Tours changing at home & abroad
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
New PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has indicated a desire to shake up the PGA Tour schedule by moving the PGA Championship to May, The Players Championship back to March and winding up the FedEx Cup playoffs by Labour Day. The Round Table has kicked around ideas on shortening the schedule before. Does Monahan’s idea have merit and if so, what does he do with the current “wrap around” events in the fall?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): In my view, Monahan should start by reverting to a “calendar year season” instead of Tim Finchem’s odd change to a Fall start a few years ago. I think 99% of us who follow golf still mentally start paying attention after the New Year, so to go back to this old format makes sense, and also to finish the season by the end of September when we’ve kinda lost interest. I personally preferred TPC in March, so I’m good with that. Moving the PGA to May would mean that the last major would be done by mid-July, which may then give more appeal to the FedEx Cup in September… but only if they can figure out a way to make everyone understand how the playoffs work! In a nutshell, go for it, Jay!
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I like the sound of the changes to the Playoffs but a March date for the Players will bring weather challenges as it was moved to May to help avoid rain/lightning storms – maybe Jay isn’t aware of those issues. The wrap around season is an interesting one, you always have a few good stories come out of them – it’s always been good to Canadians: Weir, Nick Taylor and Mackenzie Hughes just a month ago – but I don’t think it draws the attraction the Tour wants, and it must be hard to sell to sponsors/partners. I know Jay wants the Fed-Ex Cup playoffs to wrap up ASAP to avoid going head to head with the NFL (King of sport content – its whole season). And the Fall wrap around season is right on top of that, so it probably doesn’t get as many eyeballs as the Tour would like. And there are also 35+ PGA Tour events a year so maybe it is a little saturated. Could the schedule be trimmed down? Most likely. Is Monahan going to do that? No chance.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I welcome Commissioner Monahan’s desire to move the PGA Championship and Players Championship up in the calendar. One big tournament per month seems like the right way to keep fan interest buzzing in the sport throughout the season. Plus, the FedEx Cup will no longer have to compete with the NFL for ratings, which should result in more viewers — especially if Tiger is in contention. I don’t really care what Monahan does with the wrap-around events, but with so much time between Labour Day and January, the commissioner would have the luxury of spacing some of these events out and dropping/adding tournaments as he sees fit.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Monahan is simply facing the reality that Finchem couldn’t because he wrote it. The old dates lent a natural rhythm to the season and the Fall belongs to baseball and football not Finchem’s fantasy. The second tier events, if they must survive in some form, should be like an extended Q school for guys trying to get tee times during the real season.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): A move like that would reduce the congestion at the end of the season when there are multiple majors, WGC events and the playoffs. It wouldn’t hurt the RBC Canadian Open either which always seems to be sandwiched into the mix. As for the wrap around events, give them first right of refusal if a spot opens in the regular rotation. Or if they don’t have the purse to compete, turn them into some sort of glorified q-school.
While we’re on the topic of Tours, European Tour Commissioner Keith Pelley has been raising purses at several of his flagship events and making noise about keeping more players at home. Asia too is stepping up with lucrative sponsorship deals to support the growing list of Asian players on both men’s and women’s tours. The PGA Tour is still the ultimate goal for most of the best players in the world for now but do you see the pendulum perhaps swinging away from the PGA Tour towards Europe and Asia?
Deeks: Yes, I do. The US PGA will still be the ultimate proving ground for a few more years, but as the quality of play gets better around the world, the other Tours have nowhere to go but up. And as their purses increase in value, and air travel becomes more of a security and safety risk and financial burden, I can see more and more Euro and Asian players sticking to their own backyards. And if so, that will make majors and “world” events that much more compelling.
Loughry: MONEY TALKS as they say. I sure hope the Tours understand the ramifications of what they’re doing. There have always been murmurs on the creation of a World Tour (Norman). Golf truly is a global game, but it seems there are only a handful of events each year that all the top players play in and it’s partly because Tours set up barriers to leaving. I understand the politics, money and sponsorship issues, if a Tour didn’t have some of these mandatory (minimum) playing policies in place, sponsors might be investing a whole heap of money into an event to not have a Sergio or McIlroy, Johnson, etc play in. WGC events are a farce, they’re primarily played on US soil. I don’t think raising purses on other Tours will have an impact on where players play. The PGA Tour is still going to be the #1 goal of any player wanting to play against the best.
Kaplan: I don’t think it will ever shift away fully from the PGA Tour, but the European Tour’s upcoming Rolex Series should at least help to deter some European players from leaving the continent for North America. Guaranteed minimum purses of US $7 million are likely to draw some big names, but their success will likely boil down to how Pelley schedules these events. As it stands, the European Tour has three straight Rolex Series events (French Open, Irish Open, and Scottish Open) sandwiched between the US Open and the Open Championship. That would be five big-time events in a six week span — a tall order for any player. For the Rolex Series to have a chance at continued success going forwards, Commissioner Pelley will need to adjust the schedule and find spots for these events that do not conflict with any of the four majors. That way, Pelley can ensure more elite players will be in attendance.
Quinn: Money talks and the ‘independent contractors’ are all ears. Bumping up the Euro pots with pots of Euros will definitely improve the fields at the big events, same will happen with the mountains of wons, yens, and renminbis, especially on the Ladies circuit. Talk about spreading the wealth, the HNA Group of China has signed a 5-year deal as title sponsor of the $7 million Euro Tour Rolex Series Open de France. The PGA Tour will remain the gold standard with three of the Majors, Tour Championship, The Players and that credit card fandango at the end. But it won’t be the only game in town ever again.
Mumford: It’s inevitable that there will be a power shift to Europe and Asia as both continents develop home grown talent that will be inclined to support the local tours. What if Jason Day, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and their buddies all decided to stay home and only play in the majors and WGC events? The weekly weighting for World Ranking points would change and eventually it might happen that a European or Asian Tour event had a stronger field than the PGA Tour. Couple that with bigger purses and you have the makings of a true World Tour – something Greg Norman advocated over twenty years ago.
Hideki Matsuyama continues to be the hottest player on the planet with four wins and two seconds in his last six starts. His two losses were both at the hands of Justin Thomas who is now showing the kind of results many had predicted for the long hitter. If these two are indeed ready to win Majors and Day, McIlroy, Stenson, Johnson and Spieth are also at the top of their game, how do they divvy up the four majors in 2017?
Deeks: At this point, Matsuyama and Thomas are just two hot players in my opinion… in a long line of guys who’ve peaked and subsided in recent years… e.g., Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Jhonattan Vegas, and others whom I don’t have time to look up. Hideki and Justin may keep riding their waves to major victories this year, and good luck to them, but I’d still be putting my money on the Five you mentioned in your question… and maybe even throw Bubba into the mix.
Loughry: I think one of the two (Mats or Bomb-Thom) will break through at some point, but there are only four chances a year to win a Major. I think Matsuyama has a better chance out of the two as he has a more complete game that suits Major Championship golf a little better. But that doesn’t mean either will win one this year even though they’re definitely trending in the right direction. The top 5 have certainly set themselves apart from the rest (Day, Johnson, Spieth and honourable mention to Stenson and McIlroy).
Kaplan: Lol! It’s so early! Who knows? We had four first time major winners in 2016. Who’s to say that any of these guys walk away with majors in 2017!?
Quinn: It is amazing that the top guys have so quickly arrived at that once rarefied space where only the Majors matter. None faster that Matsuyama. What I’d like to see is Day winning the Masters, Rory the Opens, and Mats the PGA Championship. That would be great television because each win would be tight, maybe a couple of playoffs, like a summer of duels in the sun with a revolving cast of the top guns. Or we get four first-time winners and no one from the top 10 wins one, but I much prefer the first scenario.
Mumford: Four first time winners in 2016 would lead you to believe that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to handicap the majors. That said, I believe we’ll see a return to a more normal year in which all of the major winners will come from the World Top 10. Thomas isn’t quite ready and Matsuyama needs to show that this isn’t just a dazzling hot streak. When the dust settles, I think McIlroy and Spieth will have a pair of wins each.