Signs we’re in the fall portion of the wraparound schedule:
• The big winner in Vegas was not Ben Martin but rather the photographer who got the plum assignment of hangin’ by the pool at TPC Summerlin. Women in bikinis, fruity drinks and a haunting, photobombing teddy bear ... tough gig!
• The story that occupied a precious headline spot on every major golf website: Jack Nicklaus weighing in on embattled Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s scribbling habits. Like we really expected the Golden Bear to bash the guy who feeds his grandson in the red zone.
• Tiger Woods’ return to the range prompted a BREAKING! message on ESPN’s mobile alerts. Dial back the enthusiasm, text-typers! We do realize that Tiger’s event is now only six weeks away, yes? It’s time to go to work.
As a young stringer covering high school sports, my editor once told me: “Not every night is Game 7.” His point, of course, was that not every inning/quarter/period/whatever should be subject to microanalysis, that not every nine-inning baseball game was profound or significant or offered a glimpse into the future.
That’s even more important to remember in pro golf, now a year-round pursuit. Just as quickly as Billy Horschel deposited $11.44 million, Sang-Moon Bae won the first of 47 events in the new season.
This week’s stop in Sea Island holds the unofficial distinction of being the Most Laid-Back Tournament of the Year … even for those trying to author a Jimmy Walker-type breakthrough or simply get a head start in FedEx Cup points. The McGladrey is the best full-field PGA Tour event this fall, and it certainly offers the best environs, what with the good eats, the beach, the perfect weather and the Wiffle ball games. Amid a crowded Tour schedule, this event has a kick-your-feet-up vibe.
But chances are this week’s result won’t be terribly significant. Not every night is Game 7, just as not every week is the Masters. I kinda prefer it that way.
Now, for your (very few) mailbag questions:
Call these educated guesses, because these days seemingly no player is immune to injury, lawsuit, confidence-shattering slump or self-imposed leave of absence. So here goes …
Masters: Adam Scott. His putter still goes cold a bit too often, but his record at Augusta in recent years is indisputably excellent – four consecutive top 15s, including the win in 2013. Even if he doesn’t slip into another green jacket, he’ll still be a major factor next year.
U.S. Open: Jason Day. Assuming he stays healthy, J-Day is in store for a monster 2015. (Alas, we seem to type these exact words every year.) His best bet to win a major is at the Open, where he already has three top-4s in four career starts. Because Chambers Bay is such a mystery to everyone except the young pros – the 2010 U.S. Amateur was held there – you can expect the best ball-strikers to rise to the top.
Open Championship: Rory McIlroy. Now that he’s rekindled his love for links golf, there should be no stopping Boy Wonder next year at St. Andrews, where his driver should give him a massive advantage. We all remember the opening 63 at the home of golf in 2010 (followed, of course, by the Friday 80), and his T-3 there still represents his second-best finish in the year’s third major. His rounds of 64-68 at this month's Dunhill Links only bolsters the belief that he’ll be a prohibitive favorite in Scotland next year.
PGA: Rickie Fowler. Gut call here. Whistling Straits favors the big hitters, and the 150-pound Fowler is sneaky long. He had top 5s in all four majors this season, and he’s likely to be even better in Year 2 under Butch Harmon, especially with his iron game (ranked 100th on Tour in greens hit). Plus, his close calls should leave him plenty motivated in 2015, so we’re banking on a few Ws – perhaps in the year’s final major.
There isn’t one, besides an obvious lack of fan interest in the fall and a watered-down product overall. As long as companies are still willing to pony up to sponsor events, these C-level fall events – and the tiresome wraparound schedule – aren’t going anywhere.
Really, I’ve come to view the PGA Tour as essentially two separate seasons: One that starts in the fall, for the Tour’s middle class and those bored by the thought of an offseason, and one that starts in March, for the superstars. There’s nothing wrong with this, mind you. With the nation’s sporting attention on playoff baseball or the NFL season or LeBron, the Tour’s fall events can help establish an early theme, or maybe a rising star like Jimmy Walker. And then when the Tour heads to Florida, in early March, the “real” season can commence, with Tiger and Phil and Rory gearing up for the Masters. Hard-core golf fans – those likely reading this mailbag on Oct. 23, with little going on – can still get their fill all year long.
@RyanLavnerGC how does the wraparound schedule affect player endorsements? Are players changing their normal equipment testing routine?— Evan Rodgers (@crimsonblue) October 22, 2014
Good question, because we are indeed beginning to see a changing of the guard. In the past, players tested equipment during the fall and then debuted the new stuff at the start of the calendar year. Now, with the wraparound schedule, those players can no longer afford to simply ease into action, which means an abbreviated test period during the season for those searching for the latest and greatest. Many companies still offer contracts that run through Dec. 31, but recent moves by Keegan Bradley (re-upping with Cleveland/Srixon) and Ian Poulter (moving to Titleist) show that equipment companies are starting to adapt as well.