Playing the percentages: Tour players look at U.S. Open purse

By Rex HoggardFebruary 23, 2017, 11:10 pm

It’s the simple math that makes this story interesting.

Although it’s easy to get lost in the macro-economics of professional sports - in this case golf - this narrative isn’t about how many figures are involved as much as it is a lesson in percentages.

Consider last year’s collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players’ union, a deal that kept the players’ share of revenue between 49 and 51 percent, which was largely considered a victory for commissioner Adam Silver and the owners.

The players were willing to maintain the status quo because of the league’s nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, an influx of revenue that assured dramatically increased salaries for players and plenty of continued revenue for owners.

Now consider the USGA’s reported 12-year, $1.1 billion deal with Fox Sports that began in 2015. Two weeks ago, the association announced a purse increase to $12 million for this year’s U.S. Open, making it the game’s most lucrative event.

Even with that bump, however, the men’s cut of the Fox Sports deal is about 13 percent annually. Remember, there were many who weren’t pleased that the players’ portion of the new NBA deal remained at roughly 50 percent but accepted it because of the massive increase in TV rights.

With this backdrop, the topic was brought up at the PGA Tour’s first player meeting of 2017 last month at the Farmers Insurance Open. According to numerous players who attended the meeting, the idea of purse equity was simply a talking point, not some sort of line in the sand or action item, and the focus wasn’t just on the USGA. The association’s recent deal with Fox simply made for an easy starting point considering that under the USGA’s old TV deal with NBC (parent company of Golf Channel) and ESPN – which was reportedly around $37 million annually – about 24 percent of that income went to the U.S. Open purse. This doesn’t include revenue from the foreign TV rights.

But this isn’t about a $24 million purse, because that’s not going to happen anytime soon. The concern among some Tour types is simply on the percentages, which saw the player’s take nearly cut in half from 24 to 12 percent under the new deal.

According to one player involved in the meeting, a $25 million purse for the U.S. Open would skew the Tour landscape. The jump to $12 million this year already surpassed The Players and PGA Championship and threatened an escalating purse war that neither the Tour nor the players want.

Instead, the players at the meeting focused on how the additional revenue could possibly be used, from additional funding for Tour purses, to rookie stipends or even a caddie retirement plan, which is currently a hot-button topic because of an ongoing lawsuit between the circuit and a group of caddies.

According to the USGA’s financial statement for 2016 about half (49 percent) of its revenues ($98.7 million) came from broadcast rights fees, while about half (46 percent or $91.5 million) of its operating expenses were related to its “open championships.”

Included in that group would be the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open, which had purses of $10 million, $4.5 million and $3.75 million, respectively, in 2016. That would make the combined purses for its three national championships ($18.25 million) about 20 percent of the total “open” operating costs, never mind the association’s total revenue.

In 2017, the total purse for all three of the association’s “open” championships will increase to $20.75 million, or about 22 percent of the association’s annual deal with Fox Sports (reported to be $93 million annually). A spokesperson with the USGA pointed out that the broadcast revenue remains flat over the life of the contract, which will make for varying percentages as the purses increase.

“Each year the USGA determines the most appropriate prize money allocation for its three U.S. Open championships, with the goal to provide a purse that is consistent with the premium stature of the championships,” Sarah Hirshland, the USGA’s senior managing director of business affairs, said in a statement provided to

The remainder of the USGA’s ’16 operating expenses included $34 million in golfer engagements – which included programs like the handicap platform (GHIN), community outreach and the museum – and more than $10 million to conduct the association’s 11 amateur championships and six international team competitions.

While those investments go to the core of the USGA’s mission statement to “promote and conserve the true spirit of the game,” to Tour players, who provide the labor for the association’s most lucrative property, it paints an inequitable picture.

By comparison, according to a Tour spokesperson, the Tour doles out 100 percent of its “net" revenues to member benefits, which includes purses on all of its tours and other player-related income (like FedEx Cup bonuses and the circuit’s retirement program). As far as specific percentages of TV revenues and anything discussed at the Torrey Pines player meeting, the Tour spokesperson declined to comment.

Where the conversation goes from here is uncertain. One player who spoke at the meeting and requested anonymity because of the potential for future negotiations said the concern goes deeper than simply a fair share of the TV rights, and that players want a say in future venues and how the championship is run, pointing out last year’s rules snafus at both the U.S. Open and Women’s Open.

It’s unclear how far the players would be willing to take a potential negotiation with the USGA or any of the game’s other ruling bodies.

“Let’s be honest, we’re not going to boycott a major,” one player said.

Perhaps, but as players proved following the 2014 Ryder Cup there is an implied leverage enjoyed by competitors, as evidenced by the U.S. task force that has now transitioned into a six-person committee which includes three players and dictates future captains and the U.S. side’s selection criteria.

As TV rights deals continue to balloon in golf like in other sports, the concept of revenue equity is sure to gain traction even among Tour players, who don’t belong to a union and often struggle to speak with a single voice. It won’t be the size of the pot that players focus on, it will be the percentages.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)