity to many of the game’s most complicated questions.
Projections. The endless playoff projections that were spawned by the Tour’s playoff experiment have never really carried the desired urgency, but this week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship feels different.
Although there’ve been playoff projections since the post-season started in 2007, the transition to a signature-event schedule next year has placed an inflated importance on players cracking the top 50, which makes this week’s cutoff to qualify for the next playoff event (top 50) so much more compelling.
Qualification for next year’s signature events includes the top 50 from this year’s points list, the top 10 from the current-season points list, the top 5 from the mini-lists between signature events, players ranked inside the top 30 in the world ranking, and current-year winners. There’ll be no alternates for these designated events, which means if 65 players sign up for a signature event, the field won’t be filled out.
There have always been cutoffs (from the top 125 to keep your Tour card to the top 30 to qualify for the Tour Championship), but given the new signature-event reality, this one feels significant.
Cadence. It was less than a year ago when Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and about two dozen others gathered in the Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, to plot a new course for the Tour.
That course included a dramatically overhauled lineup, with elevated (now signature) events and a focus on smaller fields with the top players. It’s a testament that the Tour was able to cobble together a version of that vision this season and even more impressive that the 2024 schedule, which was released Monday, is an even more orderly lineup with an improved cadence between signature and full-field events.
With just a single exception – the WM Phoenix Open, which will be wedged between two signature events – the Tour schedule provides extended breaks between the designated events and a better flow around the major championships.
“There’s a lot that I like with this schedule next year. I love Quail Hollow going straight into PGA. I love Memorial going straight into U.S. Open,” Rory McIlroy said. “I’d say my schedule will look pretty much the same as it did this year. I’m not a huge Hawai’i guy, so I’ll probably not go to Hawaii, but I’ll play Pebble Beach and sort of play a similar schedule from there on that I’ve played.”
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Welcome back. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan technically returned to work last month following a leave because of a “medical situation” in June, but this week’s stop at TPC Southwind felt like real office hours.
On Tuesday afternoon, he hosted a player meeting (albeit with just 25 players in attendance), and on Wednesday, he met with reporters for the first time since the circuit announced the framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).
Although there were plenty of uncomfortable topics for the commissioner to cover, he said the most frequent question he’s received since returning was personal.
“How are you doing? Are you well?” Monahan said. “Every player has not started off with a business question. They’ve generally started off with a personal question. That means a lot to me.”
During these difficult times in professional golf, a little humanity goes a long way.
A Harold-ed take. As the Tour’s various task forces and ad hoc committees wrestle with the complicated specifics of a potential definitive agreement with the PIF, it should be no surprise that Harold Varner III would offer some no-nonsense solutions.
In a Q&A with Golfweek, Varner explained that, like many LIV Golf members, he’s not sure if he wants to return to the Tour if the two sides can reach an agreement. But if he does return, he said he shouldn’t keep the same status he had when he left, suggesting that he’d probably need to earn back his status via the Korn Ferry Tour.
Varner also offered a unique take on the concept that those players who remained loyal to the Tour should be compensated for that loyalty.
“I also don’t think people on the PGA Tour should get compensated for being loyal. I think that’s [expletive]. I don’t think anyone should; you had the option to go,” he told Golfweek.
The complexity of the definitive agreement is starting to become clear, but if there’s an opening on one of those task forces or ad hoc committees, the circuit might want to consider adding someone with Varner’s sensibilities.
Phil Mickelson. It had already been a week for Mickelson, and he hadn’t even played a meaningful shot at this week’s LIV Golf event in New Jersey.
On Thursday, excerpts from renowned professional gambler Billy Walters’ new book “Gambler: Secrets from a Life of Risk” claimed that Mickelson gambled more than $1 billion on football, basketball and baseball over three decades.
The book also claimed that Lefty attempted to make a $400,000 bet that the U.S. team would win the 2021 Ryder Cup, although Mickelson denied that allegation.
But it’s not Lefty’s gambling that lands him on the wrong side of the cut line this week. Instead, it was a curious victory lap he took when asked his thoughts on the overhauled Tour schedule and the move to signature events.
“[Commissioner Jay Monahan] and I had four three- or four-hour meetings, and all the notes I look back on, I’d say 85 or 90 percent of them are happening, and I think that’s really cool, and I’m happy for the PGA Tour. I wish them all the best,” he said before adding, “I chuckle. I certainly am chuckling, yes.”
Mickelson was certainly an early advocate of a condensed Tour schedule with a focus on limited-field events that cater to the top players. Whether that advocacy was for the good of the Tour or for the good of Phil is debatable.
Done deal. Ever since the Tour announced its framework agreement with the PIF in June, the consensus has been a potential definitive deal to create a for-profit entity would be a forgone conclusion. That might not be the case.
While this week’s player meeting with the commissioner was predictably short of details, one message did emerge.
“There are a lot of parts that have to come together,” Rickie Fowler said. “They have to get a majority, if not unanimous, as far as board and player support. So yes, there’s a lot of things that have to come together for this to happen, and I would say you’d have to sell everyone on the idea that this is the best option for the Tour, for the players, for everyone moving forward.”
Monahan seemed more optimistic, but he did agree that any potential deal with the PIF will need to have widespread approval from the players.
“For us to reach an agreement, we’ve got to have approval and buy-in from our board,” Monahan said. “If we’re not successful, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. At this point in time, we’ve entered into the framework agreement to, in good faith, try and complete these discussions and complete the agreement.”
Both sides in the potential deal are motivated to reach an agreement, but it remains to be seen if that’ll be enough.