PGA Tour’s $40m Player Impact Fund to reward popularity over performance

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While disgust is voiced at the greed of some of Europe’s leading football club owners, golf’s PGA Tour surely faces a hard time justifying a lucrative new programme which makes their wealthiest players even richer.

A $40m (£28.8m) kitty will be split by 10 golfers to “recognise and reward players who positively move the needle” by generating coverage for the sport. The biggest share, $8m, will go to the individual deemed most valuable.

Many people will raise an eyebrow at this latest largesse to keep the biggest names sweet with the tour.

Fred Couples, who in his prime shifted golf’s needle in a very positive direction with graceful, powerful play and charming demeanour is the latest to express concern.

“Let me get this straight,” the 1992 Masters winner tweeted. “There’s 40 mil to play for the guys on the @pgatour based on social media likes and tweets?! The only tweets I’ve ever heard make you money are birdie tweet tweets! Good luck with that.”

The new scheme has been launched to counter the threat of an insurgent Premier Golf League which is trying to set up a rival multi-million dollar global tour. They are offering guaranteed money to compete on a grand prix style circuit.

It is vital for the PGA Tour to retain their biggest names. And the way that golf has always done this is to throw money at the players, regardless of how much they already have.

We have long since had season-ending bonus pools on the PGA and European Tours. They pay yet more money to the players who have already earned the most cash.

And now, along with the FedEx Cup – $15m first prize out of $70m overall purse – we have the establishment of The Player Impact Fund, another nice little earner for the men who need it least.

There are six separate metrics, including the value of their social media and the number of internet searches they generate, which determine who will split the spoils.

“With media dollars being so astronomical these days (there are) four, five, six guys always being the ones that are used to promote the tournament,” said Britain’s Olympic champion Justin Rose.

“I guess it’s just a way of trying to sort of incentivise them and help them out, not that they need much helping out.”

Rose makes the point that he and his fellow competitors on the US circuit play for such inflated prize funds because of the impact of Tiger Woods over the last two and half decades.

Woods alone has generated vast increases in sponsorship and television rights and his fellow players have been the chief beneficiaries.

When Stewart Cink won the recent Heritage event he banked nearly $1.3m in prize money. The US veteran’s first title in 1997, when Woods was just getting started, was worth only $270,000.

Woods’ success in accumulating 15 major wins among 82 PGA Tour wins have helped him amass $120m in prize money alone. He is estimated to have earned $1.5bn from wide and varied revenue streams.

Even now, as the 45-year-old recovers from serious leg injuries following February’s single vehicle car crash, he has a chance of being among the 10 players to benefit from the new programme.

Last week’s picture of him standing on crutches, the first since his accident, went viral on social media boosting his ‘Player Impact Rating’. But does Woods really need more money thrown in his direction? Are there not more deserving causes?

The same can be said for the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson who have already become exceptionally wealthy through their performances and popularity.

“You do want to incentivise the top players to create content,” Rose stated. “It’s very easy for the top players to say no because it doesn’t serve them.”

And that is the truth about professional golf. No one wants to do anything for nothing regardless of how well they are otherwise remunerated through prize funds and sponsors.

But how will that play with fans? Those who click and swipe their approval of the titans of the game in this digital age. What’s the point of impact with the masses, if they have already been turned off by athlete avarice?

Social media is supposed to bring us closer to the stars, but their astronomical wealth can distance them from the way the overwhelming majority of people live their lives.

Evidence from the failed launch of football’s European Super League suggests that there is not much support for greed and the richest getting richer, especially when those lower down the pyramid battle to survive.

Ultimately, $40m split 10 ways will mean very little to those who receive it. By playing well and generating website hits and digital interaction they are already creating substantial extra income for themselves.

Further down the chain, on feeder tours and in women’s golf $40m would, undoubtedly, carry a much greater value.

And as golf’s biggest names are being encouraged to tweet and post to boost their brand and promote their sport, their football counterparts are about to embark on a four-day social media boycott to protest against racial abuse and discrimination on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Leading golfers are well respected – they are articulate ambassadors renowned for their exemplary sense of fair play. Yet, right now, it is footballers who appear more in touch with the real world.


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