The PGA Tour’s 2020-21 season will go down as one of its most memorable yet. But if Commissioner Jay Monahan gets his way, the best is still yet to come.
This week’s season-ending Tour Championship will conclude a riveting 50-tournament schedule that saw 14 playoffs span a whopping 40 holes – including playoffs of six, seven and eight holes – as well as a six-player playoff at the Wyndham Championship.
The FedExCup Playoffs Finale may very well see the Tour end its season with a fifth straight playoff, as well as an incredible streak of a 54-hole leader not winning outright since late May.
“(It’s) made for great theatre throughout the season,” Monahan said.
And yet, the commissioner can’t help but look toward the future. In his annual State of the Tour press conference Tuesday ahead of the season finale, Monahan pointed toward the league’s burgeoning partnership with the European Tour, a commitment to diversity and continued commitment to international growth as signs of the PGA Tour’s growing presence on the global stage.
“As we cap off Year 15 of the FedExCup playoffs, it’s abundantly clear that the top players in the world want to write a chapter in its growing history,” Monahan said. “Looking ahead, the PGA Tour is in a position for unprecedented growth over the next 10 years, starting with the 2021-22 season.”
On the surface the upcoming schedule may appear to revert to normal, as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an epic 50-event ‘Super Season’ featuring six major championships. But the new schedule will be anything but routine.
Official prize money is slated to increase by US$35 million, while the FedExCup Comcast Business Tour top-10 bonus pool will grow by an additional US$15 million.
“The golf industry is working together like never before. And despite the challenges of the pandemic, the continued growth we have seen in recreational participation and in growing and diversifying our sport, our global game has never been stronger.” - Jay Monahan.
More importantly, the season will see the anticipated debut of the Tour’s strategic alliance with the European Tour, as three tournaments will be co-sanctioned and count on both the FedExCup and European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
For the first time, the player fields will be split among members of the two Tours at the Barbasol Championship, Barracuda Championship and Genesis Scottish Open.
The Barbasol Championship will be played opposite the Genesis Scottish Open, while the following week’s Barracuda Championship will be played concurrently with the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews.
“Most of those (European Tour) players not competing during those two weeks, it gives them an opportunity to come play in those two events to enhance their position as European Tour members,” Monahan said. “Should they win, it gives them the opportunity to potentially pursue a career on the PGA Tour and ultimately, I think for the world to see PGA Tour and European Tour players playing together back-to-back in these opposite events with more high-quality fields than the PGA Tour’s had in the past, I think it’s a positive all the way around.”
While remaining coy on future partnership opportunities, Monahan stressed that the alliance is still in its infancy with more exciting announcements still to come.
“This is just the start,” he said. “It’s a demonstration of what we can and will do together, and we’re spending a lot of time together thinking about what those opportunities might look like, what a future product model might look like, and I’m excited to get to work next week to be with Keith (Pelley) and the team.”
But before the landmark alliance comes to fruition next summer, the Tour will first set its sights on continued growth across Asia, an opportunity sorely missed this season as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the globe. Monahan said the Tour plans to play the ZOZO Championship as scheduled outside Tokyo, Japan, this October after it was temporarily relocated to California this season.
“ZOZO has been a great partner and we have been in regular contact with the government and local authorities about the plans to successfully stage this event this fall,” he said. “The successful and safe golf competitions at the Tokyo Olympic games helped provide some confidence going forward there.”
The World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai won’t be played, however, though the commissioner reiterated the Tour’s desired interest to remain in the market.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re not going to be able to play in Shanghai,” he said. “I expect that we will be playing there as soon as it’s acceptable and feasible to do so, from a pandemic standpoint. We feel like we have got a long-term commitment to that marketplace in the form of a WGC.”
As the Tour continues to broaden its global appeal and diversify its fanbase, Monahan also pledged to continue the diversification of the Tour’s membership itself. Last year, the Tour pledged $100 million to support racial equity and inclusion efforts in golf, and Monahan updated the progress of that initiative Tuesday.
Enhancing its relationship with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the Tour in conjunction with United Airlines has unveiled a $10,000 grant to each of the 51 current men’s and women’s HBCU golf programs in the United States, helping to cover travel costs. The money will allow programs to compete in some events for the first time.
The Tour has also strengthened its commitment to the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, which was founded in 2010 to increase opportunities for Black players and other minorities who aspire to make a career in golf.
The inaugural APGA Collegiate Ranking, a joint initiative from the PGA Tour and APGA Tour, helped Black golfers go from college to the pro ranks. The top-five African Americans from Division I, II and III programs, including HBCUs, earned APGA Tour invites, plus scholarships and entry into Korn Ferry Tour Q School pre-qualifying.
“The golf industry is working together like never before,” Monahan said. “And despite the challenges of the pandemic, the continued growth we have seen in recreational participation and in growing and diversifying our sport, our global game has never been stronger.”