Justin Rose once made the comment that golf at tour level is all about April to September – the time of year where all the important events reside.
As we begin a new year and revel in fresh hope for our own games, inevitably we also turn to the seasons now underway on the professional circuits. From next year, of course, those seasons will take on a new complexion as the US PGA Championship moves from August to May as one of several key scheduling changes.
The desire, from an American standpoint, is to complete the ‘wraparound’ season before their football season begins in early September. From 2019, the FedEx Cup Playoffs look set to be run and won by late August (the time they usually start), while the Players Championship is slated to return to the March date it held until 2007. That last change will adjust Rose’s block of ‘harvest time’ by a month, making March to August the six-month run when all the biggest events will congregate.
Which leaves me wondering about the status of the other half of the year, the September to February portion. Will it become golf’s ‘wasteland’ that jaded players will target for downtime?
All these date changes seem to heighten the sense of
separation between the two halves of the global season.
There’s already a growing sense of division on the American circuit. Eight tournaments comprised the 2017 portion of the 2017-’18 wraparound season, one more than last time. Justin Thomas banked $US1,766,500 to lead the moneylist as one year ended and another began. That’s some deficit to chase down for those who choose to use October to December as downtime.
Adam Scott, who historically constructs a playing schedule about as meticulously as any golfer on the planet, has lamented the pressure brought about by the need to chase prizemoney and world ranking points by playing more often late in the year. His ranking slid from seventh in the world at the start of last year to 31st exiting the Australian PGA Championship. That’s despite registering four top-10s from 19 starts in 2017.
Still, he can see the flip side of adding events. “It takes the pressure off as you get a bit of an off-season through Christmas and New Year,” Scott said at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in late 2016. “It’s nice to be able to have this event with FedEx Cup points, and next week, HSBC Champions, and try to get off to a bit of a flyer. I think a lot of guys like coming to this event for that specific reason. You can get off to a good start.”
He’s right, and more players are treating the late-season tournaments with a similar approach. Yet for the tour elite, playing these events scattered around the globe must be like showing up for summer school.
Scheduling is a very personal aspect of tour life and what works for some players invariably doesn’t fit others. Players eschewing the late-year grind instead see the October to December or January and February stints as the chance to rest and prepare for the height of the season. But they invariably get to choose only one or the other. Rose qualified for the winners-only Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in early January but elected to skip the trip to paradise in favour of rest after a hectic run of tournaments that took him to (in order) Shanghai, Turkey, Dubai, Hong Kong, the Bahamas and Jakarta.
The upshot of it all is: the tournaments in the ‘have not’ part of the golf calendar will fight harder – wherever they are in the world – to draw elite fields. It’s been an issue in Australia for decades, prompting several opinions on whether a February sequence of tournaments might make more sense than the current November/December timing. It could be a masterstroke for the PGA Tour of Australasia, or it might be a case of shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic.
But back to Rose, who, somewhat ironically, won three of those six far-flung tournaments he played in late 2017, outside his targeted window on the golf calendar. Which just goes to show there is no rhyme or reason to when good form strikes, even in the game’s top echelon.