PGA Tour Schedule “These Guys Are Busy”

It was interesting the revamped PGA Tour schedule for the 2018-2019 season received so little play by the press and social media due no doubt to the buzz concerning the prospect of a head to head match between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. After all they are the “needle movers” for sports fans and certainly for diehard golf fans but at this writing no deal has been firmed up.

During the week we also were treated to coverage and comment, in and out of the legitimate press, of Lefty’s two-shot penalty at the Greenbrier plus the USGA ruling Bryson DeChambeau’s drawing compass was out of bounds.

However, should you define golf news by the impact on fans the PGA Tour announcement of a shortened 2018-2019 tournament schedule was the most important. As PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan put it in the press release, “It’s been our stated objective for several years to create better sequencing of our tournaments that golf fans around the world can engage in from start to finish. And by concluding at the end of August, the FedExCup Playoffs no longer have the challenge of sharing the stage with college and professional football. This will enhance the visibility of the FedExCup Playoffs and overall fan engagement with the PGA TOUR and the game as a whole.”

How fewer tournaments help “the game as a whole” is not clear but the I’m sure quibbling is beneath us.

The first eight tournaments of the split schedule take place prior to the hiatus from Thanksgiving to New Years as they did this season, but the significant fact is these events are now a bigger part of the year. With the new schedule having three fewer tournaments you can expect more of the big names more of time rather than just the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai and one of the other two in the Asian swing. This could be good news particularly for two well thought of event, one in Las Vegas (Shriners Hospitals for Children) and the other in Georgia (RSM Classic).

Accomplishing the goal of having the Tour Championship before Labor Day when football takes over meant one of the year-end FedExCup playoff events would have to go. Sacrificed for the good of the game (or at least to beat out the NFL) was the Dell Technologies Championship at the TPC Boston which has fans in New England more than a little unhappy.

Previously we knew about The Players Championship (Ponte Vedra Beach) moving from May to March and in 2019 the date is preceded by the Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bay Hill) followed by the Valspar Championship in Tampa. Combined with the Honda Classic the week before Arnie’s tournament there’s a reborn Florida swing.

The other major move was also by a major, the PGA Championship, which went from being the final major of the year in August to being put in The Player Championship’s old slot in May. The season’s majors then will be spread from the Masters April 11 – 14 to the PGA May 16 – 19 to the U.S. Open June 13 – 16 and finishing with the British Open July 18 – 21. That’s five weeks between the Masters and the PGA, four weeks from the PGA to the U.S. Open and four from the U.S. Open to the British Open.

Add in The Players, three WGC championships from January to July and “must-play” events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the…well you get the idea. Many if not most players rarely play more than three tournaments in a row, so the new Tour schedule could result in two situations. First, they may find it difficult to fit in some time off and secondly some very good tournaments may have a problem attracting players in the top 50. The Valspar tucked in between The Players and the WGC-Dell Technology Match Play is obviously on that list as is the RBC Canadian falling the week between the Memorial and the U.S. Open.

It’s ironic the Tour’s slogan was changed because if it was still “These guys are good” it might be more appropriate to say, “These guys are busy.”

On the Clock

The idea of doing something to hasten the sloth-like pace of professional and college golf, not to mention that four-ball ahead of you last Saturday, has been kicked around for some time. Golf’s pace of play has been criticized for as long as I have been playing but no one has really done anything practical at the elite level until the European Tour’s commissioner Keith Pelley decided enough was enough.

Thus, was born the Shot Clock Masters which until this year was known as the Austrian Open. Let’s not discuss how the name of Bobby Jones’s major was usurped again but look at the results of this experiment in rationality.

First the background. Commissioner Pelley (who also inaugurated the innovative GolfSixes event) made the decision to attack slow-play head-on by placing every player on the clock every shot. Unfortunately, because it took place the week before the U.S. Open and it was in Austria, this unique and revolutionary event gained only passing notice. After all there was all the hype leading up to Shinnecock and then Dustin Johnson’s impressive six stroke win in Memphis capped by a walk-off eagle on the 72nd hole.

Each group in the Shot Clock Masters for each round was accompanied by a golf cart on which a large digital shot clock was mounted. Players had 50 seconds to hit if they were first to play an approach shot and for par-3s or putts. That was shortened to 40 seconds for par-4 and par-5 tee shots plus when they were second (or third) to play on putts and approaches. If the player went over the allotted time there was no grace period, appeal or looking the other way. What he got was a one stroke added to his score.

The digital display was easy to see and the operator (the Euro Tour called them “referees”) said “time” when the clock started so everyone knew what was happening.

The question of course is what were the results?

Average time for the four rounds of the Austrian Open in 2017 was 4 hours and 40 minutes and for the Shot Clock Masters it was 25 minutes less. The average time for the final round on the European Tour is 3 hours and 57 minutes but at the Shot Clock Masters it was 3 hours and 26 minutes.

Do you see a trend?

Shot Clock players interviewed were enthusiastic (there were only four penalties meted out in four days), event officials were happy as were European Tour officials but so far, I have seen no comment from the PGA Tour nor the USGA.

Lost in all the noise though was something that turns the tables on those who say the pros play slowly because it’s their livelihood and they are playing for a lot of money. The average score for the entire Shot Clock Masters was more than one stroke less than the average for the past eight years of the Austrian Open on the same course.

It’s true the top players were missing from the Shot Clock Masters, either playing in Memphis or preparing for the U.S. Open but even so to cut off one-half hour from the previous average time AND have the field score lower is significant.

No…it’s amazing.

The PGA Tour has a pace problem with some of its players and the Tour seems to be stonewalling—a lot of discussion and few penalties. The USGA has conveniently avoided the issue resorting to inane PSAs such as the laughable “While We’re Young,” figuring out how to set up courses for the U.S. Open to embarrass contestants and rationalizing not disqualifying Phil Mickelson when lesser names would have been shown the path to the parking lot.

The problem with slow play, whether on the tours or at your club, is we don’t shine the spotlight on the offenders to embarrass them and then impose consequences.

Tackling the cause of slow play is recognizing it is not so much a problem inherent in the game but the lack of respect with players having a “me-only” attitude.