When the PGA Tour introduced the wraparound schedule for the 2013-14 season it always had the feel of the lesser of various evils.
Essentially, the new schedule allowed the Tour Championship to be the big finish the circuit so desperately needed and wanted, and it also allowed the fall events, which had been relegated to an inconsequential wasteland, to create an ever-improving niche on the schedule.
There was an issue with timing, however.
Because there would be virtually no offseason between the Tour Championship and the new season, the circuit’s qualifying system had to be streamlined with the creation of the Web.com Tour Finals.
For two seasons, that system has worked well with a new slate of Tour cards doled out in time to begin the new season, but with Hurricane Matthew closing in on the east coast of Florida this week officials on Wednesday canceled this year’s Web.com Tour finale.
“Our first priority is the safety of our players, fans, volunteers and staff,” said Bill Calfee, the Web.com Tour president, noting that Florida governor Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency this week.
Cancelling the event was the right thing to do. Getting everyone out of Jacksonville, where the event was scheduled to be held, was a priority; but that doesn’t mean there will be no Wednesday morning quarterbacking.
You can’t plan for hurricanes, but luck has a tendency to favor the prepared. In this case, the prepared would have played the finale last week, albeit quietly in the Ryder Cup’s shadow but with the competitive integrity of the qualifying system intact.
Some suggested the Tour should attempt to move the Web.com Tour Championship out of Matthew’s path. “Relocate. It matters,” Olin Browne Tweeted.
But that doesn’t seem very realistic considering the logistical realities of such an event.
In retrospect, the better option was to have played the finale last week. Although that would have meant less exposure for what has turned into a compelling championship, it would have assured all four Finals events were held and every player given a chance to keep their jobs.
Hindsight can be an unfair judge and jury, and who is to say holding the event last week wouldn’t have brought its own set of challenges, but if the Web.com Tour had planned to finish their schedule a week early and the event was delayed there would have been the option to play this week.
Instead, officials had no other options, and those players, players like Rob Oppenheim who will now finish the season 33rd on the money list, will have to wait another year to return to the PGA Tour.
There is some irony that it was at last year’s Web.com Tour Championship where Oppenheim secured his PGA Tour card. After making the cut by two shots, Oppenheim closed with a pair of 67s to finish tied for 12th place to earn his 2015-16 Tour card. He won’t have that option this year.
The last two seasons since the creation of the wraparound schedule the final two events of the Finals series have been played in back-to-back weeks, but this year officials built in an off-week between the penultimate event and the finale, ostensibly to avoid a conflict with the Ryder Cup.
But this isn’t the Web.com Tour’s first brush with hurricanes. In 2005, the circuit canceled the Miccosukee Championship in South Florida because of the impending threat of Hurricane Wilma. It was the penultimate event of the season and cost players a chance to either reach the finale or improve their position on the money list.
Golf is an outdoor sport and Mother Nature is not always a cooperative partner. Getting players, caddies, officials and fans out of harm's way is always a priority, but in this case it seems like a conflict could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, by some proactive scheduling.
The window between seasons is exceedingly thin. Sometimes circumstances beyond anyone’s control dictate a change of plans, which is why when officials concoct future schedules they should consider the need for some wiggle room.