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‘They are catering to the top players:’ Lone dissenter to PGA Tour’s changes airs grievances
After the PGA Tour announced wholesale changes to its schedule and structure for next season, even apparently winning back the commitment of rising star Cameron Young in the process, James Hahn still doesn’t seem to be content.
Hahn told Golfweek he cast the only dissenting vote on the changes as a voting member of the PGA Tour’s Policy Board. That’s despite saying he’s not entirely dissatisfied with the results.
“We all want the same thing, what’s best for the Tour, but we have different ideas on how to get there,” he said. “Right now, it seems like they are catering to the top players in the world.”
The Tour announced a new structure for next season ahead of last week’s Tour Championship, where the top players, as defined by a reimagined Player Impact Program, have all committed to a 20-event schedule. Twelve of those events being the PGA Tour’s ‘elevated events,’ featuring purses between $15 and $25 million.
This is all coming as the PGA Tour faces a rival league, LIV Golf, which plays events with $25 million purses and has lured away top names such as Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka with guaranteed contracts. LIV Golf is backed by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund.
Hahn, a two-time Tour winner who said he has not been approached by LIV Golf, said changes have been made to directly compete with LIV Golf, and not necessarily improve the PGA Tour.
“To prevent more players from leaving our Tour, we are ending up paying the top players in the world guaranteed money that has increased exponentially,” Hahn said. “Three years ago, we started implementing this new PIP program, which has grown to $100 million. It seems like the people who have the most influence of how much money is distributed to the top players in the world have a much stronger voice now than they’ve ever had.
“I understand the reasoning that the money is used to keep top players and without them, we have no Tour. My question to them is when is it enough? We’ve gone from $50 million to $100 million. When $100 million isn’t enough, will they ask for $200 million? How will that impact our business?”
He also said he felt the changes could have come sooner.
“It’s crazy to think that it took a secret meeting between Tiger, Rory and the best players in the world to make a change so fast that could have been made a year or two ago,” Hahn said. “I was talking to Bryson [DeChambeau] before he left the Tour. That’s what he wanted. He wanted the top players in a room and have a conversation on what they bring to the Tour and how can they be compensated for it. Because of the person that Bryson is, I don’t think he got the respect of his peers to bring together those players.”
Before the BMW Championship in mid-August, a reported 20 of the Tour’s top players, plus Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods held a players-only meeting to discuss what would eventually become the changes announced by commissioner Jay Monahan last week. Woods and Rory McIlroy reportedly spearheaded the meeting. Hahn was not present.
Even as a member of the Policy Board as a player director, whose term comes to an end at the beginning of next year, Hahn said it was hypocritical how the Tour is now requiring players to play 20 events for huge purses, similar to how LIV will require it’s contracted players to play 14 events next season.
“It’s interesting how things have switched,” he said. “Purses increasing to $20 million isn’t enough — [LIV Golfers] needed guaranteed money to give up their freedom. It feels very hypocritical and it could cannibalize the rest of the season and make the other tournaments feel like second-class events. By asking the best players to play more and essentially the same schedule they are going to end up taking the same week off. Are they going to play the Honda Classic with its $8-million purse or the $20 million purses that surround it? I fear we could end up like the ATP (the pro tennis tour) where only a handful of events draw real interest. These are some of the things we had to think through before we voted.”
The new structure also calls for all exempt players to be given a $500k “league-minimum” salary, which will be held against their winnings. Non-exempted players will also be given a $5,000 stipend when they miss a cut to help cover expenses.
When the original PGA Tour schedule for 2022-23 was released earlier in August, Hahn put it on blast, writing on Twitter how the schedule’s travel demands will cost thousands of dollars and lots of time.
Hahn didn’t seem to think the new structure did enough to take care of the journeymen pros, like himself who finished 107th in the FedEx Cup standings.
“We’re valuable to the Tour – not as valuable – and we’re trying to find a middle ground of how much guaranteed money we should pay the top players versus distributing the money in purses among the rest of the membership,” he said. “The secret meeting with Tiger and Rory set a precedent that the top 20 players can get whatever they want from the Tour. So, what’s stopping the other 90 percent of our Tour from getting together and doing the same exact thing as Rory and Tiger and saying the top 20 players can go play their own tournaments but the rest of the Tour, us 90 percent all stand together and we want more benefits?
“I feel like a portion of the $100 million could have gone to making our Tour great rather than going to the top 20. These are the little things that irritate the rest of the membership to the point there is a lot of animosity between the haves and have-nots.”
He told Golfweek he’s motivated for the upcoming season because if he plays well, the rewards will be more fruitful under the new system. However, if he plays poorly, it will be harder for him to keep his job.
“Everyone has their legacy – it’s not as great as Rory or Tiger – but I want mine to remain on the PGA Tour,” he said.