Jack Nicklaus is the latest person to look at the coming PGA Tour changes and wonder just what the new tour will look like. After all, he has seen several incarnations of the tour.
“What it’s done is made the PGA Tour almost two tiers,” Nicklaus said in an interview with the Associated Press. “All of a sudden the other tournaments become feeders.”
Nicklaus was responding to plans by the PGA Tour to have 20 elevated events, with increased $20 million purses each season. Some of the events will be anchors for the tour year in and year out, while other events might rotate from being an elevated event to a regular event every few years. The idea is that the best players in the game will gather at the elevated events to provide more top-level competition for fans to watch.
Nicklaus might be right in raising an eyebrow over how all of this will work in a revamped tour – changes Nicklaus said were coming but have been accelerated by the existence of the LIV tour – but there is another truth about the tour. It has already been two tiers for several years.
Anyone who follows events like The American Express in La Quinta or any number of tour events across the country have seen the two-tier system at work. Top players (Nicklaus kind of started this, by the way) tend to focus their schedules around the four major championships.
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Tournaments that are situated before or between the majors need something special to be considered by the top players. So you need something like The Players Championship or invitationals like the Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Memorial (hosted by Nicklaus) or The Genesis Open (hosted by Tiger Woods) to make it on a top player’s schedule.
Toss in the three FedEx Cup playoff events, a handful of World Golf Championships and you have a schedule approaching 15 events. Suddenly, events like The Byron Nelson Classic or the John Deere Classic or The American Express are fighting for attention.
Local fields have improved
In fairness, the fields have improved at The American Express from 10 or 12 years ago, with some top-10 golfers coming to La Quinta each year. It doesn’t seem that long ago that a top-20 player was a rarity at the event.
But if you look at the 13 events that are already identified as elevated events, not all that much as changed from recent years. The question is how will the PGA Tour fill out that roster of 20 events. It now appears that the WM Phoenix Open will be one of the elevated events on the West Coast swing. It is possible that elevated status will rotate between four events — the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, the WM Phoenix Open, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The American Express. The Sony Open in Hawaii might lose out here since it is just one week after the Sentry Tournament of Champions, also in Hawaii and already among the elevated events.
The truth is the PGA Tour has always had its haves and have nots when it comes to tournaments, some automatically being elevated with major status, some having worked their way to elevated status through the caliber of golf course or the spot on the calendar and some because people behind the scenes have worked very hard to make their tournaments stand out in some way. Some events are more likely than others to have top-name international golfers in their field, while others are damaged by being either just before or just after a major championship.
The new plan of elevated golf events on the PGA Tour could be a great success to the tour and its fans. But some tournaments will share what they have felt all along and what Nicklaus is pondering now — there really are two PGA Tours, the elevated events and the rest of the tour.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.