LOS ANGELES — As the PGA Tour continues to rebuild itself during its ongoing battle with the LIV Golf League for the best players in the world, Rory McIlroy says he believes the tour should look at another professional sports league, the NBA, as a model for growth.
McIlroy, speaking to reporters on Wednesday ahead of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, said the PGA Tour should build itself around its stars, just like the NBA did to become one of the most popular leagues in the world.
“If you look at the NBA’s trajectory over the last 20 years, they’ve built that league around their best players and their stars, not around the 12th guy on the team,” McIlroy said. “But because they’ve built that league up around the stars, the 12th guy on the team does way better than he used to. So that’s sort of the way I’ve been trying to tell it.”
McIlroy and the PGA Tour’s upper echelon of members like how its newly designated events have played out so far. In response to LIV Golf’s threat, the tour designated nine tournaments, including the Genesis Invitational, for increased purses. Four additional events — the WM Phoenix Open, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship and Travelers Championship — are designated events this season. The additional designated tournaments could rotate in the future.
The PGA Tour’s goal is to get its best players to compete in the same events to produce the best product. The purse for the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month, which has a smaller field, was $15 million. The other designated events this season will have $20 million purses, except the Players, which is $25 million.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won $2.7 million for winning the Tournament of Champions this year. Scottie Scheffler collected $3.6 million for capturing last week’s WM Phoenix Open.
While the designated events have been great for the top players, and especially the winners, PGA Tour members who are in the middle of the pack and those trying to break through on the tour wonder where they’ll fit in.
The PGA Tour is considering making at least some of the designated events limited-field, no-cut tournaments. That would leave players ranked outside the top 70 through 80, or so, out of the field. The tour is still determining what the size of the fields should look like.
Legacy tournaments like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Memorial have traditionally had 120-player fields. The field for the Genesis Invitational, which is hosted by Tiger Woods, was increased to 136 players this year.
“I’ve had tons of conversations with guys who are worried about what events they’re going to play next year and all that,” McIlroy said. “The one thing I said, ‘Look, no one’s trying to screw the bottom half of the tour here.’ If anything, we’re trying to lift it up.”
Designated events were a topic of discussion during a players’ meeting on Tuesday, sources told ESPN.
“We are in the process of figuring all that out and it’s been a variety of different models, different opinions, trying to figure out what is the best product and competitive environment and what we should do going forward,” Woods said. “Yes, limited fields, what’s the number? Cuts? Yes or no? What’s the number? What do we want to do? How many players are playing the event? OK, what is the ability to get into the designated events?
“How is [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay [Monahan] able to sell our product to all the different sponsors across the board? There’s so much give-and-take. It’s still going on.”
Some players have pointed to Canada’s Nick Taylor as an example of a good player who might be left out of the field in the future. Taylor was ranked No. 233 in the world going into the WM Phoenix Open last week but battled Scheffler until the end. Taylor finished second, 2 strokes back, and collected $2.18 million, the largest payday of his career.
“If we do go to those smaller fields, it’s not going to be an inaccessible event,” Scheffler said. “Just because you go down from 120 guys — let’s say you go to 70 — there’s still going to be avenues for people to get into those tournaments, like the eligibility to get into those events is still going to reward good golf.
“Yeah, even if the fields are small, you still get rewarded for good play. You don’t want to lose a story like Nick.”
McIlroy insisted the PGA Tour’s revamped product will not be a “closed shop for the same guys every week.”
“This tour was built on meritocracy,” McIlroy said. “This tour was built on if you shoot the scores, you can move up the levels and play the biggest events. That’s not going to be taken away.”
Adam Scott, who was recently named chairman of the tour’s 16-member Player Advisory Council, said the tour can’t “be all things to all people” as it tries to figure out how to move forward.
“It just can’t,” Scott said. “I think the best thing we can do now is establish a good balance between what the top players have been pushing for and what the membership should be as a whole. I think that’s very achievable. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, but getting that balance right is going to take a little bit of time and finessing.”