ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Sporting a thick hoodie to ward off a chilling November breeze, Davis Love III embraced the predictable forecast with his signature aplomb: “It’s going to be cold, but we’re used to it,” he shrugged.
Ever since Love’s RSM Classic was shifted to November, the late-fall weather has always been a looming challenge. But given the state of professional golf at the moment, the host’s thoughts quickly drifted to an even more concerning forecast for the PGA Tour’s entire fall slate.
For Love and those who have carved a schedule out of the fall, this year represents an end of an era. Few, if any, are exactly sure what comes of the fall after next year – when the Tour is poised to transition back to a calendar schedule for the first time since 2013 – but there is sure to be a substantial change.
Along with the shift away from a wraparound schedule, officials plan to transform what’s left of the fall docket to a kind of seeding series, which would allow players to play for their Tour cards but not FedExCup points. The move to trim the Tour schedule and lean into fewer events with larger purses that cater to the game’s top players was a direct response to LIV Golf, which has created a deep rift in golf that only grows deeper with every news cycle. The Tour created “elevated” events and expanded the Player Impact Program to counter the lucrative guaranteed contracts offered by LIV. The fall portion of the Tour schedule was just collateral damage.
Although anything beyond 2023 remains a moving target, next fall’s events will give players who finish outside the top 70 on the FedExCup points list a chance to secure their Tour cards for the following season or improve their status. What exactly that looks like remains to be seen.
“I’ll still come back [to play the RSM Classic],” said Kevin Kisner, a former champion at Sea Island Resort who wrapped up his term as a player director on the Tour’s policy board on Monday. “Heck yeah, I live three hours away, I love supporting Davis. I’ll come back. We’re just adding drama by letting kids play for their cards. It may be me. Hopefully, not.”’
Love, the unofficial mayor of St. Simons Island and the RSM Classic host since the event's debut in 2010, was equally optimistic.
“We don't really know what's going to happen a year from now, two years from now,” Love said. “I've been on the [policy] board of the Tour five times, I know the way the Tour works. I'm optimistic that this is all going to work out. We know our dates for '23, we think we know them for '24, so we're happy and RSM's happy.”
But there are limits to that optimism.
The RSM Classic has always enjoyed the support of the Tour members who call St. Simons Island home, but not every fall event is as geographically convenient. The top 70 players from the previous season’s points list would largely take the fall off entirely or dramatically limit their schedule and even those outside the top 70 would not exactly be motivated to grind very hard considering the limited returns. By one estimate, those who finished 71st to about 90th on the points list would mathematically be secure for the next season which leaves little motivation to play events that don’t award FedExCup points.
“It won’t be what it is now. If I play next fall I won’t be playing for FedExCup points, I’ll just be playing for cash,” said Mackenzie Hughes, a two-time winner in the fall who earned more than half of his career earnings ($6.1 million) in the autumn window. “It’s kind of odd because I’ve always played the fall thinking I want to get my card locked up in the fall. It’s going to change a lot and it’s unfortunate because it’s going to take away from some great events that have been around a long time and have meant a lot to the Tour. I understand the changes they’re trying to make. They are catering to the stars and the stars are what drives the Tour and makes them money.
“It’s the new Tour, I guess.”
Change historically comes slowly to golf, which is why the Tour’s dramatic makeover has left some with a degree of anxiety fueled by the mounting uncertainty. Attitudes will likely change as the fall evolves into whatever is next, but for now, the disruptive influence of LIV has created unique motivations and even those who don’t qualify as a “star” understand the need for change.
“I feel like they’re always moving and shaking when they made the effort to finish in August and now, in a way, it feels like they’re right back where they used to be. There’s a lot going on, a lot of stuff changing,” said Robert Streb, a two-time winner of the RSM Classic. “There’s a few fall events that are pretty good and I guess they’re just getting flicked.”
While the RSM Classic, which is midway through a five-year title sponsorship that runs through 2025, is well positioned to weather the uncertainty, other events – like the Zozo Championship in Japan and Houston Open, which according to various sources is lobbying to return to the spring portion of the Tour schedule – aren’t as secure and it's likely whatever becomes of the fall it will be a condensed version.
Despite the changes, however, there’s an uneasy confidence that what Love and the other fall events have created will endure and evolve with the Tour. What that looks like, exactly, is anyone’s guess.