Opinion: PGA Tour needs to make sure some events, like the Honda Classic, don’t get left behind

The top players on the PGA Tour have committed to play together in more events. That’s good news for golf fans.

But now it’s up to the Tour to make sure some events, such as the Honda Classic, do not get left behind.

Commissioner Jay Monahan announced Wednesday that top players have agreed to play at least 20 events each year with elevated purses. Of those, 13 are set — the four majors, three events in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Players Championship, Genesis Invitational (hosted by Tiger Woods), the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament (hosted by Jack Nicklaus), WGC-Match Play Championship and Sentry Tournament of Champions.

The Tour, which next season consists of 47 tournaments including the playoffs, will identify four additional elevated events on a yearly rotating basis and players can choose three other FedEx Cup events. The Tour’s decision on the four wildcards each year will make or break events.

These changes are a direct result of the threat caused by Greg Norman and the LIV Golf series.

Honda, played at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, has felt the squeeze in recent years sitting between Genesis and Arnold Palmer and two weeks before the Players.

Time for PGA Tour to step up, help Honda Classic

Now, it’s time for the Tour to help out the tournament that’s:

  • Held in an area where more professional golfers (including PGA Tour members) reside than any other in the country
  • Has a unique relationship with Jack and Barbara Nicklaus with their charity being the primary beneficiary
  • Has the longest running title sponsor on the Tour
  • Is among the Tour leaders in charitable contributions every year

Honda is the area’s premier sporting event and consistently draws around 200,000 spectators in recent years with the exception of 2021 when the crowds were limited because of COVID.

It has accomplished this even with underwhelming fields.

Given the passion for golf in the area and the weather early in the year, a world-class field would enhance its popularity.

Honda’s fields in recent years have been disappointing, mainly due to the schedule, but also because some golfers aren’t up to the challenge of the Champion Course.

Rickie Fowler plays his shot from the tenth tee during the first round of the 2022 Honda Classic. (Photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

Those factors have left Honda with one golfer ranked in the top 10 in the world in the last three years combined.

One solution could be moving the tournament on the schedule, something that is being discussed. The 2023 Honda is set for Feb. 23-26, the same slot as last year.

With Genesis the previous week and Palmer and the Players the following two weeks, this could not be in a worse spot. Only the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook is in a similar situation held one week after Palmer and Players and one week before the WGC-Match Play.

With the 2023 schedule locked in, it’s pretty safe to say neither Honda or Valspar will be among the four additional elevated events at least next season.

But beyond 2023, Honda is willing to be flexible to become part of the big-money events, something that would be easier in 2024 with an extra week on the calendar before the Masters.

That window could range from mid-January following the Tour’s Hawaii swing to the third week in April (two weeks after the Masters).

Anything to get away from the crowded spot it is in now.

This does not mean Honda is throwing in the flag on 2023.

One benefit to a tournament early in the season is the tightened criteria for qualification for the playoffs. Next season the playoffs will start with 70 players (instead of 125) earning a spot in the first event, followed by 50 advancing to Week 2 and 30 in the Tour Championship at East Lake. Many players will be looking to earn points early.

McIlroy, Thomas, Cantlay may compete in Honda

And with players committed to participate in 20 tournaments, those living in the area who have skipped the event in recent years—a list that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Matt Fitzpatrick (all currently in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking)—may play Honda to help meet their requirement.

Honda will lose a handful of locals who are suspended from the PGA Tour after joining LIV, including Brooks Koepka and Charl Schwartzel. Dustin Johnson, currently the highest ranked golfer on the LIV roster, also cannot play but he has ducked Honda since 2015, after playing three times and missing the cut twice.

Most of the elevated events will see their purses increased to $20 million, including the Genesis and Palmer. The Players’ purse will grow to $25 million. Honda’s purse in 2023 is $8.4 million.

Honda awarded a record-setting $6.45 million to more than 100 South Florida philanthropic organizations in 2022, breaking the previous record of $5.35 million set in 2020.All told, Honda has surpassed $61.7 million in charitable contributions.

It’s time for the PGA Tour to recognize Honda’s loyalty and the tournament’s success despite being in a difficult spot.

Tom D’Angelo is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at tdangelo@pbpost.com.