Despite a shorter offseason than the lifespan of an average housefly, the PGA Tour gets back to work this week with a surprising number of hot-stove topics, from a truly courageous comeback to a questionable move to send the Presidents Cup back to Australia.
The comeback continues. Last June, Jarrod Lyle cut short his comeback from leukemia just 10 tournaments into the season. On Thursday, the affable Australian resumed his quest to reestablish himself on the Tour.
Lyle opened with a 3-under 69 on Day 1 at the Frys.com Open in his first event back since last May’s Crowne Plaza Invitational.
He admits now that he probably came back too early last year. After confirming with doctors in Australia that he’s still cancer-free, he begins the 2015-16 season on a mission.
Lyle has 10 events to earn $283,825 and retain his Tour card on a major medical exemption and complete what would be one of the most inspiring comebacks in modern golf.
The Price of progress. It wasn’t the ending Nick Price had hoped for, but Sunday’s finish at the Presidents Cup, the event coming down to the last hole in the last match, was a reason for the two-time International captain to be optimistic.
Price’s contention that fewer points, like the Ryder Cup, adds up to a more competitive event was at least partially proven by his team’s one-point loss and the final-day theatrics.
Still, Price wasn’t overly optimistic that the Tour would continue to tinker with the format in an attempt to maintain that newfound competitiveness.
“It’s going to be hard now to make any more changes, because he [Tour commissioner Tim Finchem] is going to say it’s so exciting,” Price said. “In all honesty, if you look at what the Ryder Cup has, that 28 points and no restrictions on who is playing, that’s been some real excitement. I think we need to give this another chance.”
It’s doubtful the Tour will reduce the total number of points available from 30 to 28, but it’s going to be an interesting exit interview between Finchem and Price.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Road games. Last week’s Presidents Cup in Korea drew thousands of fans (officials estimated attendance at 25,000 on Sunday), which is what one would expect from the event’s first trip to Asia.
Growing the game has always been a part of the Presidents Cup’s DNA, perhaps the only thing the U.S. vs. the rest of the world matches have in common with the Ryder Cup, which made last week’s news that the event will return to Australia in 2019 curious.
Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte reported this week that officials in South Africa balked at the $29 million price tag to host the event for the second time, which opened the door for Australia in ’19.
But if officials really want to use the matches to grow the game in emerging markets it should have taken the circus on the road to South America or back to Asia, which are both widely considered “emerging markets.”
Australia, whether the event is played at Royal Melbourne or elsewhere, is arguably the event’s best road venue, but drawing a crowd isn’t the same as drawing interest.
Tweet of the week: @EuropeanTour “Due to the adverse weather forecast Round 3 will be a shotgun start at 8:00 [a.m.], with the leaders teeing off from the first hole.”
There was no word on which holes officials plan to use for the longest drive contest and closest to the pin.
Waiting to exhale. Eighteen days - that’s how long the Tour’s offseason lasted. That’s hardly enough time for FedEx Cup champion Jordan Spieth to count the $23 million in cash and bonuses he earned last season and nowhere near long enough for fans to miss the game.
It’s an old argument that has been compounded in recent years by the circuit’s wraparound schedule and the Tour’s contention that if fans want to tune out for a few months they are welcome to pick up the action in January in Hawaii.
But this goes beyond fan interest. It will be the players who will suffer burnout. World No. 3 Rory McIlroy is in the field this week in California but his appearance is a “make good” agreement with the Tour for playing an event in Europe a few years back.
Justin Rose is the only other top-10 player at the season opener, and don’t expect the fields to get much deeper this fall. With the exception of the WGC-HSBC Champions, a no-cut event that counts as a start on the European Tour, the fall events are the season’s weakest fields according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
On this the players are speaking with their feet, and the quality of the product is suffering.
Tough crowd. There is no shortage of postseason awards doled out by the Tour, but the circuit’s decision to not present the Courage Award is curious.
The award was created in 2012 to replace the Comeback Player of the Year Award and is given to a player who “through courage or perseverance has overcome extraordinary adversity [such as personal tragedy or a debilitating injury or illness].”
Two candidates quickly come to mind in Lyle and Steven Bowditch, who advanced to the Tour Championship for the first time and played for the International Presidents Cup team after nearly being forced from the game with clinical depression.
But it seems neither player qualified for the Courage Award, which is selected by the commissioner and four player directors and appears to have a ridiculously high standard.