THE VILLAGES, Florida – What a frenetic four-week run it’s been for the PGA Tour. With such a hectic pace maybe the Tour should consider changing the name of the “Florida Swing” to “Florida’s March Golf Money Madness?”
The Valspar Championship – the final event of the “Florida Swing” – tees off this week and there are many unanswered questions to explore.
First, does the PGA Tour’s four tournaments in a row in Florida put the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship in financial jeopardy? Second, does the Tour allow only top players to pick the higher purse events? Third, has the PGA Tour turned its back on long-term sponsors and fans by not giving them the same field that played at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and PLAYERS Championship?
Let’s look at the top players by the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) that participated in each tournament. This should help bring to light just what is happening when the PGA Tour saturates a state by promoting four tournaments in four weeks within 200 miles of each other with very unequal total prize money for the same amount of work required to each a nice paycheck. The Valspar this year is competing against the first round of the NCAA Tournaments, and LIV Golf Tucson which tees off March 17-19. The LIV Golf event is televised and will surely draw viewers.
With those two obstacles makes me wonder if the Valspar is destined for obscurity this weekend?
The Honda Classic was the Sunshine State’s first PGA Tour event February 23-26. The purse was $8,400,000. The winner’s share was $1,512,000. Although the Honda Classic isn’t one of the PGA Tour’s “elevated events”, the purse still got a boost this year up from last year’s $8,000,000 which factors out to a $400,000 increase over 2022. The highest (OWGR) player in the Honda field was Sungjae Im, ranked (18). Followed by Billy Horschel (19), Shane Lowry (22), defending champion Sepp Straka (30), Aaron Wise (40), Alex Noreen (41), Min Woo Lee (47) and J.T. Poston (50). Not exactly household names. The total number of players ranked in the top 50 OWGR for the Honda Classic was eight.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational was the second PGA Tour event March 2-5. This was a PGA “designated event” with a total purse of $20,000,000. The winner’s share was $3,600,000. This was an $8,000,000 increase over the $12,000,000 purse in 2022 which the winner received $2,160,000. This year’s tournament had 44 of the top 50 players in the OWGR lead by Jon Rahm (1), Scottie Scheffler (2), and Rory McIlroy (3). Bay Hill’s location guarantees big crowds with a large number of yearly winter residents along with tourists who plan their winter vacations around this tournament.
The PLAYERS Championship was the PGA Tours third event March 9-12. It’s sometimes referred to as the fifth Major due to its large player purses, high profile golfers, and TPC Sawgrass course’s long standing tradition of challenging the very best players in the world. This year’s total purse was $25,000,000 with a winner’s share of $4,500,000 won by Scottie Scheffler. This was a $5,000,000 increase from 2022 tournament which had a total purse of $20,000,000 with the winner’s share $3,600,000. The PLAYERS Championship purse is second only to the $17,000,000 purse at the 2023 FedEx Cup championship.
Although the tournament drew over 100 OWGR golfers, it did not have all of the best players in the world. The PGA Tour has banned LIV Golf players from competing in their events, which diminishes the quality of the overall field. This became a major distraction to the tournament when Cameron Smith, last year’s winner, was not allowed to participate. Plus some big names missed the cut like Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick.
The Valspar Championship is the final PGA Tour event March 16-19 and is not an “elevated event” and it will be interesting to watch that leaderboard to see if a bunch of unknowns dominate like at the Honda. The total purse for this tournament was $8,100,000. The winner’s share of this year’s tournament is $1,458,000. The 2022 total purse was $7,800,000 and the winners share was $1,404.000. This 2023 purse is $300,000 larger than last year and the winner’s take is $54,000 more. The tournament had four of the top 15 OWGR players including Justin Thomas (9), Matt Fitzpatrick (12), Sam Burns (14), and Jordan Spieth (15). There were 9 of the top 50 OWGR players in this year’s tournament.
Another unanswered question: Has the “Florida Swing” been successful?
Is running four events in a row with different purses giving the players freedom to pick and choose the tournament a good thing? Looking at the OWGR players at the Honda Classic and Valspar, it seems that they were either looking for a chance to win against a weaker field or had a sponsor commitment that required them to play.
The Arnold Palmer and PLAYERS tournaments have always been major draws probably because of the money and prestige. It permits players to cash checks in the 5th and 6th position in these two tournaments and make more money than finishing first in the Honda or Valspar.
If you’re a corporation and the board of directors sent you out to pick the best PGA Tour Florida tournaments to spend your advertising money which tournaments would you choose? Plus LIV Golf is coming to Orlando March 31 – April2. Should the PGA Tour change the Honda Classic and Valspar to Spring dates to give them a better chance of being more competitive with player purses, corporate sponsors, and fan attendance. Honda has terminated a 42-year sponsorship of the tournament with the PGA Tour.
In the meantime what’s obvious so far in 2023 is that for top PGA Tour players it’s been an unparrelled rush to “March Golf Money Madness.”