POTOMAC, Md. – The whispers on TPC Potomac's range were deafening.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said earlier this year during The Players Championship that it was time for the distractions to end. But if the volume Wednesday afternoon as the membership prepared for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship was any indication, the rhetoric is here to stay.
For better or worse, LIV Golf continues to dominate the conversation on Tour as next Tuesday’s deadline looms for the circuit to either grant or deny the conflicting event releases some members submitted to play the breakaway league’s first event in June.
Greg Norman’s LIV Golf will remain an existential threat to the Tour, but for the vast majority of players plying their trade at TPC Potomac, the rival circuit probably isn’t the most pressing issue in the professional game at the moment.
For the majority of Tour types, their time and energy would be better spent keeping tabs on what will become of the circuit’s fall events. Earlier this year, the Tour unveiled a plan to the Player Advisory Council to revert to a calendar schedule (January through August) and create a three-event “star” series in the fall for the game’s best players with lucrative purses, no cuts and exotic locales.
Nearly 20% of the Tour’s current schedule (nine events) is played in the fall and those tournaments have come to represent a cross-section of the circuit’s membership – from events with relatively weaker fields that provide playing opportunities to Korn Ferry Tour graduates, to global stops with limited fields for the game’s top players.
According to various sources, the conversation at the year’s first two PAC meetings has focused on turning the current fall events into seeding tournaments for those who don’t qualify for the “stars” series. But at a recent meeting at the RBC Heritage, there was a vocal element that would rather not play at all in the fall.
The idea of a true off-season appeals to players across the spectrum – from the game’s elite to rank-and-file members who make up the backbone of the Tour. Whether the motivation is to spend more time with family or focus on the DP World Tour, there is no shortage of reasons for players to want an off-season.
Rory McIlroy would likely fall neatly into that category. He’s a world star with a young family and a global schedule, who would consider an autumn free from Tour obligations a gift from the golf gods. But on Wednesday at TPC Potomac, the Northern Irishman offered a much more subtle take.
“You've got 200-whatever members that you're trying to keep everyone somewhat happy. Some guys really like to play in the fall because they feel like they get a head start in the FedExCup. The top guys like to feel like they have time off to actually have an off-season and rest and prepare for the next season coming up,” McIlroy explained. “I guess it's sort of trying to find a balance of that.”
If McIlroy sounds like he’s waffling on the topic know that he’s come by his indecision honestly. As one of the four player directors on the policy board, he will ultimately decide what happens to the Tour’s fall schedule. As a global star, it’s not difficult to figure out where he lands on this subject. But as an elected decision-maker for the entire membership, it’s a little more nuanced.
When asked about his thoughts on the fall, McIlroy went 375 words and touched on all the talking points.
“I think there's enough programs in place that benefit the top players right now, the [Player Impact Program], the Comcast Top 10, the FedExCup bonus, all of those things are designed to funnel more money into the top players' pockets,” he said. “You play the best and the cream should rise to the top by the end of the year.
“I think the top players, we've gotten a lot of things our own way the last couple years and I think for us to talk about just taking the fall events away for the guys that sort of need them and need those opportunities would be very, very selfish.”
In McIlroy’s case, it’s very much the royal “we” on this topic. Tour politics are as exciting as real politics, but know that the way the current policy board is structured, McIlroy is the voice for the game’s top players.
This season’s four player directors are James Hahn, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Kisner and McIlroy. With a monsoon of respect to all four players, only one member of that group has won multiple majors and runs in a certain type of circle.
If McIlroy wanted to lean into a glorious off-season, it would be understandable if not expected. Instead, he’s trying to look at this through a much more complex and inclusive lens.
“It's hard for me to sit here and say this is the way I would like the fall because the way I would like the fall probably isn't the common consensus among the membership,” he said.
LIV Golf is going to continue to dominate the conversation for the foreseeable future. But for most Tour players who won’t be wooed by the Saudi-backed riches, what happens to the circuit’s fall schedule is a much more important conversation.