PGA Tour’s $40 million bonus pool plan shafts rank-and-file golfers

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When news broke that the PGA Tour has unveiled its Player Impact Program to reward the players who move the needle the most, the first vision I had was of Tiger Woods sitting at home in Florida, where he’s recovering from his horrific February car crash, shaking his head and mumbling: “Where was this 20 years ago when I was carrying the sport on my shoulders?’’

There was a time, when Woods was winning his first 14 career major championships en route to becoming the most recognizable player in all of sports, that he and his team poked at the PGA Tour about its use of his name and image to promote its product while Woods was getting nothing out of it.

Woods, as he won more tournaments than anyone on the planet and elevated sponsorship and purse money to heights no one ever imagined, was lining the pockets of then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and his high-level executives as well as the players against whom he competed — and he was getting nothing out of it.

Now, the PGA Tour, with the unique program it has designed, is ready to reward the players who draw the most eyeballs to its product.

The program defies the very foundation on which the sport has existed, in that the $40 million in the pot will be divvied up essentially to 10 players, regardless of their results on the golf course.

Success on the PGA Tour — and in all of professional golf — always has been based solely on production on the golf course. This is a program that’s going to make the rich richer, regardless of results, and will ignore the rank-and-file on the tour. That cannot help but create an unhealthy amount of jealousy among players.

Take Rickie Fowler, for example. He’s one of the most marketable and recognizable players in the sport, yet he has been mired in a slump during which he has won one just tournament since 2017.

What if Fowler, despite his slump, continues to appear on the PGA Tour Live’s “featured groups’’ broadcast simply because of his popularity? It has become an inside-golf joke that every week he plays it seems Fowler is among the featured groups — even as he has struggled with his game.

Is it fair that Fowler remains part of these featured groups when other lesser-profile players who’ve won multiple times since Fowler’s last victory — Webb Simpson, Daniel Berger, Jim Herman and Brendon Todd, to name a few — are overlooked?

How are those players supposed to raise their respective profiles when the PGA Tour is essentially ignoring them?

Herman, a three-time PGA Tour winner who won in 2019 and 2020, but is not one of the most recognizable players on the tour, offered this tongue-in-cheek tweet on Wednesday: “My ship has come in!’’

The deck is stacked against the players who don’t carry the same cachet and profile as Fowler does. Suppose Fowler finishes among the top 10 players in this algorithm the tour has implemented to rank them on their “Impact Score” and cashes in despite not having been able to make a cut for months? Is that fair?

This is not meant to be an attack on Fowler. He’s simply the perfect current example of a high-profile player who’s struggling, yet continues to be publicly pushed by the PGA Tour. And that’s not fair to his peers who are producing.

The PGA Tour said its goal is to “recognize and reward players who positively move the needle.” Part of moving that needle, though is the PGA Tour pushing its players. This has potential to become a slippery slope for the tour.

A document presented to players by the PGA Tour showing the simulated Impact Scores using 2019 figures to illustrate how the ranking will work showed Woods, who won the Masters that year, at the top, followed by Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Fowler. Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Adam Scott completed the top 10.

The current players likely to cash in are Bryson DeChambeau, who has made himself the most talked-about person in the game, Johnson, who’s ranked No. 1, Koepka, McIlroy, Thomas and maybe even Mickelson, who has two wins since 2013 and is starting to dabble in the Champions Tour.

The question is whether Woods will get to cash in,considering the fact he’s not likely to play at all in 2021 and possibly may never play competitively again, depending on how he recovers from his injuries.

Though no one would (or should) feel sorry for Woods, who’ll never have a financial concern for the rest of his life, for missing out on this cash-grab boondoggle, that won’t stop him from shaking his head and thinking the PGA Tour is 20 years too late with this program.

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