SCOTTSDALE — The WM Phoenix Open is regularly the PGA Tour’s highest-attended event, and this year it will also offer one of its largest paydays. The tour recently named it one of its “designated events” this season, a tag that comes with an elevated purse of $20 million.
This weekend’s tournament is the first full-field event of the season with the increased purse, with the winner taking home $3.6 million. Many factors have played into the PGA Tour’s ability to raise the stakes at these designated events, but a major reason is its new domestic media deal which went into effect in 2022.
“The incremental media rights revenue that was generated from those new agreements, in conjunction with other revenue… created a situation where we had incremental dollars available, significant incremental dollars available to allocate the prize money into the FedEx Cup and the other bonus programs, and that’s what we chose to do,” said Andy Pazder, Chief Tournaments and Competitions Officer at the PGA Tour.
The tour decided to put money toward the 17 designated events in an effort to bring the world’s best golfers together more consistently.
The PGA Tour requires the top 20 golfers in the previous year’s Player Impact Program to compete in at least 16 of the 17 designated events. PIP monetarily rewards the 20 golfers who helped boost engagement with the Tour the most and is topped by players including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. The approach guarantees each designated event will include almost all the top players on tour.
This year’s WM Phoenix Open field features 23 of the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 24 golfers, including nine of the top 10. Rory McIlroy, OWGR’s No. 1 ranked golfer, is in the field for this year’s tournament, marking his second-ever appearance at the tournament.
“Yeah, I get a chance to win $3.6 million. Yeah, look, I wouldn’t say that this is a golf course that sets up terribly well for me,” McIlroy said after his first round. “I struggle off the tee here. I feel like all the fairway bunkers are right in my landing zones. But it’s a challenge, and again, like I’m trying to embrace that challenge.”
The stacked field has made for some star-studded groupings in the opening rounds. Jon Rahm, Max Homa and Keegan Bradley, the top three in the FedEx Cup rankings, were all grouped together as were Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau, who each sit inside OWGR’s top 15.
“Yeah, it’s nice. I think from a fan experience, it’s really good that the top players are showing up,” Schauffele said after his first round. “I’m a fan of golf. Obviously I don’t watch it as much as some people do, but I’d like to see the top players hash it out every week.”
The WM Phoenix Open is the second designated event so far this season but the first of two in February, with The Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles next week also carrying the tag.
“We know our fans and they want to see the best players playing against each other as often as possible. … Yesterday and today we have Jon Rahm who’s leading FedEx Cup, he’s playing with Max Homa who’s No. 2 and Keegan Bradley who’s third,” Pazder said. “ So it gives us a great opportunity to put together, you know, threesomes that are really unbelievable.”
The addition of designated events was not only done to increase competition level at tournaments, but also to boost compensation for tour golfers.
In recent years, the PGA Tour increased the purse at the final tournament of the year, the Tour Championship, to a whopping $75 million. Adding these designated events to the schedule is just another way they’re giving golfers a boost in pay.
It also comes at a time when the upstart LIV Golf Series offered guaranteed contract and large pursue, which lured some high-profile players.
“We feel that our players deserve to be compensated in line with other sports and if you look at what our very, very top earners make, it pushes up into that range that you see with team sports,” Pazder said. “That’s at the very high end, but if you look throughout the membership though, these events create certain weeks where the earnings potential is higher than it’s been in past years. So (there’s been) a very positive reaction from the membership as anyone would expect, right?”
The WM Phoenix Open is one of four temporary designated events, meaning next year the PGA Tour could decide to rotate it out of that position, but considering the WM Phoenix Open announced a sellout on Friday and Saturday – the first time the tournament has sold out – it’s not a stretch to imagine the designated event status could one day return to The People’s Open.
“When you think about the history of the WM Phoenix Open and everything that it means to the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, the state of Arizona and then from our perspective, to our golf fans, both that are on site and that are watching on television, it’s clearly our most well attended event,” Pazder said. “It’s one that we know golf fans around the world gravitate to and it made perfect sense for it to be a designated event this year.”
He added that from what I’ve seen so far it’s been very successful. … This is the first time ever that they’ve announced a total sellout, you know. The tournament’s been on this unbelievable trajectory for decades really. To reach a point where they’ve announced the sellout, it’s pretty impressive.
While the spectators fight for seats at the legendary 16th hole, players will have their hands full battling it out for their share of the elevated $20 million purse at the WM Phoenix Open this weekend.