1. The pitch for an offseason
Golf needs an offseason. Not just for the players who could use a forced break from the rigors of competition and a never-ending schedule. But for the fans, too, who never have a chance to miss a sport that bleeds from one tournament to the next.
When the Tour Championship concludes on Sept. 24, the PGA Tour will wait all of 11 days before the 2017-18 season begins with the Safeway Classic. During the week between events? The Presidents Cup.
It is easy to poke fun at the PGA Tour for this, but the organization is first and foremost in the business of offering its members playing opportunities. And if sponsors are willing to put up the funds, then there will be tournaments.
But in some ways, that is short-sighted. The PGA Tour is also about entertainment, which means finding a way to balance playing opportunities with a product that the public wants to consume with players who are fit for the challenge.
And if some of your stars are taking long chunks of time off for various reasons, what does that say about the need for some down time?
2. Rory, Bubba headed to the sideline
Both Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson announced last week that they will soon be taking extended breaks. After the FedEx Cup, Watson said he won’t tee it up until 2018. McIlroy has one event on the European Tour he will play before shutting it down until January.
A limited offseason would not stop that from happening — and the PGA Tour is in the business of accommodating more than its stars — but it is telling that even golfers get worn down by a long season.
“To have three months where I can focus on myself, my health, my game and just improvement. … I don’t think I’m ever going to get a chance like this in my career again where I get this opportunity to take three months to re-evaluate things, to work on some stuff to just try and improve and get better,” said McIlroy, who has been dealing with a rib injury for most of the year.
Watson, who has had a poor season, said: “All I know is where my mind was, where my focus was the first half of the year. … It wasn’t in the right spot to play the best game of golf … so this is the best way I know how to do it. Hopefully when this [the FedEx Cup playoffs] is over, I’m in Atlanta [for the Tour Championship] then I get to take a break after that.”
McIlroy and Watson were unlikely to play many of the PGA Tour’s fall events anyway. That is traditionally when many of the top players take off. But there has increasingly been pressure to play at least some of the seven weeks of events (there is a new tournament in South Korea as well as an opposite event for a total of eight tournaments) and players run the risk of getting behind in the FedEx Cup race.
Now that might just be viewed as an incentive to get guys to play more in the fall, but when is it enough? The top names are basically committed to 12 or 13 events a year with the majors, WGCs, Players and FedEx Cup playoff events. Someone like Jordan Spieth is expected to play tournaments in his home state of Texas.
There are golf tournaments in the names of legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods. There is the Tournament of Champions. Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Riviera. Whenever a top player skips one of those tournaments, he is asked why.
You can’t play them all. And it is even harder to do so when you are expected to play year round.
3. No easy answers
Of course, it’s easy to say, “Give them an offseason!” It’s much harder to make happen for myriad reasons, the biggest of which is the tour is not in the habit of arbitrarily taking away playing opportunities. It is also not one to strip communities of successful tournaments, or turn its back on sponsors willing to pay upward of $8-10 million a year to help stage an event.
Still, when the golf schedule sees the PGA Championship move to May in 2019 and the FedEx Cup playoffs end by Labor Day, it would be a good time to at least start the process of change.
After the Tour Championship, take the month of September off for the PGA Tour and let the Web.com Tour finals have the stage. Begin the new season in October like they do now, but consider a Pacific Swing of events that includes Hawaii and Asia, with prime time or nighttime U.S. viewing. TV ratings are miniscule in the fall as the golf events are not meaningful and football dominates.
As for offering more playing opportunities? There are 40-some weeks of tournaments and the PGA Tour can add on by having more opposite events for players not qualified for the majors, WGCs and Players Championship. Nobody said it would be easy, but there is a way.
4. If you don’t like golf’s rules …
You still have a chance to voice your opinion. The United States Golf Association and R&A opened a comment period on March 1 when the governing bodies announced an extensive update to the Rules of Golf. They set Aug. 31 as the deadline for comments on the rules, and have received “tens of thousands of surveys” in response. If you believe that out of bounds stakes should be treated as lateral hazards — as some of us do — let the USGA and R&A know. Or tell them about what you do or don’t like. The proposed new rules are set to become official in 2019.
5. Strong company
Dustin Johnson’s victory at the Northern Trust was his 16th PGA Tour title, which put him alongside some big names in the game in the record book. The others with exactly 16 titles are Jackie Burke Jr., Ralph Guldahl, Mark O’Meara, Denny Shute and Tom Weiskopf. Only Weiskopf is not in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
6. Golf is a humbling game
As Mark Calcavecchia pointed out, golf is hard. The 1989 Open champion tied for 52nd at the Boeing Championship on the PGA Tour Champions.
I made 108 feet of total putts this week. That’s a smooth 2 foot average per hole=tied 52nd. Just sickening
— Mark Calcavecchia (@MarkCalc) August 27, 2017
7. Player of the Year
Johnson’s victory put him in the conversation again for PGA Tour player of the year, although he’d likely need to win again or win the FedEx Cup (or both) to overtake major winners Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth.
Despite four victories this year, including two WGC titles and a playoff win, Johnson’s lack of top-10s in the majors (he missed the Masters due to injury) puts him behind Thomas, who also has four wins but captured the PGA Championship. Spieth has three wins and The Open title.
8. Web drama
In the final regular season Web.com Tour event — where the top 25 players on the money list are assured of status on the PGA Tour for the 2017-18 season — no players moved into the top 25. But there was still the usual angst.
Keith Mitchell offers a strong example. He entered the week No. 36 on the money list and had moved into position to get into the top 25 during the final round. Playing in the last group, he needed to birdie one of the last two holes to do it. His birdie putt on the 17th stayed on the lip. Then on the 18th hole, a par-5, he was incorrectly told he needed an eagle. He didn’t reach the green in two, then hit a poor chip to 15 feet, thinking that he’d already lost his opportunity. He missed his birdie putt.
“I relied on information I shouldn’t have,” Mitchell said. “I hate how it ended. It’s really, really disappointing.”
Mitchell will get another chance at the Web.com Tour finals, a series of four events where the top 25 who did not already earn their cards off the money list will have exempt status on the PGA tour.
9. The knock on DJ …
… is that his short game, especially his wedge play, wasn’t strong enough for someone who hit the ball so far. As his instructor, Claude Harmon III (son of Butch Harmon) pointed out, that negative has been turned into a positive — as his wedge shot in the playoff hole on Sunday at the Northern Trust showed.
— Claude Harmon III (@CH3golf) August 27, 2017