The Majors Should Freeze Purses
Stating what the Four Families cannot say about the unsustainable pay wars. Plus, WaPo's OWGR analysis and is Fox considering a return to golf?
In a Graham Bensinger interview released last week, Will Zalatoris discussed the state of pro golf. The 2022 PGA Championship and U.S. Open runner-up said majors motivate him more than money.
“If the U.S. Open had a $100,000 purse, I’d still show up to the U.S. Open,” he told Bensinger. “I’m in this to go win a major – that’s my career goal. There’s no amount of money that I would give to trade that for a trophy.”
Already having experienced years of behind-the-scenes gripes from PGA Tour players, The Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Open substantially increased purses. But the Four Families also put some of their television rights money back into improving the events while funding causes for the betterment of the greater good. Which is why, after a summer of absurd millions funneled to players, it’s time for the next Five Families meeting to send Jay Monahan off to the Citation for a Four Family pow-wow. And once Tour Air 1 is cleared for takeoff to Steamboat, the remaining family heads should agree on a five-year major championship purse-freeze.
For the good of the game.
In announcing the decision, they have no need to mention the recent increases, the purse wars or even the potential for a recession. The Four Families just need to issue a short press release reiterating the importance of protecting the biggest championships and the causes supported. Any further elaboration would only get the Four Families in trouble.
But I’m more than happy to say the quiet parts out loud.
We’ve heard you. Our purses are currently $15 million (Masters), $15 million (PGA), $17.5 million (U.S. Open) and $14 million (The Open), with expected or announced incremental increases now on hold. Don’t even think about telling us to keep up with your silly little grievances given the well-known perks of winning or contending in our events.
We put money to better causes than past-their-prime Pat’s. So if we increased purses to the new $20 million PGA Tour baseline for “elevated” events (even though you’re winging it and can’t even name three of them yet), that would mean a minimum of $18.5 million annually we would pay out. All because Saudi Arabia came along. Now that we think of it, maybe we should each pay $15 million over the next five years, and taking that $100 million saved to put back into, “growing the game.”
We have the track record to get the rest of golf behind us. The Masters has made large donations to the surrounding community, including some new non-golf causes during the pandemic. Even the crazy millions devoted to course lengthening is your fault because you guys hit the gym so, so hard. The PGA of America is involved in numerous good-of-the-game programs with more positives to come under Seth Waugh’s watch. The USGA and Mike Whan are doubling down on research of vital things like water usage while also pushing for better women’s pay. And the R&A is also reinvesting in vital causes to make the game better, with Martin Slumbers establishing a similar trust factor to do the right thing. And what do you guys do? Oh right, pay Tim Finchem $800,000 a year to raise money for the First Tee.
You, current crop of players, are not worth the money you are getting. The whole “undervalued” narrative convinced many of you to believe a $7 million purse was the equivalent of minimum wage. Over the last two decades, only one person has been underpaid in relation to what he delivered for the sport. And sure, maybe your precious media rights were too tightly controlled and you should have more freedom to sell NFT’s of your hack-outs from the pine straw or whatever other grievances Egon Durban riled up Phil about after his amazing haul disappeared on preposterous parlays.
You, pro golfers, happened to be in the right place at the right time but are just a tiny portion of the world sports landscape. From declining ratings, pitiful YouTube average audiences and declining stature in the world of non-Saudi-backed endorsements, you are not worth a purse increase in our events where, as Mr. Zalatoris reiterated, no amount of money compares to the trophy. You are niche athletes in a niche sport. Albeit one with a wealthy, influential and sophisticated audience. That’s worth something. But only four times a year does a substantial international audience still genuinely care about what you do.
You have not accommodated innovation. You, players, have resisted nearly every effort to allow fans more access by our partners in television who are paying premium dollars to show you walk around looking miserable most of the time. Only after rigid contracts and fear of Saudis leaking your cell phone dirty laundry are some of you cooperating on things like increased sound and access. And only after the success of the F1 show are you coming to Netflix in an effort to find new fans. That show was only palatable because we, the majors, signed on.
Fans do not care about the money. After months of sleazy talk and inevitable spending cuts from our loyal corporate partners weathering a slow down, no one will feel sorry for you if the Grand Slam events prioritize sustainability.
You do not have to play. The Grand Slam is optional. Two of them are Open. LIVsters, no world ranking points until you make changes to get in line with the rest of golf. And PGA Tour players who’ve bellowed on about starting your own rules whenever a drive finishes in a divot and the Rules of Golf do not come to the rescue? Pipe down.
Many of you relentlessly violate the spirit of the rules. Most of you take way too long to hit a shot. And so many have developed a deep passion for mashing the turf down behind your ball. Doesn’t seem to matter where, either! Rough, tight lies by the green, the fairway, you name it, you love to test that ground to get a little more club on the ball. Some might even call it cheating. At the risk of getting sued by suspended lawyers.
Many of you will inevitably throw tantrums at upcoming changes to distance regulations. We will consider a stipend to compensate for the minutes or even hours you spend with your $25,000 personal launch monitors testing new equipment two years from now. And yes, you might even have to hit the ball on the sweet spot more often. So after those new rules are in place and the world continues to tilt on its axis, will we reconsider this purse freeze.
Yours in Growing the Game,
Fred, Seth, Mike, Martin and the greater good of golf.