NAPA, Calif. – With a new venue and a new tournament host, the Frys.com Open boasted one of the strongest fields of its eight-year history.
Thanks to some lingering paperwork, there’s reason to expect an even stronger gathering next year.
This year marked the Tour’s return to Silverado Resort & Spa for the first time since 1980. The field included Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood and Hunter Mahan, all of whom made a detour to wine country on the heels of the Ryder Cup in order to fulfill a make-good tied to their appearance in an unofficial event in 2012.
The trio was among eight players who competed in a match-play exhibition in Turkey two years ago, an event played opposite the Frys.com Open and was not sanctioned by either the PGA or European tours.
The players signed releases to participate in the event, and while PGA Tour officials declined to comment on the situation, Frys.com Open president Duke Butler explained that he signed off on the arrangement with a caveat.
“We agreed not to block the releases of those eight players to play in a conflicting event,” Butler told GolfChannel.com on Sunday. “In exchange, those eight players agreed to play in the Frys.com Open at least once in the next three years.”
None of the eight played in 2013, and while Kuchar, Westwood and Mahan fulfilled obligations this year, there are still five players left on the hook. They combine to have won 21 majors: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson and Charl Schwartzel.
A quid-pro-quo arrangement is nothing new on the PGA Tour, and the scenario for the “Turkey Eight” is one that remains fluid. According to Kuchar, it also may be less than binding.
Kuchar was slated to play in the inaugural America’s Golf Cup later this month in Argentina, but when that commitment fell through, he added a stop in Napa – although the Turkey situation did play a role in his decision.
“It’s one of those things where they’d like you to (play the Frys.com),” Kuchar said. “They’d like you to, and understandably. I get it.”
Fresh off a Ryder Cup win and a fan of red wine, Westwood said that he “probably” would have played this week even if he had not played in Turkey and could envision a return in 2015.
“It obviously was one of the factors,” he said. “There was no sort of penalties put on us or anything like that, but it was said that if you’re going to play in Turkey, we would appreciate it if once in the next three years you play Frys as a sort of make-way.”
Mahan’s T-3 finish at Silverado was the best of the three Turkey participants. He was the only one to indicate that he would “probably not” have played this past week without the implications from the Turkey event, citing the short offseason.
“You know beforehand what the deal is going to be,” Mahan said. “You have to sign a release from the PGA Tour to play an event like Turkey. Those are the rules, and those are the same for everybody.”
Whether those rules extend to everybody – even 14-time major champions – remains to be seen.
Woods has a history with this event, having played the Frys.com Open in 2011, when he tied for 30th at CordeValle after an injury-plagued season. While Johnny Miller, co-owner at Silverado and the 2014 tournament honoree, told the San Francisco Chronicle that next year’s event will be “almost like a different tournament” with both Woods and McIlroy competing, Butler didn’t share his level of certainty regarding Woods’ participation.
“Tiger, we wish him full health and a charge back to the top of the leaderboards,” said Butler, who added that tournament officials are optimistic all five remaining players will play in 2015. “We’ll probably know a lot more about Tiger’s participation around June 1 or so.”
The travel and fatigue issues felt by the Turkey trio this past week could be amplified next year for Woods, Simpson and Schwartzel. All three are potential participants in the Presidents Cup which will be played in South Korea in early October.
While the 2014 schedule included off weeks on both sides of the Ryder Cup, the bye weeks in 2015 will come after the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship, meaning players would have to go from the Presidents Cup in South Korea directly to San Francisco to kick off the new season.
McIlroy, however, would not be affected by Presidents Cup travel, and is someone who all parties involved expect in the field next year. The Ulsterman verbally committed early to play in this year’s event, but after winning the Open Championship and PGA Championship, he deferred his commitment to 2015 so he could play in this week's PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
“The schedule sets up better for Rory next year,” Butler said. “The Presidents Cup precedes the Frys tournament and the start of the season, and the Dunhill Links Championship, which he likes to play, is two weeks prior to the Frys. In concept, Rory will have the week off prior.”
Three names have been cleared off the list, and five remain. Whether all of them make it to Silverado next year remains to be seen, but signs point to a star-studded kickoff to the 2015 season.