There was no shortage of news in the golf community as the calendar flipped: No Laying Up’s scoop on Rory McIlroy’s Callaway swap, Jason Day’s subsequent addition of the Swoosh to his wardrobe and the PGA Tour's lengthy sit-down with new PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan have all fed the masses plenty to digest heading into the year.
An entire column could be written about what Monahan said (or implied), but much will be made of the scheduling decisions that are looming for the Tour in the near future (and Olympic present). Addressing a few of the nuggets:
- “I really don’t hear that much about the wraparound schedule,” Monahan offered. Translation: Our players are making money, our tournaments are making money and our broadcast partners are making money by having golf around the clock. Speaking broadly, the wraparound schedule has allowed more Tour players to thrive and compete. It’s not going anywhere, unless sponsorship dries up for those tournaments (which it isn’t). It’s not having a negative impact on the top players who skip them, either. It’s not an issue.
- Ending the FedEx Cup Playoffs before the NFL season kicks off seems to be something that folks want to see happen. There needs to be a slight constriction of the schedule, but it makes a ton of sense for everybody (especially with no concerns about the wraparound schedule) to find a way to slide it back.
- An additional Monahan interview with the Wall Street Journal indicated a desire to work with the PGA of America to move the PGA Championship back to the spring. This is an idea that has been tossed about for a while (this author included) to spice up the early-season golf landscape. There is enough momentum now with on-the-record comments to see this happening. One wrinkle to add: Turner Sports owns (with CBS) television and digital broadcasting rights to the event. If you put the PGA Championship within the NBA season, it would be a major strain on resources. It is entirely feasible to work it out, but with Turner owning rights through 2019, there could be some difficult discussions still to be had.
One thing that should never change on the schedule is the SBS Tournament of Champions in Maui. No sport has such a perfect “kickoff” to its season (now calendar) like the PGA Tour’s dipping of the toe in the pool/ocean this week to kick off another year of golf. While much of the country comes to grips with its post-holiday climate reality, the fantasy golf lifestyle is beamed into each home. Even better, many of the game’s best indulge the fans by playing, because who can turn down a trip to Maui? If there was such a thing as a mix between an official and exhibition event, this is the one tournament that fits the bill.
Therein, however, lies one of the curious things about this tournament: You don’t know what you will get from the players. For some, it’s a guaranteed paycheck to offset the costs of a social getaway. Others treat it as a vacation reward to family and friends for punching through to the winner’s circle. A majority will grind out every shot on the Plantation Course to set a tone for the year or to maximize a golden opportunity not many receive. Play your cards right, and it can guarantee your season.
In 2010, Geoff Ogilvy defended his title in this tournament to begin the year. He was ranked No. 9 after that win but registered zero top-12 finishes in his next 17 starts. The win guaranteed him a FedEx Cup playoff spot. He found a way to finish second at the Deutsche Bank and made the Tour Championship. Without the opening win? Who knows?
The recent runs by Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed have given the tournament the same feel it had at the turn of the century when the top players in the world (Mickelson, Duval, Woods, Garcia, Els) not only went to Hawaii, but they also won. It may not be a trend (youth is certainly encouraging it right now), but it’s getting more attention.
And with Justin Thomas nabbing a third-career win and second this season while man-handling Kapalua can only be good for a tournament enjoying a renaissance.