‘It sounds like LIV 2.0’: Tour grapples with how to bring game into 21st century

WILMINGTON, Del. – Study the BMW Championship template.

Limited field.

No cut.

Bloated wallet.

That could soon become the norm on the PGA Tour, at least for the upper echelons.

Tiger Woods and 21 other brave names gathered at a luxury downtown Wilmington hotel last week to chart a path forward for a tour that has been under siege since LIV Golf arrived earlier this summer. According to multiple media outlets – including a detailed report from No Laying Up on Sunday night – the players emerged from this invitation-only meeting with unanimous support for a proposal that would see the Tour stage feature up to 15 elevated events with select fields and huge purses would .

Sound familiar?

“I hate to say it,” said Mackenzie Hughes, “but it sounds like LIV 2.0.”

That the proposal is so similar to the Tour’s up-and-coming rival suggests LIV has exploited a weakness in the market: the world’s top players currently gather in less than a third of the Tour’s scheduled events. A streamlined list of tent tournaments would signal to fans that these are the events that really matter, although it remains to be seen whether this focused approach can create a product compelling enough to captivate audiences while also keeping stars money-motivated to satiate and ward off an existential threat to business.

“It’s a direct response to what we’re competing with,” Hughes said, “but why would you use the exact same premise? If it’s too similar, people will think it’s crap.”

At the BMW, the penultimate event of the season, the future was essentially shown last week.

Compared to most tour stops, the second playoff event felt comfortable and comfortable. A field of 70 players (only 68 competed) meant less noise, fewer distractions and less traffic on the range, player catering and fitness trailer. The practice round tee sheet was not crowded, leading to more constructive preparation. And once the tournament started, the pace of play was noticeably quicker, with two-a-side matches spanning six hours, with the first start time only at 9:10 am. Out of a $15 million prize pool, the winner received $2.7 million; even the last-place finisher walked away with $30,900.

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“There is one aspect that is very comfortable for the players,” said Jon Rahm.

“It’s like the old WGCs,” Justin Thomas said. “You played really well to get into them. You don’t just get them handed to you; you deserve it. You are one of the best players in the world. So the better you play, the more you do, the better it gets for you.”

The setup also appeals to the fans, especially those in attendance. Without a 36-hole cut, the best players on the tour are guaranteed to stay on for the duration of the tournament; Just a week earlier, in the playoff opener in Memphis, star draws Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler were among the early exits. One of the priorities for the future, according to several players, is ensuring that the top talent is still playing when most people are busy, and that weekend coverage draws on average about seven times more viewers than the first rounds.

“A cut is still very important at the top of the game – it separates the field – but it depends on what we’re trying to do with the Tour week to week,” McIlroy said. “As an entertainment product, it’s a better thing for the tour to keep the talent at the venue for as long as possible, especially over the weekend.”

But the downsides to the reported proposal are obvious — and not just because it lacks innovation and could stall rising stars.

From a purely competitive standpoint, something will undoubtedly be lost if the 36 hole cut is eliminated from all or most of the upscale events. Many tournaments in the regular season already feel monotonous and drained of juice; that’s only reinforced when the fields are generally level and the early rounds don’t feature cut-line drama as players simply jostle for position. Hughes recalled his performance at the 2020 Honda Classic where he had to “fight like hell” to play the weekend after a late birdie on his second lap. With five missed cuts in a row, he had once again proved himself under pressure. Over the weekend he bounced back and finished second and for him at least it was a heroic moment that might not have happened otherwise.

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“That’s what makes golf great and you feel uncomfortable in those positions,” he said. “There is a possibility that you can go home in the first two days. It makes you assertive from the start. There is a standard that you must meet. When it’s four days, it takes out some of the fire.”

Rahm opened with a 73 in the BMW but didn’t panic as he had 54 holes to cut his deficit; he ended up in eighth place. McIlroy said he’s enjoying “having the freedom to play for the first two days and not playing so cautiously.” Even though he’s out of contention in a guaranteed Four Kings game, Thomas tries to be wary of just playing the string – he knows that a sense of swing or a perfectly executed shot could spur him on for the next week. Viktor Hovland prefers the traditional half cut but is aware that the current model could be a bad deal.

“It’s difficult to make the tournaments as pure as possible,” said Hovland, “but at the same time it’s a sport and there’s a lot of money at stake. You don’t want to make sacrifices, but you have to make compromises to find a place that works best. They just don’t want to go too far with the commercialized aspect that it waters down the product.”

And it seems the overall product will evolve: an upscale series just for the top players would reshape the landscape of a Tour long criticized for catering to the middle class; it would represent what many believe to be a painful but necessary change that could fuel even more resentment in these divisive times. Those on the A-Tour played against the strongest fields in the best seats for the biggest purses (and guaranteed pay in lieu of contracts). Those who didn’t make it into the Star Series would rely on tournaments offering similar prize pools as they do now, but without star power and fan interest – events that could prove hard to sell.

Court date set for LIV Golf’s lawsuit against PGA Tour

Court date set for LIV Golf's lawsuit against PGA Tour

“Then how are you going to get someone to watch the B-Tour?” said Hughes, coloring that gray area after finishing 70th or better in the FedExCup in four of his six seasons on the tour. “It’s great for the top 60 guys or whatever, sure, and I’d love to play in those. But is that the best for the tour and their product? Probably not.”

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It’s important to note that this proposal, although rumored to have been approved by top players, remains in the concept stages for now; Commissioner Jay Monahan and Tour leadership have yet to address feasibility. Speaking to reporters in Wilmington last week, McIlroy warned that he did not want to delve into the details of the meeting. Regarding the overall concept, it was clear to him: “We have to bring the top guys together more often than we do.” However, it is not yet fully clear how they will achieve this goal.

If the BMW Championship becomes the model for the future – 70-man elite field, no cut, demanding course – then Sunday’s final round was worth rehashing about a dozen times a year. Reigning Player of the Year Patrick Cantlay earned a narrow win with a brave fairway bunker shot on the 72nd hole. Surprise contender Scott Stallings, who was chasing the biggest title of his career, fell a shot short. Scheffler, the Masters champion, was in the mix. So did the 28-year-old stallion Xander Schauffele and the 42-year-old Adam Scott. It was strong field and proper golf and gripping drama – a resounding showcase of what else the Tour has to offer.

The tournament format is important. History and tradition are too. But the players are the product, and for the first time the Superstars seem keen to set their own parameters.

“I’ve said this to a lot of people: we need to protect the integrity of the game and respect the legends that have come before us, but we need to do a better job of bringing the game into the 21st century,” McIlroy said. “It’s that balancing act.”

All that is at stake is the future of the tour.

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