What do PGA Tour changes mean to current events? Let’s start by looking at the American Express

It has increasingly been the greatest weakness of the PGA Tour: Too few tournaments with the best players in the world in the same field.

For years, the best players have congregated at the four major championships, the Players Championship and the World Golf Championship events. Beyond that, tournaments including the biggest events have fought to get the best players in the world in their field.

That changes, at least to a degree, with the sweeping modifications the PGA Tour announced Wednesday. With some details still to be hammered out, we know the new PGA Tour will hold 17 events with purses between $15 million and $20 million. In addition to those 17 events featuring all 20 of the top players, each player will also add three other PGA Tour events to their schedule, though not all 20 players will be in the field of those events. It is likely four of the elevated tournaments will rotate around existing events, sharing the wealth of the top players from year to year.

It’s a concession by some players who have wanted to operate independently who are now thinking about the PGA Tour as an organization that requires its membership to provide a greater level of support than they have in the last few years. You can think about it as circling the wagons in the face of the LIV challenge, but it is a big deal for the tour and for fans.

More: Are you ready for a radically different PGA Tour? It’s coming, one way or the other

The news does leave a few questions. For instance, how can the tour get all of this together by January of next year? Changes were coming, but those changes will start in just four months.

Locally, the questions include whether the American Express, the PGA Tour event in La Quinta, California, will be part of the elevated Tour events. With 13 events already identified, at least two of those tournaments are on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing. The Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii is the first event on the seven-tournament West Coast swing, and the Genesis Invitational hosted by Tiger Woods in Los Angeles is the last of those seven events.

Patrick Cantlay lines up a putt on the 18th green during the first round of the American Express at La Quinta Country Club. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

Big events in the west

Does that leave room for a third big event on the West Coast? Perhaps, but it could be that the PGA Tour and CBS see the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego as a better option, especially with Tiger Woods’ history at the South Course at Torrey Pines and the course’s history as a U.S. Open venue.

Two important elements are in favor of the desert tournament. First, American Express is a big and important sponsor on the PGA Tour. Not that all the sponsors aren’t important, but American Express is maybe a cut above many sponsors in terms of scope and financial heft. That might play into any decision by the tour.

Second, the American Express has experienced a resurgence in recent years, with a solidified course rotation, a format that reduced the number of amateurs in the field to 156 from 384, and with an increasing number of the top 50 players in the world playing in La Quinta each January.

The American Express 2021

Patrick Cantlay lines up a putt on the 17th green during the final round of The American Express on the Stadium course at PGA West on January 24, 2021 in La Quinta, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The American Express is a tournament with positive momentum on its side, it is played in a popular place to play golf with generally fantastic weather and a facility at PGA West that is all in for hosting the PGA Tour. American Express itself already has extended its sponsorship through 2028, so the tournament has stability there.

Perhaps the American Express won’t be one of the new elevated events. But that doesn’t mean the desert’s PGA Tour event would suffer greatly. After all, the tournament has been improving in recent years even without the Tour pushing too hard to get more top players to La Quinta each January.

Whatever the place of the American Express in the reshaped PGA Tour, the best part is the tournament, with a big sponsor signed on for five more years, isn’t going anywhere.

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at larry.bohannan@desertsun.com or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun