The PGA Tour’s Asian swing kicks off this week with a pair of inspiring tales; while the circuit seems to be slow-playing, or worse, ignoring, some of last season’s most inspirational stories.
Being Pat. A year ago Pat Perez finished tied for 33rd at the CIMB Classic, a relatively non-descript finish that the veteran has since credited for his dramatic turnaround last season.
After being sidelined for most of 2016 by a shoulder injury, Perez received a sponsor’s invitation to play the Malaysian stop in ’16 and said the event helped boost his confidence and led to his victory a few weeks later in Mexico.
Asked last month at the Tour Championship why he plays the CIMB Classic, Perez’s answer was distinctly Pat:
“I'll give you two reasons: Free money and free points. Three [reasons], free [airline] ticket,” he laughed. “I mean, it's a no-brainer.”
There is no cut at the event, which kicks off the circuit’s three-event Asian swing, and that means players are guaranteed to earn FedExCup points; and Perez is making the most of the opportunity with rounds of 66-65 to take a one-stroke lead at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
“How could I possibly not go?” he said. “I'm not that big-time to act like I'm too good to go.”
Picking up the pieces. Paul Casey left East Lake quietly last month, no smile, no easy laugh. He’d come close, again, and he’d come up short, again.
After starting the final round of the Tour Championship with a two-stroke lead, he limped home with a 73 to finish fifth, the third time in four playoff events he failed convert a Sunday opportunity. He doesn’t need to be reminded that he’s now eight years removed from his lone PGA Tour victory (2009 Shell Houston Open) or that at 40 years old he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
The Englishman could have gone home and spent a few weeks lamenting his play and pouting, but that’s not his style. Instead, he went back to work this week and rebounded from an opening 77 at the CIMB Classic with a second-round 63 to move into a tie for 23rd.
Casey said at East Lake that his second Tour victory was just around the corner. Perhaps, but he ended up on the right side of the cut this week because he refuses to stop trying.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Time for courage. Last week the Tour announced that Justin Thomas had won the circuit’s Player of the Year Award and Xander Schauffele had collected top-rookie honors, a pair of obvious winners that probably didn’t even need a vote.
Missing from those announcements, however, was whether the circuit plans to dole out the Courage Award this season. The Courage Award was created in 2012 for “a player who, through courage and perseverance, has overcome extraordinary adversity (such as personal tragedy or a debilitating injury or illness).”
Although the award hasn’t been given out since 2015, there would seem to be a few worthy candidates this season. Gary Woodland advanced to the Tour Championship following a difficult year that included the loss of one child due to complications during pregnancy and the premature birth of his son (he said at East Lake that his son, Jaxson, is doing much better).
Patrick Cantlay would also seem to qualify as a candidate following years of lingering back issues and the tragic loss of his caddie, who died in a hit-and-run accident earlier this year. Despite all this, Cantlay advanced to East Lake after making just 13 starts last season.
The Courage Award, which is voted on by Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and the four player directors, was always going to be an occasional accomplishment, but if Woodland and Cantlay’s seasons don’t qualify as courageous we’re not sure what does.
Long ball. While we’re leaving the more esoteric debate over how increased driving distances impact the modern game for another day, it’s worth noting that last season’s Tour average was 292.5 yards, a 2 1/2 yard gain over the 2015-16 season.
In fact, it’s a record average, but the more concerning statistic to come out of the season-ending numbers crunch was this: 17 years ago only one player (John Daly) averaged over 300 yards off the tee. That number ballooned to 43 last season.
Although you can dress up statistics however you’d like, continued distance gains will only make the powers that be (USGA and R&A) intensify their efforts to reel in the long ball, and that’s probably not going to be painless for anyone involved.
Fully booked. Although much has been made of the Tour’s endless schedule and non-existent off-season, the bigger issue is how the wrap-around concept has impacted players graduating from the Web.com Tour.
For the second consecutive year, the secondary circuit’s finale was impacted by weather that led to a Monday finish, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be a huge concern. But for the 50 players vying to secure their status in the Big Leagues it did create a problem with the PGA Tour’s season opener looming just two days and a cross-country flight away.
Included in that list was Chesson Hadley, who won both the regular season and finals money list. After finishing tied for 46th at the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., he opened the new season with rounds of 72-61-70-73 to finish tied for third in Napa, Calif. It’s too much golf in too small of a window, and it doesn’t have to be this way.
The Web.com Tour schedule is riddled with early holes – with this season’s line up featuring two events in January, two in February and just one in March – that could help space out events and ease the late-season crunch.
There’s no scenario that leads to a real off-season for the PGA Tour, but the Web.com Tour needs a break.
Tweet of the week: @chessonhadley (Chesson Hadley) “My caddie told me this week that this was our 19 [of] 21 weeks in a row competing. I just landed in Raleigh [N.C.] and home feels so good. Off week baby!”
My caddy told me this week that this was our 19/21 week in a row competing. I just landed and Raleigh and home feels so good. Off week baby!— Chesson Hadley (@chessonhadley) October 9, 2017