This week’s Safeway Open kicks off a new PGA Tour season, but before we turn the page on the 2016-17 edition it’s worth taking a look at the season’s winners (Justin Thomas) and losers (Presidents Cup).
Season’s greetings. Each fall the realization hits some fans like an alarm clock, the Tour’s off-season is measured in hours, not weeks or months like other sports. And with this recognition comes the predictable level of handwringing.
Some argue that the circuit is somehow doing a disservice to the game by not allowing the season to breath, as if golf would somehow resonate across all lines if the Tour embraced a less-is-more approach.
Lost in these concerns, however, is the fact that the Tour is a business, and like any business the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., aren’t interested in contraction just for the sake of contraction.
As a general rule, successful corporations don’t fold successful divisions, in this case tournaments played in the fall, just for nostalgia purposes; and if sponsors like Safeway, RSM and CIMB are content with the product don’t expect the Tour to turn its back any time soon.
A break would be great, but business is business.
Goal oriented. When Justin Thomas’ historic season finally ended at the Tour Championship, he revealed his list of goals for the season, a lineup of 13 items that largely were achieved.
Missing from that list was winning the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award, which Thomas won on Wednesday following a five-win season that concluded with his claiming the FedExCup.
It took only a few moments before the inevitable question was asked – how will his goals change for next season? Thomas’ answer was an indication of why the 24-year-old has been able to achieve so much in his young career.
“That’s something I’ll probably spend some time talking to Mr. Nicklaus about or Tiger [Woods] or even Jordan [Spieth], those are the only people I know that have had such success in one season multiple times,” Thomas said. “They’ve had to deal with resetting their goals and reevaluating.”
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Tweet (or blogs) of the week: In a blog post this week Marc Leishman’s wife Audrey described a scene at last week’s Presidents Cup that she correctly contended wasn’t for children.
“There were many times last week that I thought about what the kids were seeing. The crowds booing for good shots and cheering for missed putts. The drinking at 7 a.m.? Screaming ‘Big Easy’ to Ernie Els and begging for his autograph and then yelling at his players,” she wrote.
After four days at Liberty National, Cut Line can attest that there was an element to the New York crowds that didn’t exactly adhere to normal golf etiquette, but with a monsoon of respect for Audrey Leishman, what did she expect?
The Tour – and last year the PGA of America at the Ryder Cup – has made it clear these marquee events need to attract a more broad sports audience. With that additional exposure will come an element that doesn’t understand what those in golf consider appropriate behavior and will push boundaries.
It’s the price the game pays for those new fans.
Points, picks and a task force? Before we move on from last week’s Presidents Cup, the 19-11 loss the U.S. team laid on the International side at Liberty National should serve as an ultimatum for the Tour, which has been adverse to meaningful change at the biennial event.
International captain Nick Price, along with Els and Greg Norman, have been lobbying the Tour for years to reduce the total number of points to 28 to mirror that of the Ryder Cup and give the Rest of World, which is not as deep as the U.S. side, a fighting chance.
But if the circuit is looking for real change, they may take another page out of the U.S. Ryder Cup playbook and give the next International captain (Els) carte blanche to overhaul a system that is clearly broken.
Maybe it’s time for an International task force.
“Everyone who is involved in the cup going forward should get together, talk about it, what the U.S. team has done the last few years, and try and come up with something to get our guys a little more invested in it,” Adam Scott said. “It’s getting to that point where we see we’ve got to do a bit more.”
Whatever is required to make the event more competitive, a reduction in the total number of points is a start but decision makers should also consider an overhaul of the selection process and perhaps more captain’s picks for the Internationals should be everyone’s top priority.
Minimum mistakes. Following an injury-plagued season, Rory McIlroy considered skipping the FedExCup Playoffs to rest and prepare for next season.
He went on and played the postseason, failing to advance to the Tour Championship for the first time in four years and surprised many when he added last week’s British Masters to his schedule.
It seems the world No. 6 was protecting his European Tour status and his chances to play next year’s Ryder Cup in Paris.
“I want to play the Ryder Cup next year and obviously I’ve got to play my five events in Europe,” McIlroy said last week at the British Masters. “So that was a big factor in that.”
This week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he missed the cut, will be McIlroy’s final start of the year, but there’s something inherently wrong with a system that forces a player’s hand when rest is clearly a better option.