March 8 — A record US$20 million (RM83.6 million) prize purse, a venue known as the purest test in golf to host the strongest field for any event, and a showpiece billed as the Gold Standard for the PGA Tour.

Welcome to The Players Championship from March 10-13.

When Justin Thomas rolls up at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass to defend his Players title, it will coincide with unprecedented times for elite golfers as there is cash, cash and more cash to be won on Tour.

There’s so much more to play for than ever before, and it’s not only at The Players, which is the Tour’s flagship tournament and crown jewel, but across the other 47 tournaments staged across a jam-packed season.

The FedExCup bonus pool has gone up by US$15 million to US$75 million where the new No. 1 will take home a princely US$18 million; the Comcast Business Tour Top-10 has doubled to US$20 million; and the new Player Impact Programme, which rewards leading players who move the needle base on a combination of metrics, will pay out a hefty US$50 million.

All the increases coincide with the Tour debuting a landmark domestic TV rights deals beginning from this year through 2030, and the average tournament purse has risen to US$9.1 million from US$8 million. Players will now shoot for a grand total of US$427 in official prize money.

But hang on a minute ... it really isn’t just all about money which makes the golf world go round.

There’s so much more to play for than ever before. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
There’s so much more to play for than ever before. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Chasing golf history, creating legacies and making positive change on a platform well known for its philanthropic endeavours to impact communities — over US$3 billion has been raised for charity since 1968 — are common threads amongst the current stars of the game. They know you can’t pocket millions by simply showing up and are instead prepared to compete against deep fields 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 and a 20-time PGA Tour winner, has been vocal in taking up the elder stateman’s 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, whose career earnings stands at nearly US$60 million.

“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 (Tour leadership), I'm always very confident the Tour's headed in the right direction.”

Spaniard and World No. 1 Jon Rahm, who has earned over US$31 million on the PGA Tour, 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 idolising Woods, a joint record holder of 82 PGA Tour wins, and knows exactly where he needs to be in search for his golf fulfilment. “I'm all for the PGA Tour. 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? 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 more than a year ago, deserves plenty of credit for generating more value than ever before to the professional game with his global appeal. When Chilean rising star, Joaquin Niemann won The Genesis Invitational, a tournament hosted by Woods and with a history which dates back to 1926, 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 honour 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, Justin 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, who is a 14-time TOUR winner.

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

* Note: Chuah Choo Chiang is Senior Director, Marketing & Communications – APAC for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.

**This is the personal opinion of the columnist.