Cut Line: Players have the power, but will feel a schedule squeeze in ’24

Cut Line: Players have the power, but will feel a schedule squeeze in ’24
Please Share

In this week’s edition we examine the changing power dynamic on the PGA Tour, break down next year’s designated-event schedule and put U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson on the clock.

Made Cut

Player empowerment. In the NFL, a disgruntled star can “hold out” to try and force a team to negotiate better terms (think Jonathan Taylor and the Indianapolis Colts). In the NBA, top players can “demand” a trade to a specific team (think Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard). But in professional golf, the power dynamic has been a one-way road – until everything flipped during the last year.

In May 2022, the PGA Tour announced the addition of a fifth player director to the policy board, a seat that initially went to Patrick Cantlay. Prior to that expansion the circuit’s decision-making body, in theory, leaned in favor of the Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan, with five independent directors and the current PGA of America president.

On Tuesday, the Tour named Tiger Woods the sixth player director on the policy board as part of a new “transparency and governance measures” agreement that expands player input into the decision-making process.

The addition of Woods and the sixth seat gives the players a firm majority with the Tour currently in the process of replacing Randall Stephenson, who resigned from the board due to “serious concerns” about the circuit’s framework agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to create a for-profit entity alongside LIV Golf and the DP World Tour.

It’s been a difficult few years for the Tour and it remains to be seen how the circuit reaches a definitive agreement with the PIF. But if there’s a single bright spot from the chaos created by LIV Golf, it will be unprecedented player empowerment.

Playoff push. Adam Scott hasn’t posed a top-10 finish on Tour since early June and at 81st on the FedExCup regular season points list this week’s Wyndham Championship is his last chance to qualify for the post-season, which he’s never missed since they began in 2007.

The move to the top 70 who qualify for the playoffs – down from the top 125 in previous years – will have a lasting impact across the Tour and the fall portion of the schedule is setting up to be more compelling as players will need to continue to compete to keep their jobs. But for a player like Scott, the new reality could be profound.

The Australian has played a relatively limited schedule for much of his career with a focus on specific events, like The Genesis Invitational, but many of those tournaments are now designated (or whatever the ’24 name will be), which leaves Scott facing a much different reality if he’s unable to crack the top 70 this week.

“I’ve had a lot of years having a go at the FedExCup playoffs and all these kind of things come to an end at some point,” said Scott, who opened with a 65 at Sedgefield for an early share of fifth place. “But for sure I want to win this tournament and if I do that, I can have a really good run right through to East Lake, I believe.”

The 2024 PGA Tour schedule will feature a host of “signature” events, some which will include cuts.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Scheduled maintenance. The Tour is poised to officially unveil the 2024 schedule next week in Memphis, but Golfweek first published a copy of next year’s lineup on Thursday.

The highlight of the 39-event schedule is a better cadence than this year’s designated-event experiment, with breaks between such tournaments to create pathways for players to earn spots into the more lucrative events and add a better flow for the top players.

While the Tour should be applauded for reworking the schedule, there are plenty of concerns heading into ’24, including a significant loss of playing opportunities in these select events.

The Genesis Invitational, the Memorial and the Arnold Palmer Invitational will all have reduced fields – although they will have cuts, confirmed – as will the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the RBC Heritage, the Wells Fargo Championship and the Travelers Championship, which will not have cuts.

Each of these fields will feature between 70 to 80 players, which would be a dramatic decrease for Pebble Beach, Wells Fargo and Travelers (156 players this year) and the Heritage (132 players). The three player invitationals – The Genesis, Bay Hill and Memorial – will also have reduced fields from 120 players.

The goal of these events is to bring the top players together more often at historic venues, but the cost will be roughly 435 lost playing opportunities based on 75-man designated fields next year. Perhaps this era was inevitable, but the cost was not.

PGA Tour changes cadence in 2024 schedule

PGA Tour changes cadence in 2024 schedule

Missed Cut

Memorial move. The Tour’s ’24 schedule accomplished the primary goal of creating a better cadence to the season, but the lineup is far from perfect.

The most significant move might be the Memorial’s relocation to the week before the U.S. Open. For decades, Jack Nicklaus’ tournament has been played two weeks before the national championship and although a one-week adjustment seems minor, it could have a much bigger impact.

The Memorial will begin a three-event designated swing (the only one of the season), with the Travelers Championship played the week after the U.S. Open, during a time of year when the top players are probably not interested in playing three consecutive weeks.

Starting next year there will be no mandatory participation requirements which means top players will probably take one of those weeks off.

Ryder Cup wrap. With less than three weeks remaining before automatic qualifying for the U.S. Ryder Cup team ends, the conversation is no longer “irrelevant,” which is how U.S. captain Zach Johnson explained the possible dilemma of players who joined LIV Golf playing on this year’s team.

Brooks Koepka, who won the PGA Championship and finished runner-up at the Masters, is currently fourth on the list and has a good chance of finishing among the top 6 automatic qualifiers. Even if he falls outside of the top 6, it’s likely Johnson would name Koepka one of his six captain’s picks.

Talor Gooch, however, is well outside the window to qualify (86th on the U.S. points list) but surfaced as a possible pick earlier in the year after winning three times on LIV Golf. But he doesn’t appear to be holding out much hope of playing on this year’s team.

“What I think doesn’t matter for it, unfortunately,” Gooch said at this week’s LIV event at The Greenbrier, “so I’ll just continue to play good golf and let the people whose opinions matter, hopefully, we can sway them a little bit.”

Because LIV events don’t count towards Ryder Cup eligibility or award world ranking points, most players who joined the breakaway circuit have tumbled down both lists and made Johnson’s job more challenging. It’s best if the U.S. captain stays out of the politics of the moment but given the curious crossroads the game finds itself it will be telling to see who makes the trip to Rome.

Source link