PGA Tour is using Google Search, Q Ratings to award bonuses to golfers out of $40 million pool

In light of this week’s bombshell sports news that has several top European soccer clubs were choosing to form a Super League, information leaked Tuesday via Golfweek about the PGA Tour’s efforts to keep its star golfers from breaking away for larger paydays elsewhere. The PGA Tour later confirmed to ESPN that it has created a $40 million pool to reward its top stars as it continues to stamp down the long-rumored Premier Golf League. 

The allure of the proposed PGL is that it would guarantee significant money to the top-drawing players in the world. In a deeply meritocratic sport like golf where only 5-10 players actually bring in TV ratings and wide swaths of fans, there is loads of appeal to being guaranteed a significant paycheck if you are among those biggest names in the game. 

Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy are guaranteed exactly $0 on-course earnings every season. In the proposed PGL, that would not be the case. Though the details of the hypothetical league are flimsy, the pitch is that essentially everyone would be guaranteed some level of wealth regardless of on-course success.

That’s where the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program comes into play. According to Golfweek, 10 players will receive funds out of a $40 million pool. The program, established to “designed to compensate players who are judged to drive fan and sponsor engagement, like Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau and Rickie Fowler” began on Jan. 1, the PGA Tour confirmed to Golfweek.

As the metrics for determining who will receive parts of the $40 million are not solely based on tournament play, it will be difficult to determine the exact formula that the PGA Tour will utilize. The algorithm used to presumably rank the players will include popularity in Google Search, Nielsen Brand Exposure ratings (how often they are on TV during tournaments), Q Ratings (how well-known they are to the general public), MVP Index ratings (social media engagement) and Meltwater Mentions (how often they are covered by the media).

It was initially reported that FedEx Cup points would be factored into the formula, but the PGA Tour later confirmed to GolfWeek that would not be the case. 

If this sounds like a ruse or a joke, it’s not. And in some ways, this should have been expected. Of course, the PGA Tour would aim to guarantee its top players more money to keep them from jumping to a new league. There is a logic to the move that makes sense.

However, this could get messy. Is Tiger Woods going to get paid a bonus because folks were Googling his name based on a car accident instead of playing golf, even if he doesn’t step foot on a course for 12 months or ever again? In Tiger’s case, he actually should be paid given how much money he’s brought into the sport over the last 20 years, but the same cannot be said of everyone.

There is (and will be) a lot to unwind here, but the PGA Tour clearly sees this as a stabilization of its primary infrastructure in light of both what’s happened on the European soccer front and what could be in store over the next few months with the PGL. It’s a $40 million gamble, which could turn out to be a great deal for both the PGA Tour and the players who will earn that money.

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