News & Opinion

PGA Tour’s latest move creates a bad look

Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas at 2020 PGA
Rickie Fowler (left) beats Justin Thomas in at least 2 categories not found on a traditional scorecard: 1.6 million followers on Twitter and 1.8 million on Instagram.

Organization that recently cut 50 staffers shows its arrogance with obscene $40 million bonus program for pros who need it least

Bad look. 

If you look up the idiom in thefreedictionary.com, it will be described as giving “the appearance of something that is or could be considered distasteful, undesirable, or improper.”

If you’re still having trouble with that, let’s put it another way: Player Impact Program.

The PIP is a new member initiative created by the PGA Tour. The plan first was reported by Golfweek and subsequently confirmed by the PGA Tour, which also might be known as the Pompous Greed and Arrogance Tour.

The Tour has designated $40 million for the PIP, to be distributed among the top 10 players on the Tour. No, not the top 10 players in the FedEx Cup standings, not the top 10 on the money list, not the top 10 in any scoring or shot-making category.

No, the $40 million will go to the 10 who are considered the most popular, best self-promoters, most engaged on social-media platforms, most proficient in the art of taking themselves too seriously, or at least paying someone else to do so. 

Keep in mind that a good deal of default is involved here. The top few players in the world naturally generate the most attention, socially and otherwise. And there has been noise in recent months about a competitive tour, or Premier Golf League, trying to pilfer some of those top few players.

Remember former President Barack Obama’s “Cash for Clunkers” program? This might be the PGA Tour adaptation: “Cash for Keepers.” In other words, Y’all come back now, ya hear?

From now on, when introducing someone like Brooks Koepka on the first tee, a starter should say something proper, such as: “Ladies and gentlemen, now on the tee, a two-time U.S. Open champion, a two-time PGA champion… you know him as @bkoepka… 909,000 Instagram followers and counting… hashtag, one helluva player.… Brooks Koepka!”

Maybe when they award the next green jacket in Butler Cabin, the Masters winner could begin his comments with, “Thank you so much. It’s such a great honor…. By the way, did you hear this one: Tweet and Retweet were together in a boat. Tweet fell out. Who was left?  

“That’s right, please do. And don’t forget to ‘like’ me on Facebook.”

Consider the environment in which a group of PGA Tour people brainstormed this PIP idea. Last August, these same people dealt with the pandemic by laying off about 50 employees, including long-time staffers. To expound on that for just a moment, the pandemic has cost tons of workers their jobs, tons of owners their businesses, closed schools and prompted the government to issue “stimulus checks” to help Americans cope. 

These have been difficult, gut-wrenching times. Just listen to the Tour explain its layoffs in its statement a while back. So raw, you can feel the angst: 

“As a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PGA Tour – much like many other organizations – has had to identify ways to streamline our operations. While it is never easy to say goodbye to valuable members of the Tour family, this week’s targeted job cuts will allow us to most efficiently deal with the current climate and prepare for 2021 and beyond.”

The statement came about six months after the Tour reached a new television deal that ups its take by about 75 percent, or from about $400 million to some $700 million. That deal kicks into gear in 2022, one of the ways the organization has prepared for “beyond.” 

One of the ways it was able to “prepare for 2021” was to enter into a $2 billion live-streaming deal with Discovery that began in 2019. And one of the ways this emotionally distraught association will “efficiently deal” with the current climate is to pass the office hat around and come up with $40 million to throw at a few cardholders, i.e., the players who didn’t see any reductions in purses at tournaments that were maintained in 2020.

To be fair, the PGA Tour did lose 11 events last year, a sting presumably being felt a bit more dramatically by the laid-off staffers and affected communities. But c’mon, what would $40 million do for them? Right? 

No, as Lady Liberty might tell the Tour, this money is best provided to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." In other words, the most successful, most popular and most wealthy of your members.

What’s more, nothing spells “integrity” in professional sports like excessive and gratuitous rewards. For instance, 32-year-old Rickie Fowler has been stuck on five PGA Tour wins since Feb. 3, 2019, when he won the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He began this week at 111 in the Official World Golf Ranking. 

At the same time, he has enjoyed a number of endorsement and promotional opportunities, has some 1.6 million followers on Twitter and 1.8 million on Instagram. If you’re Fowler, with the PIP in mind, do you hit more golf balls, or do more thumb exercises?

Tiger Woods clearly sits atop the brand-awareness chain. His social media posts usually are measured and vanilla-flavored, much like his interviews. He doesn’t readily sign autographs and doesn’t often engage fans. 

Still, he has 6.6 million followers on Twitter and 2.6 million on Instagram. In short, most people would rather see Woods sit in a lawn chair than watch Stewart Cink hit it stiff. In the aftermath of his Feb. 23 car crash, Woods may or may not play again; no one knows. But with the PIP, he could lead the money list either way. 

With the PIP, maybe Paige Spiranac could lead the money list, or Bill Murray. Certainly, they could finish in the top 10. 

One might assume a number of players have others handling their social-media chores: perhaps an agent, a sponsor or independent contractor. Some players, through design or otherwise, are subpar when it comes to color, wit or public engagement. Not everyone is narcissistically gifted. 

With $40 million on the line, you don’t have to be. If you’re among the elite players in the game, the social-media world awaits you. Fire your caddie and hire Will Ferrell, or Jim Gaffigan or Sebastian Mansicalco. Give them the bag, hand over the phone and off you go … a regular pied piper of player impact.

But be aware: major platforms have at times suspended or banned participants. For instance, former President Donald Trump is to social media what Wayne Player is to Augusta National. Twitter announced it has banned Trump permanently.

That means the PIP, ultimately, is an invitational. While there is no such thing as bad publicity – so the expression goes – there is a qualifier as applied to the impact game. Where social media is concerned, we all serve at the pleasure of Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and the like. 

In the end, the rich will get a bit richer, the PGA Tour will go along its merry, money-making way, and the players will commit to more “impact,” at least the few who actually have the opportunity.

It’s what you call a bad look. 

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.