HILTON HEAD ISLAND — The plan was well intended. Increase the purses, get the top golfers playing together more often and the PGA Tour could ward off the threat of LIV Golf. That was August, when commissioner Jay Monahan revealed the schedule of 12 designated events worth $20 million. But the outcome, through last week’s Masters, was that the top players have played together too often.
Last week, Rory McIlroy missed the cut at Augusta National after shooting 72-77. Then he withdrew from this week’s RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, opting out of a designated event for the second time this year. He’d played in six tournaments worldwide before the Masters, the same lead-in to Augusta as last year. But the difference is the intensity of those tournaments. McIlroy played in four designated events, against the world’s best golfers, and the Players Championship. By the time he drove down Magnolia Lane, he was fried.
Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion, fared much better than McIlroy at Augusta; he shot a final-round 66 to tie for fourth place. But the three-time major winner was left to wonder what could’ve been if he wasn’t gassed. Spieth played nine events before the Masters, which is only one more than last year. Again, those nine tournaments packed more punch; five were designated. He wasn’t even that thrilled about his share of fourth.
“I played way too much golf into this,” Spieth said Sunday at the Masters. “I came in mentally fatigued.”
Englishman Matt Wallace, who won last month’s Puntacana Championship for a maiden PGA Tour win, is a year younger than McIlroy and grew up playing golf with the Northern Irishman in Europe.
“Do I envy Rory’s position? No,” Wallace said Wednesday. “I love the guy. He does a great job for golf. But can I see him being tired? Yeah, absolutely.”
Four of the eight events leading up to the Masters were designated. Players were allowed to miss one, although with the Sentry Tournament of Champions McIlroy has now skipped two. It’ll likely cost the four-time major winner a portion of his PIP earnings from last year.
After this week on Hilton Head Island, there are six designated events left in the year—the Wells Fargo Championship, Memorial, Travelers Championship and the three FedEx Cup playoff events. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but there are also three majors remaining.
“It is a busy stretch, pretty much March to pretty much August there’s big tournaments [but] you get a little break middle of the summer,” Patrick Cantlay said.
Added Spieth: “[I’m trying to] balance continuing the stretch of golf I’ve been on. I’ve been playing really nice golf over the last six, eight weeks, and then resting.”
Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters winner, has been the chairman on the Player Advisory Council. The popular Australian, winner of 14 PGA Tour titles, acknowledged the crammed schedule but insisted there was light at the end of the tunnel.
“Yeah, it’s been a little loaded, but we all knew it was going to be this bridge year, so we’ve just got to deal with it for a year,” Scott said. “I think the tour has addressed that cadence for next year.”
The cadence Scott speaks of relates to a likely rhythm of two consecutive designated events followed by a swing of three non-designated events. The latter will create a miniseries that rewards the top five players after each non-designated swing, access into the following designated events.
“I think that’s I think the plan, and it’s a good plan,” Scott said. “There certainly won’t be any isolated [non-designated] events.”
Reigning U.S. Open champion, Matt Fitzpatrick, is quick to point out that golfers who start 2024 without guarantees of being in the designated events—meaning they didn’t finish in the top 50 FedEx Cup who qualified for the 2023 BMW Championship—would be playing a lot of golf too.
“There’ll be more cadence, I guess, but the issue with that is, if you’re not in the designated events, and you play well [in the non-designated swings], you’ll play the next two [designated events] and now you’re playing five,” the Englishman said. “It’s messy but I think in a few years once it’s a bit more structured it should be a little better.”
That extra golf, from the PGA Tour pros on the fringe of the designated structure, will just have to be collateral damage for overall improvement to the PGA Tour’s product.
“It’s a job,” Wallace said. “I’ve never understood people not playing more but, then again, I wasn’t playing in the majors. I’m sure they’ll come up with [a solution] and I’m sure there’ll be teething problems, but it’ll eventually suit everyone.”
The payoff, however, appears to be an improved PGA Tour that rewards the game’s biggest stars, while extracting more out of tournaments between the biggest events. There’ll also be a reduction in designated events from 12 in 2023 to eight next year. When the top players get together, they should be rested.
“Ultimately, I think it’s a good thing for the game, and you just have to be really wise about making sure you take enough time off in between some of these big tournaments this spring and summer,” Cantlay said.
Added Scott: “All of us seem to be playing a lot at the moment and we’ve just got to get through this year. But I think the upside going forward is huge for everybody on the PGA Tour.”