So it comes down to this.
One final tournament in the 2021-22 PGA Tour.
On Sunday in East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, the winner will receive the Tour Championship first-place money, which is several million, but the bigger prize is the $18 million FedEx Cup bonus.
The 30 players that qualified through the playoffs to the final will earn at least $500,000, while the top-10 will collect at least $1 million.
With all the bucks being offered to players by upstart LIV, which in turn has led the PGA Tour to significantly increase its purses next year, money has become more of a topic than ever before.
There’s also the matter of how much money is being bet on tournaments because of legalized sports gambling, so the bigger the tournament, the more exposure it will get. Add to that increased participation by the greatest active players in the world based on a major announcement this week by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.
Beginning with the 2022-23 season, PGA Tour players will receive a minimum salary of $500,000 per year, which is important because it helps those struggling to make ends meet. To get to the top is an investment of time and money, so this will help retain players who would otherwise consider joining LIV strictly for the cash.
So, if anyone wants to criticize LIV for essentially buying players, well, the PGA Tour is doing roughly the same thing. It basically had to do it.
You have to wonder if some of the younger players who left the PGA Tour for guaranteed money are regretting their decisions. It cost them the opportunity to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs, having lost an antitrust lawsuit, but it also damaged their reputations.
To be sure, in the coming weeks there will likely be more PGA Tour players exiting for LIV. Cameron Smith (Titleist Pro V1) is apparently bolting for the guaranteed sum of at least $100 million. He has refused to talk about it, saying if it’s true he will be the one to declare it and not someone else.
The fact he has not flatly denied it lends more credence to the fact it probably is true.
We’ll find out for sure after the 2022 Presidents Cup, September 19-25, in which is slated to participate.
The 29-year-old began the season with promise and developed into one of the biggest stars because of a combination of his happy-go-lucky attitude, mullet and, most of all, his skills around the green that was evident in his win in the Open Championship.
And yet his popularity among Tour players has dissipated, highlighted by Scottie Scheffler (Titleist Pro V1) being accused of walking in front of Smith’s line during the FedEx St. Jude Championship. That was the tournament in which Smith was assessed a two-stroke penalty prior to the start of the fourth round for a rules violation in the third round. Was it simply the right thing to do according to the rules, which forbids a ball from touching any part of the out of bounds marker or was this a subtle message by the PGA Tour to Smith? He accepted the penalty without causing a scene but fell apart in the in the final round and missed the BMW Championship with an apparent injury. With all the unwanted attention he received during the tournament and knowing he had already qualified for the Tour Championship, he probably gave himself a break physically and mentally.
Suffice to say if Smith wins the Tour Championship, some people will not consider it a popular victory.
Smith wants to use his status as a pre-eminent player in the golf world to build the game in Australia, though exactly how is unsure. Maybe he’ll use some of his LIV money to provide scholarship money or bursaries for young people. Who knows for sure.
The PGA offers him the greatest global marketability, but it does not offer him the guaranteed $100 million LIV is offering.
Let’s be honest, he is popular in his home country and if he wins the Tour Championship that will only make him more of a hero.
And if he does something profound in the Presidents Cup that will also matter.
Of course, both of those are hypotheticals.
There is clearly a lot on the line in the Tour Championship and the Presidents Cup for Smith and other players, but it could mean the end of Smith on the PGA Tour and possibly several more stars.
For what it’s worth, I’m rooting for Scheffler. I think he has accomplished the most this season, beginning without a win on the PGA Tour, which he joined in 2013-14 but didn’t play regularly until 2019-20. He’s won four of 21 events this year, highlighted by his victory in the Masters, finished second three times and third once. He’s also placed 10 times in the top-10.
He's gone through a bit of slump in the summer but signalled he may be peaking at the right time with a third-place finish in the BMW Championship last week. I think he deserves to be the PGA Tour Player of the Year, but he can cement that winning on Sunday.