Reasons for thankfulness are scarce on the PGA Tour in the waning weeks of 2023, seasonal sentiment and Tiger’s impending return notwithstanding. Even feel-good winners like Erik Van Rooyen and Camilo Villegas furnished us with only a brief respite from the discord and distrust shadowing professional golf as it teeters toward a new dispensation, the structure and funding of which remains undetermined.
As the most tumultuous year in the Tour’s history draws to a close (if not a resolution), the portico principles that supported decades of the organization’s marketing are quickly crumbling. Like the ideals of comity and charity, for so long neatly packaged in a mantra — ‘These Guys Are Good’ — that was repeated with a fervor worthy of the Beijing politburo. Comity has been undermined by griping — about fellow players, about executives at HQ, about the media — while the unrelenting chatter about money encourages a perception that too many Tour members think charity ends where it should begin: at home.
The most enduring and ruinous narrative peddled by the Tour was that every event mattered equally, as did every man in a member-led organization. It was a sustainable storyline only as long as everyone on the boat was aligned to row in the same direction. To the extent that they ever were, they are no longer. A clear caste system now exists on the tournament schedule and the voices carrying most weight belong to a distinct minority of the membership.
Major sports leagues, like motion pictures, are powered by superstars but staffed by extras. On the PGA Tour, there’s a rapidly expanding schism between cameo actors and leading men, between those who contribute (and often steal) scenes, and those who drive box office. Players at the apex of the food chain think the Tour is overly concerned with feeding the rank and file, creating too many events that pay too much for too little, while journeymen believe themselves squeezed by management’s desire to indulge the demands of the elite. It’s politics, with a smidgen more civility.
As the Tour moves to fundamentally reshape how it does business, the divide has never been more glaring. Consider Lanto Griffin’s comments earlier this week when Rory McIlroy resigned from the Policy Board. “Rory…