We pause from the football season already in progress for a brief discussion of the new golf season ... already in progress.
That’s right, the Presidents Cup just ended Sunday and now the PGA Tour rank-and-file have teed up in California for the season opener of the 2013-14 season. The “offseason” stretched from Monday Night Football almost to Thursday Night Football.
“I took about five, six, seven days off, and then I started practicing last Monday a little bit,” said Billy Horschel, the only player from the season-ending Tour Championship field to compete in this week’s season opener.
It seems like only yesterday (2005 actually) that players started talking about contraction and not trying to compete for attention with football season.
“I personally feel that the tour schedule is a little long,” Phil Mickelson said at the 2005 WGC-Match Play. “I think for us to compete against football and for us to continue our season after the PGA Championship as long as it does, I just think it kind of loses its luster.”
“I’ve always thought the season was too long. End it Labor Day,” echoed Tiger Woods.
When those guys speak, the tour listens. By the end of 2005, the PGA Tour announced the adoption of its FedEx Cup framework, eventually moving the Tour Championship from November to September in 2007 and playing a truncated “regular” season that dropped from 48 to 41 official events and relegated the fall leftovers into a orphaned series all its own.
“It’s so far into the football season and so far into the fall and we have such varying strength of our tournaments leading up to it that we haven’t been able to get the kind of strength that we see in the other sports with the end of the season,” Commissioner Tim Finchem said.
The Masters Tournament obviously approved of the contraction, reinstating in 2008 the automatic invitations to the 33 non-opposite events officially designated as part of the PGA Tour’s primary season.
But after only seven seasons, Finchem has expanded back – incorporating six former “Fall Series” events into a wrap-around season designed to maintain the happiness of its sponsors and keep them from bailing.
It’s sound logic.
What’s disappointing, however, is that the tour isn’t using this opportunity to craft a more sensible schedule that could alleviate some of the current stresses put on top players to play such an intense, back-loaded schedule. The four playoff events coming almost immediately on the heels of the torrid British-Firestone-PGA stretch and followed quickly by the marquee international team events is a bloated binge from July through September. World No. 9 Brandt Snedeker, for instance, played nine consecutive events in 10 weeks from the British Open to Tour Championship, seemingly hitting the wall with a sub-par Presidents Cup performance.
“We’re asking a lot for the guys to play from basically British Open on,” Woods said at East Lake, admitting he “ran out of gas” from the “long, long grind” of playing seven of his 17 events in 2013 in a two-month window.
Now seems to be the perfect opportunity to give the season’s end some breathing room – especially come 2016 when golf’s return to the Olympics needs to be shoehorned into August. The European and PGA tours could work (without too much sacrifice) to create a new scheduling framework that could benefit everyone.
1. Move the Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup window to Labor Day weekend. This helps on so many fronts, not the least of which is better weather potential. The teams get finalized after the PGA Championship and then compete three weeks later before getting burned out by the playoffs.
2. Incorporate the North American fall events around the Ryder Cup. There would be two events after the PGA (CordeValle and Las Vegas) and then three more immediately after the team events (Mexico, Sea Island and Greensboro). The top players rarely (if ever) play these tournaments anyway, so it would create a perfect buffer between the major season and playoffs. If six weeks is too long between PGA and playoffs, make Mexico an opposite event to Ryder Cup and shift everything else forward one week.
3. Push Tour Championship back one month to October. Given enough cushion after the PGA, the playoff series could be handled in four consecutive weeks from late September to mid-to-late October. That’s still two or three weeks earlier than the pre-FedEx Cup finales. The playoffs compete with football anyway, so what’s another month?
4. Start the new season with the Far East events in November. The desire to push into new markets like Asia makes the wrap-around framework inevitable. But just having the Malaysia and WGC-China events (the latter is also part of the Euro Tour’s Race to Dubai finale) as the only official tournaments between Halloween and New Year’s leave a substantial “offseason” for any players so inclined to rest without fear of falling too far behind before January rolls around.
These changes could create a natural ebb and flow to keep the top players fresher without infringing too much upon the European Tour’s finale or other world tours that follow the sun in the southern hemisphere from November through December.
It’s a potential win-win proposition all the way around. All the PGA Tour, Euro Tour and PGA of America need to do is use the necessity for worldwide scheduling dexterity in 2016 to implement a clean new plan that everyone can embrace.