As announcements go, this one was rather modest with just two paragraphs unveiling this year’s 16-member Player Advisory Council for the PGA Tour.
The annual announcement is normally little more than housekeeping, and for many who’ve served on the PAC, which “advises and consults” the Tour’s policy board and commissioner Jay Monahan, it’s a light lift with a half dozen meetings during the year that can just as easily be attended via Zoom.
But these aren’t normal times and this was not a normal PAC announcement.
Of the 16 Tour members named to this year’s PAC, there were 10 first-timers on the council; not a terribly surprising number until you take a deeper dive. Joining the group for the first time are world No. 2 Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler.
“I think you've seen kind of more players become more involved in stuff with the Tour in the past year. I think with LIV that's kind of an obvious deal that we had to make a few changes in order to improve our Tour in a different way,” Scheffler said. “For me having an opportunity to be on the PAC and talk with guys across all different levels of our Tour, whether it's a guy finishing 100th on the money list or first, it's kind of nice to be in the room and have those conversations and figure out what is collectively going to work best for all of us so that this Tour can succeed.”
If the reigning player of year joining the PAC is no huge surprise, having Scott and Fowler join the group is certainly a reason to take notice. The two veterans have a combined 34 seasons on the Tour without ever having aspired to join the decision-making process, and yet here they are, in the front row, so to speak, listening intently.
The age of player empowerment has arrived in professional golf and the idea that they want to simply be in the room, to be fair, is a bit misleading.
Not since Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus led players in the creation of the Tour has there been such an undercurrent of control shifting toward the rank-and-file. It’s a process that began in a conference room in Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Del., when nearly two dozen high-profile players gathered last year to plot a new course for the Tour.
Besieged by an exodus of top players from the Tour to rival LIV Golf, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods gathered the game’s best in August prior to the BMW Championship to outline a wholesale change to the circuit’s structure with the transition to “designated” events with larger purses and limited fields.
The following week at the Tour Championship it was Monahan outlining the changes to the media, with McIlroy intently watching in the back of the room, but make no mistake this was player driven and for the likes of Fowler, Scott, Scheffler and Burns that ownership starts on the PAC.
“Obviously we want to hold the Tour accountable and make sure that everything is getting done but at the same time that’s not going to necessarily happen through the PAC,” Fowler said. “That’s Tiger and Rory and that group, but there’s still a little bit of influence through the guys on the PAC making sure everything is headed in the right direction and moving forward.”
The addition of the designated events and a 20-event minimum for the game’s top players appears to be just the beginning of the ground-up changes Woods, McIlroy and the group initiated in Delaware. Next year promises even more change. As one Tour official described the situation last week, it’s like trying to build a plane while it’s flying. It's why after decades of playing the Tour with little interest in how the sausage is made, the likes of Scott and Fowler have suddenly taken an interest.
“I was in the room in Delaware, and I think it’s good that we not just focus on this year, but the longevity of the Tour. We all care deeply about this tour and the history behind it and care about not just us but the next generation of players,” said Will Zalatoris, who’ll serve his second term on the PAC this year.
Neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson, who was among the first to bolt for the guaranteed riches of LIV Golf, ever served a term on the policy board. There was no need. For much of their careers their voices carried far enough and the “irrational threat,” as Monahan described LIV Golf, was inconceivable.
But top players no longer have the luxury of insular thinking. It’s a sign of the times that along with unprecedented player empowerment comes unprecedented responsibility.