Imagine the PGA Tour announcing the creation of a new ‘competition’ and pretty much simultaneously making it plain they will be doing very little to promote it; probably not even making public who the winner is. Nuts or what? But that’s what the PGA Tour has done with its Player Impact Program (PIP). Perhaps think of it as the successful athlete equivalent of a witness protection program, one whereby the candidate doesn’t get a new identity but has their own withheld – this even though the general public will be big players in deciding who the winner is.

Dire Straits had a big hit in 1985 with a song called Money For Nothing. When it was released, fans would play the song on their stereo turntable, using (obviously) a stylus needle. This new PGA Tour initiative is all about rewarding those players “who positively move the needle” – i.e. create favourable publicity for the Tour, notably via social media. The total bonus pool is $40 million, with $8 million going to the (anonymous?) winner. There is no sponsor – I guess they didn’t want to upset anyone at FedEx, although the identities of the 10 ‘prime movers’ will inevitably ‘leak’ out. Instead the money will come out of the tour’s finances, refreshed as they recently have been by the conclusion of a long-term television contract worth around $700 million. This is the ultimate demonstration that top sportsmen aren’t remunerated as hugely as they are for being good; it’s for being famous.

In normal circumstances one might think they may as well just give the biggest pay-out to Tiger Woods right now on account of that photo of him with his dog on a course he’s designing. He posted to Instagram a shot of him on crutches with a brace on his right leg during his recovery from his near-fatal car crash in February. However, given that the rules surrounding this somewhat bizarre promotion apparently require players to play in actual tournaments, that might be hard for Woods to manage, at least for this season. 

The idea behind the scheme would seem for it to act as a deterrent for any players who might have been tempted by the extraordinary riches being offered by the maverick organisation Premier Golf League (golf’s equivalent of football’s ill-starred European Super League, if you like, backed by Saudi money), which may not have gone away as quietly as the PGA Tour boss, Jay Monahan, had hoped. The whole thing has a questionable look about it, though. As Golf Digest pointed out: “The Tour laid off about 50 employees last summer in the midst of a pandemic. Now apparently it has $40 million to spend on 10 of its wealthiest players.” 

That piece of cold-water pouring would probably have gone largely unnoticed as players at the Valspar Championship in Florida this past weekend were perhaps considering ways to hone and enhance their social-media profiles….the very weekend, as it happened, that footballers in particular were embarking on a boycott of social media by way of protesting about the extent of racial abuse perpetrated on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. As the BBC’s golf correspondent, Iain Carter, noted, “right now it is footballers who appear more in touch with the real world”. One has to concede things don’t always seem that way but in this instance he’s surely right.

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