New signature-event concept put to the test at Pebble

New signature-event concept put to the test at Pebble
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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – There’s something apropos about this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am being at the crossroads of the PGA Tour’s metamorphosis into a leaner, more focused product.

The event dates to 1937 and, up until a generation ago, was colloquially known simply as “The Clambake.” Those days changed a few decades ago as the event became more corporate and the celebrities, not the players, took over the spotlight.

But that all changes this week as “The Crosby” becomes the Tour’s signature-event proof of concept.

Last month’s Sentry in Maui was technically the season’s first signature event, but the yearly lid-lifter has always been a limited-field, no-cut perk for the stars. Pebble Beach is the first “full-field” signature event and the center of the circuit’s star-driven universe.

Gone from the iconic layout are most of the celebrities, many of the corporate types who rounded out foursomes and roughly half the field (with just 80 pros and 80 ams). They’ve all been replaced by the strongest field in decades and the game’s top performers vying for a bloated purse.

The Tour’s move to signature events was part of a schedule overhaul to stem the tide of top players joining LIV Golf, and the eight elevated tournaments – The Sentry, Pebble Beach, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship, Memorial and Travelers Championship – were created with the notion of assembling the best players together more often.

The concept is simple but not foolproof.

“You never know, right? We can’t control who watches, how many people watch, how many people come to the tournament. You could have bad weather that people don’t come out. There’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Justin Thomas explained. “But for a golf fan, I would think that they would want to watch an event like this as much as they would want to watch a major because realistically, not all, but the majority of the same players are playing in it.”

That theory will be put to the test this weekend at Pebble Beach. Thanks to a late birdie on the 18th hole, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler took a share of the Friday lead alongside young star Ludvig Åberg and Thomas Detry. Sixth-ranked Patrick Cantlay is a shot off the lead, followed by Thomas at 9 under to round out what is an objectively impressive leaderboard.

Conditions at Pebble feeding into JT’s creativity

Justin Thomas sits down with Todd Lewis to discuss how the course conditions through the first two rounds of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am have affected his approach and seeing hard work pay off.

That’s the good news. But as Thomas pointed out, there are variables that are out of the Tour’s control, like a Sunday forecast that calls for rain and winds gusting to 45 mph. A Monday finish with a little-known champion isn’t exactly the walk-off Tour officials were hoping for this week.

The Tour needs these showcase events to resonate with the fans and the sponsors, who have been asked to dramatically increase their investment to keep pace with rising purses.

“Financially, the whole idea is that you’re delivering a premium product, and hopefully that’s what it shows, otherwise we’ll have to bounce back in a different direction,” Jordan Spieth told Front Office Sports. “You’re going to have a tournament that hopefully looks and feels better than any time you’ve had that tournament before, and that’s the idea to the sponsors. To do that eight times during the season, that would improve our product, create better competition, and honestly, create better stories as we come into the weekend.”

Players also caution that the signature-event concept needs time to evolve into what the Tour hopes will become that premium product. Much like the FedExCup, many contend the final version is still a few nips and tucks away.

“Obviously with anything new, if they start off well and there’s a lot of good storylines and things like that, then that’s great,” Rickie Fowler said. “I also think these are very new and this is a big change. I would say, in a way, there’s probably going to be some sort of tweaking or adjustments as they see how things play out. It’s very rare that things are perfect and say it’s amazing, we’re just going to stay there.”

One encouraging sign for the signature events is that every player who was eligible is in the field at Pebble Beach (not counting Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton who joined LIV Golf), which is a notable victory after the Tour removed the mandatory participation requirement this season.

But with the elevated fields come elevated expectations and this week’s Clambake is very much an early litmus test of the signature concept.

“This is all the top players in the world that are playing in these handful of events together each season,” Thomas said. “I would think that they will do well and that was at least the thought and goal behind it. I guess it is a little bit of you want it validated that it will work. I guess we’ll see.”

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