The cancellation of last week’s Tour stop at the Greenbrier due to the tragic flooding in West Virginia is a disruption. But the open week may have provided a necessary respite for players facing a daunting schedule from now until the end of September.
Inserting the Olympics into an already crowded PGA Tour schedule will challenge players to make choices beyond the trip to Rio. Some of the game’s biggest names are citing the Zika virus in staging their own Olympic boycotts. But next on the list of concerns is how to survive the gauntlet from mid-July to October 2.
Essentially we are looking at a three-lane highway.
In the high-speed lane are golf’s elite, players who qualify for everything including the option to wear their nation’s colors in Brazil. If, for example, Jordan Spieth, plays the schedule available to him, he will face eight premier stops in 11 weeks. Starting with the Open Championship at Troon, he then has the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, the Olympics, the three FedEx elimination tournaments and the Tour Championship. The run would end with the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
A player who gets hot — as Spieth did last spring-summer and Jason Day did last summer-fall — could define their career in less than three months. A more likely scenario is they will have to balance the wear and tear against committing to each of the FedEx events. For a player such as Rory McIlroy, the decision to sit out the Olympics builds a valuable respite into the middle of the race to October. The Tour Championship brings down the 2016 curtain for Internationals.
The second lane on the highway is for the mid-tier Tour players, who are not under Olympic consideration, but have their own scheduling dilemma. During that same Olympics stretch, the middle class is looking for four ‘regular’ Tour stops in Canada, Connecticut, Iowa and North Carolina. These players are staging primarily for FedEx positioning and, with a full commitment, would actually be busier than the elites. Taking the Ryder Cup off at the end would still have them playing 10 events in 10 consecutive weeks.
For the third lane of players — the working class — the schedule could be looked on as an opportunity to change lanes for the coming year. There is no question the four Tour events in the middle will see fields with diminished participation from highly ranked players who would be among the favorites each week. It also would create openings at the end of the fields for players with limited or no Tour status, especially those trying to gain or regain full-time cards for 2017.
A player such as Scott Langley, who is spotting his way into Tour events in lieu of chasing qualifying through a full schedule on the Web.com Tour, may find his first chance to compete in consecutive weeks will come in late July and early August. A top 10, or a couple of top 20s, would likely move one of these players onto the 125 list and secure their position for the coming year which starts in October.
At the same time, those players currently on or near the bubble for the 125 to get into FedEx should be able to use those same four Tour events to extend their season into September, starting at the Barclays.
Another possible logistical challenge should concern Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III. It is always to the disadvantage of the U.S. squad that they have to push through FedEx and the Tour Championship and then ramp up almost immediately for the biennial battle with the Europeans. (Some but not all of the Euros are not eligible for FedEx.) That problem is exacerbated this year by the chance to represent the U.S. twice in a span of two months, first in Rio and then in Minnesota.
An American squad that hasn’t cloaked themselves in glory in the last two decades of Ryder Cup competition needs everything to break right for them in order to restore some balance to the competition’s outcome. The low fuel level of the players will be a factor for the Captain to consider that week and for the players to consider in the weeks prior.
Footnote: For the second time in as many Championships, the USGA found themselves on the unfortunate side of a rules controversy when Anna Nordqvist was assessed a two-stroke penalty in the playoff.
I questioned privately the whole Dustin Johnson issue. Why revisit Johnson’s ruling by checking video on a circumstance that had been resolved on the course? Someone had to decide at a later time to re-inspect the decision via video replay.
According to the broadcast, the decision Sunday to examine the Nordqvist video was precipitated by the network, and specifically the cameraman who shot it. Regardless of the new rules in place governing the use of replay, both situations have introduced another factor — outside parties becoming involved in rules administration at televised USGA Championships.
If individuals other than those charged with administering the rules at golf events are given standing in tournaments, even within the context of “getting it right,” a giant digital door has been opened. Every expert in the world with a HDTV, replay capability and a phone can blow the whistle.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.