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At the 2021 US Open, There Are Games Within the Game

The US Open tees off at Torrey Pines Thursday with players competing not only for the champion’s purse, but in a new popularity contest.

The US Open is back again, with all eyes across the golf world fixed on La Jolla, California and the notoriously difficult Torrey Pines. And if recent rivalries between Bryson and “Brooksy” aren’t enough, there’s a whole separate competition in play that pits golfers vs. Google.

As the PGA Tour’s best hit the club-stopping rough and speedy greens of the South Course, they’ll do so in the first US Open in a new era for professional golf where Tik Tok and trash talk may be more lucrative for a player than their performance on the scorecard.

Welcome to the Player Impact Open.

A $40 MILLION POPULARITY CONTEST

For the first time, players have more to quest for than simply their name at the top of the leaderboard. This is a new era of athlete power in which stars can secure the bag by reach and engagement alone — aka by engaging more with fans and being extra outspoken on social media and in front of the cameras.

It’s open season for golfers competing this weekend and beyond to go all-in on marketing themselves — and the PGA Tour —for a shot at earning a slice of a $40 million prize pool called the Player Impact Program (PIP).

It rewards golfers who drive clicks on behalf of the Tour, which has been in the hurt locker thanks to COVID restrictions (and some emerging deep-pocketed competition).

Here’s how it works:

The program isn’t for every pro golfer — or technically even golfers who are actively on the tour.  Tiger Woods, for instance, is clearly not currently competing but still very much could make money off the PIP thanks to his popularity across the sporting world. 

Ten players will receive PIP bonus money based on an “Impact Score” that the Tour quietly introduced earlier this year. It’s determined by:

  • Performance on Google Search (impressions and clicks)
  • Q-Rating (a measure of a celebrity’s familiarity and appeal)
  • Nielsen Brand Rating (how players generate for sponsors), 
  • Meltwater Mentions (frequency of coverage across media platforms)
  • MVP Index (value of engagement on social channels) 

The game within a game ends following the Tour Championship in September, when the golfer with the highest combined score across these metrics will win $8 million.

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A MAJOR CHANCE TO MAKE SOME MONEY

So, who’s winning the actual tournament? There’s major green on the line at Torrey Pines, with the champion taking home $2.25 million. 

Let’s take a look at a few favorites:

Jon Rahm, the current holder of the “Best Player Yet to Win a Major” championship belt.

  • Betting odds+900 (betting favorite)
  • Key endorsements: Callaway Golf, TravisMathew
  • As a new dad, he can secure the ultimate Father’s Day gift: the Championship Trophy.

Bryson DeChambeau, the brawny defending champ whose recent troubles hitting the fairway could haunt him.

  • Betting odds: +1200
  • Key endorsements: Puma, Cobra Golf, Bose
  • The SportsLine Projection Model has DeChambeau finishing outside the top 10. Still, Duff & Phelps’ latest analysis of golfer earning potential has “The Scientist” making the biggest leap of any player, skyrocketing to No. 8 after a year of victories and viral moments.

Brooks Koepka, who’s coming in hot after a second-place finish at the PGA Championship — and his highly meme-able disdain for DeChambeau.

  • Betting odds: +1200
  • Key endorsements: Nike, Michelob Ultra, Rolex
  • He’s No. 7 on the Duff & Phelps projected earnings list at $159 million.

But no matter who wins, the PGA Tour will undoubtedly be hoping for a competitive tournament that produces high ratings and above-par engagement.

Professional golf, after all, is also entering a new era of competition as a result of mounting pressure from abroad.

PGA UNDER PRESSURE

The Player Impact Program is meant to help the sport of golf grow. It incentivizes players to build a bigger presence away from the course (and provide more around-the-clock content for fans).

But the PIP popularity contest isn’t simply a move to boost TV ratings — it’s also a path to fending off increasing pressure from emerging PGA Tour competitors looking to lure away big-time players with huge stacks of cash.

The Saudi-backed Super Golf League (SGL) is planning at least five events for 2022:

  • Golfers could earn upwards of $20 million just for signing up.
  • Rumors have linked Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and 2021 Masters champ Hideki Matsuyama to the SGL.

The British-backed Premier Golf League (PGL) is also in the works for 2023, envisioning a season of 18 three-round events:

  • 48 golfers would compete for a total purse of $20 million at each event.
  • DeChambeau did not rule out competing in a PGL-style competition.

These breakaway competitions are a big headache for the PGA Tour, which has never faced a natural predator before. In the meantime, much like European soccer’s wayward Super League proposal, the Tour announced that any player participating in the SGL or PGL would face harsh sanctions, including outright bans.

And with the PIP now in place, there are real incentives for players to remain loyal.