Sorry, Boo: Wraparound season creates new realities

By Rex HoggardNovember 11, 2015, 6:55 pm

For all the talk of charity and branding, the PGA Tour primarily exists to run golf tournaments.

It’s in the Tour’s DNA, all the way down to the circuit’s mission statement filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

“The [Tour’s] principal mission is to promote the sport of professional golf through sanctioning and administering golf tournaments,” the statement begins.

It’s a job those who walk the halls of the Tour’s Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., headquarters have gotten very good at; this season’s schedule features 47 events, from October’s season-opening Open to the Tour Championship next September.

The docket has become so crowded that some would say the Tour has become too adept at its primary mission. This vocal minority would contend that the wraparound schedule has reached a point of diminishing returns for fans and more than a few players.

“Honestly, this wraparound season sucks. It does, seriously,” Boo Weekley said last week. “It's just, it's stupid. I still ain't figured out this FedEx, what does this FedEx Cup stuff do? It ain't doing nothing, but it is what it is. It's supposed to be the player’s tour. It's [Tour commissioner] Tim Finchem and them's Tour is what it is.”

Although Weekley’s comments were sharper than what one would expect from a player about to tee off in an event with a $4.1 million purse, he’s hardly alone in his assessment of the wraparound season, which began in 2014 and still seems to be searching for an identity.

 It was an interesting sign of the times late last season when Martin Kaymer failed to play his 15-event minimum and lost his Tour card.

While some framed Kaymer’s plight as a hit for both the Tour and the German, Paul Casey had a more nuanced take when asked about the situation.

“It actually may be the best thing for him,” Casey said in August at The Barclays. “He will be able to focus on playing in Europe, build up Ryder Cup points and not wear himself out trying to get his starts in the U.S. He’ll even be fresh for the Olympics.”

When the Tour transitioned to the wraparound schedule, the narrative went that other sports had similar dance cards that spanned calendars. The move also allowed the circuit to fold the “fall series,” a collection of post-Tour Championship tournaments that had largely become a competitive afterthought, into the schedule proper.

Statistically, the move has helped the fall fields. All three full-field events that have been played this fall been benefitted from an increase in competitive strength since the inception of the wraparound season, according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

The Open, which has been the leadoff event the last three seasons, jumped to 46 ranking points for the winner, compared to 36 and 28 the previous two years, respectively.

The Shrines Hospitals for Children Open (44 points to the winner) has enjoyed a similar jump, while the Sanderson Farms Championship, which transitioned to the fall in 2014 after being played opposite the Open Championship, has remained largely the same.

Next week’s RSM Classic, which moved to the anchor spot in the fall this season, will likely not be as fortunate, but the fields are certainly better off post-wraparound.

Where the non-stop competitive calendar has started to wear thin, however, is among players and fans who appreciate the benefits of a true offseason. Whether it’s the eternal optimism of Major League Baseball’s spring training or the surreal spectacle that has become the NFL’s scouting combine, there is no time to reflect and recharge in golf.

Where other sports leave fans wanting more, the Tour has gone with just more.

For the independent contractors, the easy answer is to simply skip the fall stops. Except it's not that easy.

With an increased focus on the FedEx Cup and postseason participation, failing to play is a handicap most players can’t overcome.

Of the seven fall champions last season, four advanced to the Tour Championship based at least partially on their performance before the new calendar year.

Players may not like the wraparound season, but the competitive reality dictates at least a modicum of effort in the fall, lest they fall woefully behind in the season-long points dash.

“It's aggravating having to play this much, but it's important to come out and try to get a good start,” Weekley said. “It's just golf after golf after golf. Ain't no time for hunting and fishing, man.”

With apologies to the man from Milton (Fla.), cutting into Weekley’s extracurricular outdoor activities is the least of the Tour's problems. Instead, rest and recovery are in short supply at the highest level and more than one Tour swing coach has lamented that the slim offseason window has made it virtually impossible to institute any meaningful changes to a player’s game.

It’s the Tour’s mandate to create playing opportunities for every member, but as is the case in most businesses, quantity doesn’t always equate to quality.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.