- Which tournaments benefit from the new schedule? What's up with DeChambeau's compass? Should we be worried that Tiger and Phil are still the main attraction? How impressive is Sei Young Kim's record?
What are the takeaways from all these schedule changes? What tournament stands to gain the most from a strength of field standpoint? And which might suffer?
Yes, while the biggest news of the past week in the golf world concerned an event that will have no association with any tour (more on that later), the PGA Tour made some headlines of its own by releasing a revamped schedule for 2018–19. As far as I’m concerned, there were six big changes, some of which we knew were coming, some of which were surprises. Let’s break them down one-by-one.
• The PGA Championship is moving from August to May, and will thus become the second major on the golf calendar after the Masters in April. This change was actually announced by the PGA of America at last year’s PGA at Quail Hollow, and it was made for a couple reasons.
Perhaps most importantly, golf is back in the Summer Olympics, which happen to fall in August. This change removes the need to move the championship up a couple weeks every four years, as the Tour did in 2016 to make room for the inaugural Olympic golf tournament. When that happened, a number of top players skipped the Olympics to squeeze some extra rest in between the last major of the season and the FedEx Cup playoffs. The Zika virus scare didn’t help matters, and in the end the world’s top four ranked players at the time (Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy) all passed on representing their countries at sports’ most iconic competition. That’s lame, plain and simple, and isn’t a good look for the Tour or the Olympics or the players. It just put everyone in a bad spot. This spreads things out more; all the majors will be roughly a month apart, rather than having a two-month break between the Masters and the U.S. Open. And the PGA Tour no longer steps on the Olympics’ toes.
The move also creates a more compact, concrete “golf season.” From mid-April to August, there will be very little lull time between the majors, and lull times squander interest that always peaks after Augusta. The earlier finish to the season—next season will end in late August, rather than late September—is also a positive. Golf knows its place among the American sports hierarchy, and getting out of the way of football (pro and college) and playoff-race baseball was certainly a priority in creating this new, shorter season. No longer will the FedEx Cup playoffs have to compete with SEC football and the AFC East on the weekends. That’s a good thing for ratings.
The move to May will have weather consequences, both good and bad. On the good side, the move from August to mid-May opens up for hosting duties an entire region of the country that’s simply too damn hot to host a golf tournament in late summer: the South.
Conversely, the move to spring could pose issues for multiple upcoming PGA sites. Starting with Bethpage in 2019, three of the five PGAs after this year’s in Bellerive (outside St. Louis) are in New York or New Jersey, where it’s common to have chilly/rainy days in mid-May. Say there’s a gnarly winter in 2021–22, and Trump National (a discussion for another time) simply isn’t ready to host a major championship by May. Not an unheard of scenario…
• The PGA’s May takeover forces the Players to move back to a March date that it held until 2006. March was basically the only choice—the Tour stays West for January and February; April has the Masters; May now brings the PGA; June is the U.S. Open’s; the British dominates July. TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach) will now be sandwiched between fellow Florida events in Bay Hill (Orlando) and Valspar (Tampa area). It’s a natural fit, but it causes quite the schedule jam. From Feb. 7 to April 14, there are seven elite tournaments in a 10-week stretch: the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and some tournament played at Augusta National. The Valspar Championship and the Honda Classic are two tournaments in that stretch that will suffer field-wise, as elite players simply won’t play nine times in 10 weeks. So that answers that question.
From a golf course perspective, though, most players have stated that TPC Sawgrass plays truer in March, when it’s not as firm and fast as it is in May. (Related: There’s a reason the rest of the Florida swing happens in March rather than May.)
Not to get too technical, but when the tournament was in March, the powers that be had to overseed the Bermuda grass, a practice unnecessary in May. What results from the lack of overseed is a firmer, faster golf course. Coupled with the higher temperatures in May—it hovered around 90 at this year’s Players—that results in significantly different playing conditions. Namely, the ball travels a mile and the course bakes out. TPC Sawgrass wasn’t designed for the type of run-up shots that a firm Florida course demands, so the return to March will enhance the architectural masterpiece that Pete Dye put together outside Jacksonville.
• The most surprising change on the schedule, since both of the above moves were already announced, was the switch from four FedEx Cup playoff events to three. In an age where the standard procedure for sports leagues is to expand, the Tour’s self-awareness ought to be applauded. Jay Monahan and crew know they can’t compete with the other fall sports, so wrapping things up with the Tour Championship in the end of August is a logical move.
Still, it’ll be interesting to see which changes are made to the FedEx Cup format, if any. Will the playoff tournaments be worth the same as they were? More? Less? Time will tell, but my guess would be that the final three events will be a bit less impactful than they were under the four-tournament playoff format. It just doesn’t feel fair to crown a champion of a season-long race based on three strong tournaments. But we’ll see.
• The tournament formally known as the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational will move to Memphis and become the World Golf Championship-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, which will be played at TPC Southwind in Memphis. St. Jude-for-Bridgestone is a straight swap, meaning Memphis will replace Firestone (the host of the Bridgestone) on the schedule, but the move also opens the pre-U.S. Open slot where the FedEx St. Jude Classic previously was. That’s being filled by the RBC Canadian Open. (So, if that’s considered the same event, then the FedEx St. Jude held in Memphis serves to gain the most from a strength-of-field perspective.) I like the back-to-back North American Open stretch; on the European Tour, they play the U.S. Open, followed by the French Open, the Irish Open, the Scottish Open and finally the British Open. These tournaments—the ones in Europe, but also the Canadian—may seem like regular Tour stops to the average fan, but they’re actually proud nations’ national championships with rich histories and massive local interest.
From a more practical standpoint, I’m not so sure having a World Golf Championship the week after the British Open, on a golf course roughly 4,000 miles away, is a good idea. Major weeks are draining, and a bunch of players choose to take the next week off even if the tournament is a quick drive from the major championship site. Having to fly halfway across the world on a Monday to play in a World Golf Championship that begins on Thursday? Yikes. Will we see players skip Memphis? Certainly a possibility.
• Two brand-new tournaments were formally introduced, and they’ll be played in back-to-back weeks: the 3M Open in Minnesota and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit will make their respective debuts in July. The Rocket Mortgage directly replaces the Quicken Loans National, Tiger’s tournament that had trouble drawing players and, as a result, sponsors. One thought on that tournament: Every player should have a maximum of eight minutes to play every hole to honor Rocket Mortgage’s tried-and-true method of approving mortgages in eight minutes.
From all accounts the PGA Tour Champions tournament known as the 3M Championship, which has been played at the same TPC Twins Cities that will host the PGA Tour event, has been one of the players and fans’ favorite stops. So it’s nice to see that event get promotion to the big leagues.
• The Houston Open and the Greenbrier don’t appear on the 2018-19 schedule, but they will return as part of the Fall Series in 2019-20. The reason: the Greenbrier just happened, they can’t host another tournament in just a few months. And the Houston Open, which long served as the Masters tune-up, badly needed a jolt of energy. Maybe this will provide it.
Any issue with Bryson DeChambeau using a compass? Why did the USGA ban it?
This was an all-time episode of Bryson Being Bryson. The one-plane-swinging, funky-hat-wearing, same-club-length-using scientist masquerading as a world-class golfer was seen using a compass at the Travelers Championship. No, not a directional compass, which could feasibly (and legally) be used to accurately judge wind direction. It was a geometric compass, the kind you frustratingly fiddled with in elementary school when trying to draw perfect circles.
Predictably, people had fun with this on social media, and it became a legitimate topic of discussion in golf circles. The USGA had no choice but to issue a ruling, which in the end went against Dr. DeChambeau: “The USGA has ruled that the use of a protractor (also known as a drawing compass) during a stipulated round is a violation of Rule 14-3a of the Rules of Golf. It is considered ‘unusual equipment that might assist him in making a stroke or in his play.'”
Never one to mince words—the 24-year-old is challenging Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy for the title of Most Forthright With the Media—DeChambeau called the ban of his trust ol’ compass “unfortunate,” and said he’s “trying to utilize every tool in my brain to be able to reference information and get information in a way that I can utilize it to the best of my ability.”
I don’t really have any opinion on the ban; I’m not sure I really understand what DeChambeau was using the compass for in the first place. But I find this young man absolutely fascinating and greatly admire his thirst for improvement. He’ll truly do whatever it takes, which apparently includes pulling out a damn compass in the middle of a PGA Tour round. He does not care one bit what anyone says about him, and that’s something we can all emulate.
This rumored Tiger-Phil match caused more buzz than probably any other golf story this year. Is that a good or bad thing?
Having superstars is, generally, a good thing for sports. Having those superstars be 42- and 48-years-old, respectively, is not ideal. There are so many fantastic young players who have succeeded on the sport’s biggest stages—six of the world’s top 10 players are under 30. But as pleasant and honest and social media–friendly as guys like Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are, they simply don’t have anywhere near the crossover appeal that Tiger and Phil do. By that I mean, even non-golf fans care about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, where the same (unfortunately) cannot be said about the younger guys. That’ll be proved by the ratings for this match, when it does eventually happen. I’d bet they rival Sunday at a major.
The reactions to the Tiger-Phil $10 million match can generally be split into two categories: about 80% expressed excitement, while the other 20% were people talking about how irrelevant this match is and how washed up both Tiger and Phil are. Washed up is a bit harsh—both players remain among the world’s best, and both will likely be on this year’s Ryder Cup team—but the point is well-taken. These guys are well past their primes ... but we still care. Consider this: if people didn’t care, the announcement wouldn’t have drawn much reaction on either side. As we saw, that wasn’t the case.
Instead of being upset that the younger guys haven’t blossomed into full-blown crossover superstars, let’s be thankful that we still, after all these years, have Tiger and Phil. One thing is for certain: The game would be less popular without them, and that’s something we all don’t want to see. For sure, it would be fantastic if a Justin Thomas–Dustin Johnson match could draw the same buzz, but it can’t. Better to have one imperfect thing—in this case, past-their-prime stars—then zero things altogether.
And let’s be even more thankful that after years of a mutual distaste, these two legends have engaged in a first-class détente, as evidenced by their playing a—gasp!—practice round together at Augusta. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer had a special relationship. So do Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It’s the beauty of sport—rivals in the arena can be friends outside it. Beautiful to see Tiger and Phil realize that, albeit deep into the latter stages of their careers.
Just how impressive was Sei Young Kim’s scoring record she set this past week?
She was 24 under after three rounds, then closed it out with a bogey-free, seven-under 65. I don’t care if you’re playing the easiest muni in the world. You shoot 31 under for four rounds—thirty one under par—and you deserve every compliment in the world. She made 31 birdies, one eagle and a double bogey (yes, she shot 31 under with a double) in four rounds. Just an insane level of golf as she blew the old four-round record out by a full four shots. Interestingly enough, the record of 27 under was initially set by Anika Sorenstam and equaled by Kim herself in 2016. Clearly, this woman has an overdrive gear that few (if any) can match. The 2015 Rookie of the Year is one to keep an eye on.