Cut Line: What worked and didn’t work with PGA Tour signature events

Cut Line: What worked and didn’t work with PGA Tour signature events
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In this week’s edition, we examine the good, the bad and the busy from this year’s signature events.

Made Cut

The right time.” Seth Waugh will likely be a footnote in golf history, and that will be wildly unfortunate.

Future generations will look back at this time in golf as the most contentious and turbulent in the history of the game. This era will be defined by rival leagues, bitter lawsuits, unbridled greed and needless finger pointing. Forgotten in that snapshot will be Waugh’s contributions.

Waugh, who announced Wednesday he was stepping down as PGA of America CEO, entered that role in 2018 in what many believed was a second career following his time as CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas. He was almost immediately challenged by a global pandemic, the rise of LIV Golf and a fractured game. Despite those challenges, golf is enjoying unprecedented growth.

“It feels like the right time, not only personally but professionally,” said Waugh, whose contract with the PGA was up on June 30. “We’ve accomplished an awful lot in the six years. The game has never been in better shape. Participation is at an all-time high. It’s growing in all the ways we hoped it would.”

Waugh balanced the competing interests at the professional level and lobbied at last month’s PGA Championship for an agreement between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which owns LIV Golf. He also warned the USGA and R&A about the potential consequences of rolling back the golf ball.

The current era will be remembered for vitriol and disruption. Waugh will be remembered as a much-needed voice of reason.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Signature scrutiny. Last week’s Travelers Championship was the final signature event on the PGA Tour schedule and it’s as good a time as any to dissect the eight-event series.

The goal of the events was to gather the game’s best players more often without a mandatory requirement, like the regulations used for last year’s “designated” events which attempted to ensure participation by withholding a player’s PIP payout if they didn’t play.

Based on a memo sent to players last week, “the eight signature events saw an average of one eligible player not participate, with two events seeing 100 percent participation and a maximum of three players not participating in one event.”

With world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler winning four of the signature stops and Rory McIlroy winning once, the events produced the star power the Tour had hoped for.

There were issues, however. Scrutiny over sponsor exemptions lingered throughout the season with many of the coveted spots going to Tour policy board members and there is a push to limit exemptions into signature events.

Field size was also a problem, although that was addressed last week when the policy board approved a plan to create an alternate list to assure 72-player fields.

The signature events weren’t perfect, and they probably won’t be any time soon, but the product delivered as promised.

When more golf is less. Another byproduct of the signature events was a condensed schedule for the top players.

The final run of signature events began with the Memorial, one of the year’s most demanding tests, followed by the U.S. Open, arguably the year’s most demanding test, and finally the Travelers Championship in consecutive weeks.

It’s a lot and the best example of this is Tom Kim who, fresh off his playoff loss to Scheffler last week at TPC River Highlands, made his ninth consecutive start at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. It probably should have been no surprise that Kim struggled to an opening 73 and was well outside the projected cut when he began his second round.

Getting the game’s best together more often is aspirational, but getting the game’s best some rest should also be a factor.

Missed Cut

Signature stumbles. While the events largely delivered on the promise of bringing the game’s top players together more often, the elevated events also kept pace with Tour projections of “churn.”

The Tour had predicted that the retention rate for players who finished last season inside the top 50 of the FedExCup points, which are exempt into the signature events that offer far more FedExCup points and money than full-field events, would be 64 percent. According to last week’s memo, those predictions are holding.

As of the Travelers, 16 players would be new to the top 50, a churn rate of 32%.

Players like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and last year’s Rookie of the Year, Eric Cole, have currently played their way out of the top 50 despite a significant statistical advantage. All of these players have time to change their fortunes, but as Yogi Berra famously said, “It gets late early.”

Dutch Olympic officials are keeping home two male and one female players from the golf competition in Paris.

Olympic snub. The deadline for this year’s women’s Olympic tournament arrived this week and initially Dewi Weber believed she had earned a spot at the Paris Games to represent the Netherlands.

Darius van Driel and Joost Luiten also believed they had qualified for the Olympic men’s tournament. The Dutch Olympic committee, however, denied all three spots in Paris because their world ranking is too low. Only Anne van Dam, 108th in the Rolex Rankings, will represent the Netherlands next month.

“Our own country is saying we don’t think you’re worthy of being an Olympian, and you’re not worthy of representing the Netherlands,” Weber told Golf Digest. “And that, honestly, that hurts. We even asked them, ‘Hey, is this about money?’ Like, we will pay for it ourselves. Our Federation will pay for it.”

According to the Netherlands Olympic Committee/Dutch Sports Federation, the internal standards for all sports is for athletes to have a “realistic chance” of finishing in the top eight in the Olympics. Luckily for Rory Sabbatini, Slovakia didn’t have such lofty expectations four years ago when he won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Games. Sabbatini was ranked 204th in the world at the time.

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