The PGA TOUR made headlines today by announcing a completely revamped schedule for the remainder of the year.
It all begins with a re-launch on June 11th at Colonial Country Club, host of the Charles Schwab Challenge. There will not be any fans allowed in attendance. As you can imagine, the responses to this June date were a mixed bag.
For many, it's hard to even think about running a PGA TOUR event right now in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis but so much can happen in six weeks, when looking at the evolution of the coronavirus spread, how it's handled, and how it can be treated. Things that seem like impossible hurdles right now may not even matter in six weeks. Other things that seem trivial right now, may become more and more important to address as the weeks progress.
In a time of great uncertainty, many TOUR players just wanted a target date and now they have it. Of course, actually playing these tournament dates will rely on COVID-19's evolution over the next month. If it starts to die down by late April like some models project then that will give players a bit more comfort in traveling across the country from week to week.
The biggest hurdles are likely international travel bans and players feeling uncomfortable about traveling in general (especially if they are immunocompromised or have someone close to them who is). It's certainly possible that some golfers would receive some sort of Medical Extension if needed. The more realistic realistic is that the PGA TOUR won't go through with these events if they have too many of these players still worried about the risks, or if international travel bans are still forcing some players to be stuck abroad.
If all goes to plan, though, here is how the rest of the 2019-20 PGA TOUR season will play out:
June 8-14 (no fans): Charles Schwab Challenge, Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas
June 15-21 (no fans): RBC Heritage, Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina
June 22-28 (no fans): Travelers Championship, TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut
July 2-5 (no fans): Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit Golf Club, Detroit, Michigan
July 6-12: John Deere Classic, TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois
July 13-19: the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio
July 20-26: 3M Open, TPC Twin Cities, Blaine, Minnesota
July 27-August 2: World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee
July 27-August 2: Barracuda Championship, Tahoe Mountain Club (Old Greenwood), Truckee, California
August 3-9: PGA Championship, TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California
August 10-16: Wyndham Championship, Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro, North Carolina
August 17-23: THE NORTHERN TRUST, TPC Boston, Norton, Massachusetts
August 24-30: BMW Championship, Olympia Fields Country Club (North), Olympia Fields, Illinois
August 31-September 7: TOUR Championship, East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Georgia
That is 14 scheduled events, the same amount of events that will no longer be played this season (if you include the Olympics). Once a 50-event schedule, including the Olympics, is now down to 36 possible tournaments.
As you can see above, fans have already been ruled out from the first four events. They can apply that same ruling to other events if needed.
Key Takeaways and Questions to Ponder:
What was once known as Glory's Last Shot, the PGA Championship, is now Glory's Only Shot. The PGA Championship is the only major championship that remains on the 2019-20 schedule. The U.S. Open and Masters are scheduled to play in the fall, but that will be after the new 2020-21 season starts. The 2020 Open Championship has been axed entirely.
Speaking of events getting the ax, A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier was removed from the fall schedule. In fact, the PGA TOUR and Greenbrier Resort mutually ended their contract for upcoming editions, as well. The resort was not happy with the results since moving away from the Fourth of July week.
The RBC Canadian Open and Barbasol Championship were also removed from the schedule but both of them plan to return for their 2021 dates.
What about minimum-start rules (15) to maintain full PGA TOUR privilege? Surely, the minimum starts of 15 will not be enforced considering names like Rickie Fowler only have six starts on their game log this season. Guys like Henrik Stenson or Sergio Garcia who love to flirt with that number will have no chance to reach their total. Stenson has pegged it just three times this season and Garcia sits at five starts.
What about the lack of opportunities for the lower tier to retain their status? It seems like a trivial matter right now but it's a big deal for those grinders that are currently outside of the Top 125 FedExCup bubble. The plan of action for this hasn't officially been announced yet, but I'm sure that news will start to surface over the next month.
On a similar note, what can we expect from the Korn Ferry Tour? They've announced their plans to restart the season on June 8th with an event that will be played at TPC Sawgrass's Dye Valley Course. That week was previously reserved for the Live and Work in Maine Open (Huntsville, Alabama). It makes a lot of sense for them to keep it closer to home base, though, at TPC Sawgrass. It will be interesting to see how the PGA TOUR handles end-of-year KFT promotions. Will they be delayed a year or reduced to a smaller number of graduates?
What can we expect from field strengths? It will be a case-by-case basis but one event I've been following a bit closer since it's in my backyard is the 3M Open. Just last week, the tournament director (Hollis Cavner) said, "The players, they’re ready. They want to play." When asked about player commitments he declined to name specific golfers but said they already have some big names committed and Cavner added, "Let’s put it this way, we’re in great shape in the Top 5." If big names really are thirsty for some competition then it will be fun to see golfers teeing it up in events they've previously avoided due to schedule conflicts.
When the PGA TOUR laid out all the changes, they also talked about field sizes for three invitational events in particular. The Charles Schwab Challenge will be increased from 120 to 144 golfers. the RBC Heritage will also be 144 golfers instead of 132, and the Memorial Tournament will get the same bump from 120 to 144 as the Charles Schwab Challenge. They didn't talk about any field expansion for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational but that does have an alternate-field event running the same week. The same goes for the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship which is now set to be played the same week as the Ryder Cup. A change in policy in 2020 reduced opposite-field events from 132 golfers to 120. As of now, we'll assume the Corales will remain a 120-man event but it's certainly possible they open up some spots.
Will ShotLink still be running? If you've ever been to a PGA TOUR event then you've probably seen all the ShotLink volunteers sitting just off the fairways. You've probably also noticed a large majority of them are senior citizens. It makes sense considering the events start on Thursday when most middle-aged Americans are still at work. Will the PGA TOUR try to put age restrictions on volunteers (given they are at the most risk to COVID-19), will they ditch ShotLink entirely in the short term, or will they move to a fully-automated process that relies on their advanced cameras?
I'm sure there are many more talking points I glossed over and I could ramble on and on about other minor details that have yet to be addressed but I think most of those questions will get answered over the next six weeks. Instead, I will celebrate the return of golf and go make myself an Arnold Palmer.