The PGA Tour upped the ante on golfer pay this year

The mind-blowing offers of prizes for tournaments

The PGA Tour upped the ante on golfer pay this year, boosting its average tournament purse 14% to $9.1 million. The Players Championship soared to a tour-record $20 million, from $15 million, and the majors, which are run independently of the tour, followed suit, with the PGA Championship and the Masters each paying out all-time highs of $15 million.

That’s all chump change compared with LIV Golf, the pro golf tour making its debut Thursday in London with a field featuring Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

Having secured $2 billion in backing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, LIV is promising purses of $25 million for its seven regular-season events. With $4 million set aside for each champion, all seven events will beat the PGA Tour’s record for a winner’s prize, $3.6 million, set in March at the Players Championship.

The PGA Tour does pay out bonuses on top of its purses, introducing a Player Impact Program last year that paid Tiger Woods and nine other golfers a total of $40 million for the interest they stirred in the sport and doubling the bonus pool for the tour’s regular-season top ten to $20 million this year. There’s also a $75 million pool for the FedEx Cup playoffs, up $15 million from 2021, with the champion taking home $18 million.

But LIV Golf has bonuses of its own, including $18 million for its regular-season individual champion from a pool of $30 million. LIV’s season-ending Team Championship will also carry a prize fund of $50 million to be divided among 12 squads, including $16 million for the first-place team.

There are a couple of big caveats. LIV’s season, at eight events, is dwarfed by the PGA Tour’s 49-event schedule (which includes the four majors). While the upstart circuit plans to build out its slate to ten events next year and 14 in 2024 and 2025, the new tour will offer many fewer chances to compete for prize money for the immediate future, and the PGA has said that golfers who switch to LIV risk suspension or expulsion. For now, though, players on both tours will be eligible to enter the U.S. Open, and possibly the other three majors, which are all independent and haven’t banned LIV’s golfers.

There’s also no guarantee that results of LIV tournaments will count toward the Official World Golf Ranking. The circuit is applying to be recognized by the ranking alongside a number of other pro tours, including the European Tour, the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour in addition to the PGA Tour. But LIV Golf Investments chief operating officer Atul Kholsa acknowledged in a May interview with Golf Monthly that the ranking’s board “does consist of the same individuals that have threatened players,” referring to the PGA Tour’s leadership.

The world ranking is important not just because it stokes golfers’ egos but because players’ sponsorship bonuses are often tied to how high they climb up the list.

On the other hand, the format of LIV’s events offers two big benefits. Tournaments won’t cut down the field after two rounds the way the PGA Tour does, ensuring every golfer who competes at a LIV event gets a chunk of the purse. In addition, fewer hands will be dipping into the pie. LIV’s London event has a field of 48 players while most of the PGA Tour’s top-paying events have at least 70 golfers who earn paychecks.

Led by CEO Greg Norman, a two-time major winner himself, LIV announced its Invitational Series in March, with golfers set to compete both individually and as part of teams in 54-hole events. The London event will feature 18 players currently ranked in the top 100, as well as established veterans like Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Charl Schwartzel.

Johnson, a former world No. 1, expressed loyalty to the PGA Tour in February but resigned his membership on Tuesday. His agent, David Winkle of Hambric Sports Management, said in a statement that Johnson ultimately felt “this was too compelling to pass up.” The Telegraph of London, without identifying a source, reported that Johnson was paid about $125 million to join LIV.

Mickelson hasn’t played competitively since generating controversy with the February publication of his comments that he was willing to ignore alleged human rights violations by Saudi Arabia in order to join the then-prospective circuit. Brentley Romine of Golf Channel, again without identifying a source, reported that Mickelson was paid about $200 million to sign with LIV. Asked about that report on Wednesday, Mickelson, making his first public appearance in four months, told reporters: “I feel that contract agreements should be private. Doesn’t seem to be the case, but it should be.”

At least one other player, Matt Jones, has acknowledged receiving a signing bonus from LIV, without specifying how much.

https://b761a4d91050f93ce0a2ad8e2e8173fa.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html Beyond the criticism of LIV’s association with Saudi Arabia, some golfers have expressed skepticism about the new tour for competitive reasons, including Rory McIlroy, who told reporters Wednesday, “For me, I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world.” Meanwhile, Norman told the Washington Post that Woods had rejected an offer in the “high nine digits” to join LIV.

Defections continue, however. On Wednesday, Bryson DeChambeau’s agent confirmed to Forbes that the star American would join LIV later this season, with the New York Post reporting that he had been paid over $100 million. The Telegraph reported that Patrick Reed, too, would move to LIV. Meanwhile, Rickie Fowler acknowledged in a recent interview with the New York Post that he was considering the jump.

So far, the only big sponsor known to have punished players explicitly for switching tours is the Royal Bank of Canada, which dropped Johnson and McDowell last week. RBC is the title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s Heritage tournament, held in April, and the Canadian Open, being played this week in Toronto.

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