This is not full-contact golf. But it’s as close as we’re going to get to it. Twelve times a year, plus majors, we are going to see drivers smashed, wedges thrashed and putters bashed as the recognized top players, and those who want to be, battle it out on the fairways and greens of top golf courses around the country in PGA Tour designated events.
This week it’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge, formerly the winter home of The King, Arnold Palmer. It was expected to be a big deal, and so far, the tournament is delivering.
Jordan Spieth was involved in the player planning of the designated events, although not to the extent that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were. He cited the value of their ideas in keeping the essence of the PGA Tour.
“This is a meritocracy, and we need to keep it the way that … when you play well you get rewarded, and you don’t, if you don’t,” Spieth said after his first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"“I think we’ve found a pretty good balance right now in holding on to what you’re talking about, that history of it, but also making modern adjustments that I think, in my opinion, reward appropriately to the guys who beat the best in the world week-in and week-out.”"
The schedule is the test of their new plan. This week, the PGA Tour’s bigger, better, and bolder idea is playing out in Orlando at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And guess what? The leaderboard is currently clogged with stars.
Last year’s winner, Scottie Scheffler, is hanging around near the lead as is Patrick Cantlay, 2021 PGA Tour Player of The Year, Jordan Spieth, winner of three majors, and Cameron Young, last year’s PGA Tour Rookie of The Year.
"“I would be lying if I said that we would have gone through this without LIV.” – Jordan Spieth"
Just for fun, last week’s winner, Chris Kirk is tied with Young one shot back of the No.1 player, Jon Rahm. Meanwhile, Danny Willett, Xander Schauffele, Max Homa, Rickie Fowler, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Shane Lowry are in the mix. This is truly running with the big dogs.
Now, it was unknown how these events would play out, with good reason. When you’re up to your you know what in alligators, it’s hard to remember the primary mission is to drain the swamp.
That has to be how the PGA Tour and its players felt after being bashed for the last 18 months by Greg Norman and LIV. Threats that LIV was signing top players. Threats of lawsuits. Both of which happened.
But a funny thing happened when the Saudis attempted to take over golf.
The PGA Tour players decided they weren’t going to take it.
They came up with a plan called designated tournaments, and they increased purses massively for several events during the season. They planned a different kind of schedule which would allow newcomers and oldsters a chance to be at the top if they played well enough. They made a pathway for every tournament on the schedule to become designated in the future.
But the other thing they did was to make it a little harder to stay on the PGA Tour. They made it a real contest every week. They didn’t want anybody to be coasting.
The result has created the feel of mini-majors at the designated events, at the very least. The big names are visible. People sense it and more come out. From security personnel to volunteers, the feeling is that the tournaments are more of a big deal than they have ever been.
One volunteer at the Arnold Palmer Invitational who has been here for years said she had never seen anything like it, and that was just Thursday morning. One media person who has attended the WM Phoenix Open for more than 20 years on a semi-regular basis said that tournament was “stupid big.”
"“I would be lying if I said that we would have gone through this without LIV,” Jordan Spieth said. “But at the same time, they haven’t — we haven’t mentioned them in any of our discussions on what we think’s best for the Tour.”"
Spieth said after being on the board, what he learned is any player should feel his voice will be heard, whether he’s No.1 on the FedEx Cup points list or No. 125.
Regarding the new schedule, Jordan is in favor of it.
"“It’s still you got to play well to be in the best position. It’s a situation where everyone that holds a full Tour card can play in every single event. I think that’s important to note,” he insisted. “Hopefully it creates a future product model for the next 20-plus years that’s even better than it has been.”"
He said they were trying to get as much right the first time as possible, but as with the FedEx Cup, there might need to be modification.
They are taking a wait-and-see attitude on that.