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Importance of Players Championship goes beyond the big bucks

By CHUAH CHOO CHIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2022-03-10 10:16
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Justin Thomas of the United States plays a shot during a practice round prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 9, 2022 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. [Photo/Agencies]

A record $20-million prize purse, a venue known as the purest test in golf to host the game's strongest field, and a showpiece billed as the gold standard for the PGA Tour.

Welcome to The Players Championship, which tees off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.

Justin Thomas rolls up at the Stadium Course to defend his Players title in unprecedented times for elite golfers-there's just so much more cash to play for than ever before. It's not only at The Players, which is the tour's flagship tournament, but also the other 47 tournaments staged across a jam-packed season.

The FedExCup bonus pool has gone up by $15 million to $75 million, while the new No 1 will take home a princely $18 million; the Comcast Business Tour Top-10 has doubled to $20 million; and the new Player Impact Program, which rewards leading players based on metrics, will pay out $50 million.

All the increases are linked to the tour's new domestic TV rights deals beginning from this year through 2030, and the average tournament purse has risen to $9.1 million from $8 million. Players will now shoot for a grand total of $427 million in official prize money.

But it isn't just money that makes the golf world go round.

Chasing history, creating legacies and making positive change on a platform well known for its philanthropic endeavors-over $3 billion has been raised for charity since 1968-are common threads among the current stars of the game.

They know you can't pocket millions by simply showing up, and instead are prepared to compete against deep fields, just like at The Players, to earn their place in golf's annals, and follow the legacy started by the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Rory McIlroy, the 2019 Players champion, has assumed an elder statesman role in the sport despite being only 32 years of age. "I would like to be on the right side of history," said the Northern Irishman.

"I feel like this is the best place to play golf if you're an elite professional golfer. Every time I walk out of a meeting or walk out of any sort of interaction with them (the tour's leadership), I'm always very confident the tour's headed in the right direction."

Spaniard and world No 1 Jon Rahm explained what motivates him in the game. "I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour. I don't do this for the money," said Rahm.

"I'm in this game for the love of golf and the love of the game and to become a champion. I grew up watching many great players play great events and there's history and legacy to those things. That's something that has a lot of appeal to me."

World No 2 Collin Morikawa grew up idolizing Woods and knows exactly where he needs to be in his search for golf fulfillment.

"My entire life, I've thought about the PGA Tour, I've thought about playing against Tiger, beating his records, but I've never had another thought of what's out there, right?" he said. "I've never thought about anything else, it's always been the PGA Tour."

Woods, who is on the road to recovery from a single-car accident, deserves plenty of credit for adding value to the professional game with his global appeal. When Chilean Joaquin Niemann won the Genesis Invitational, a tournament hosted by Woods, the 23-year-old was gobsmacked at what he had achieved.

"I want to compete with the best players in the world, I want to be No 1 one day. I think there's nothing better like what I'm feeling right now. Winning a PGA Tour event, getting a trophy, having Tiger there, all the history behind, there's nothing that can compete with this," said Niemann, who is a two-time winner.

This year's Players Championship will celebrate its 47th edition and marks the 40th anniversary that the prestigious event is being played at the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course. With the roll of honor featuring the likes of Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Nick Price, Fred Couples and of course Woods, the achievement in winning the tour's flagship tournament wasn't lost on last year's winner, Thomas.

"It's a huge championship, very special. It's a tournament I've wanted to win, a tournament that I truly did feel like I was going to win at some point, and hopefully multiple times. Just a great test of golf, that's why it's a Players Championship," said Thomas.

"I mean, the reason I play golf is to create a legacy and win as many times as I can on the PGA Tour."

The writer is senior director of marketing and communications for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.

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