By Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Tiger Woods showed up for a private meeting of top PGA Tour players dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt. By the sound of his impact, he might as well have been wearing a Sunday red shirt.
“I think it’s pretty apparent that whenever we all get in the room, there’s an alpha in there,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. “And it’s not me.”
Exactly what came out of the Tuesday night meeting at Hotel Du Pont is more of a mystery, even down to the number of players in attendance. The purpose was to unify, not only against the threat of a rival league funded by Saudi money, but shoring up any weaknesses in the tour.
Chief among the topics was a future of bigger money and a formula that gets the best players on tour competing against each other more often.
Otherwise, details were scarce. They emerged from the players-only meeting with another form of unity: tight lips.
“I think I’d be pretty unhappy if I saw one of those guys from last night just blabbering to you guys what we talked about,” Xander Schauffele. “That would be really frowned upon, and you probably wouldn’t get invited back to the meeting. There’s a little bit of a code there, I’d say.”
The meeting was an extension of an impromptu gathering at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Ireland the week of the Scottish Open, which featured a field of golf’s best, young and old, even those who already have signed with LIV Golf.
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It was important enough for Woods, who has played only three times this year because of injuries to his leg from a February 2021 car crash, to fly up in his private jet and bring along Rickie Fowler, who did not qualify for the BMW Championship.
“I think it shows how much he cares about the tour. I think it shows how much he cares about the players that are coming through and are going to be the next generation,” McIlroy said.
“Like it or not, they can’t really sell Tiger Woods anymore. The Tour had an easy job for 20 years. They don’t have Tiger. Yes, they’ve got a bunch of us and we’re all great players, but we’re not Tiger Woods,” he said. “We’re moving into a different era, and we just have to think about things a little differently.”
The meeting came at a volatile time. Even the start of the lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs was interrupted by more LIV Golf developments — The Daily Telegraph reported British Open champion Cameron Smith will join the rebel series after the FedEx Cup, and a federal judge denied a request by three LIV Golf players who wanted to play in the tour’s postseason.
“One thing that came out of it, which I think was the purpose, is all the top players on this tour are in agreement and alignment of where we should go going forward, and that was awesome,” McIlroy said.
So where should it go?
“I don’t think that’s for a public forum right now,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s between the players and between the executives at the tour to sort of manage a way forward.”
Will Zalatoris was in the meeting, fresh off his first PGA Tour title last week that lifted him to the top spot in the FedEx Cup standings and No. 9 in the world. He just turned 26 and has been on tour for only two years, one of them as a full member.
To be in that room, Zalatoris said, was one of “coolest” experiences he could imagine.
“He is the most powerful voice in sports, obviously in golf, without question,” Zalatoris said of Woods. “Having everyone there and being that united in terms of how much we want — with everything going on in terms of landscape of golf — we want the best thing not only for now but going forward. It was exceptionally cool to see that many people together to try to do the right thing.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was not invited. He had a Player Advisory Council meeting earlier Tuesday, and he had an informal Q&A with players Wednesday morning, similar to what he did last week in Memphis, Tennessee.
Monahan already has announced an increase in prize money for next season, with eight tournaments offering $15 million or more in prize money, a planned series of even larger purses for three international events late in the year and a January-August schedule starting in 2024.
LIV Golf offers $25 million for each tournament — five more this year, 14 for 2023 — with $5 million of that for a team concept.
The players wouldn’t discuss specific areas the PGA Tour could do better or what else they felt was needed except for the top players competing together more often.
So guarded were they that at one point in response to a question about how to improve the tour, Justin Thomas said, “I know that doesn’t answer your question, but that’s what the answer is.”
“I’m not obviously going to talk about it very much. It was a productive meeting,” Thomas said. “I think it’s just one of those things where we all want what’s best for the players, and we’re working to do that.”