With new wraparound schedule, Kapalua has a different vibe


KAPALUA, Hawaii – The opening tee shot here at the Plantation Course takes place from an elevated tee box, looking down the barrel of a right-to-left sloping fairway with a wide swath of Pacific Ocean in the background and the island of Molokai behind it.

Over the years, the first of these tee shots struck during the Hyundai Tournament of Champions has traditionally been the first tee shot of the PGA Tour season. As such, it is preceded by a ceremony featuring a Hawaiian blessing and musical entertainment in the form of a large man tenderly playing a small ukulele.

On Friday, it will all happen again. The stunning view. The blessing. The large man and the small ukulele. It will represent tradition, the first tee shot of the new season.

Except this time, it won’t be.

This time it will be the 40,879th tee shot of the season.

That’s real math right there, totaled up on a real calculator after six real tournaments were contested during the months of October and November last year. It’s all part of the new wraparound schedule which has the PGA Tour going the way of the NBA and NHL with its season unbounded by the limits of a calendar.

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And yet, something about this tee shot will still feel a little different.

Maybe that’s because the first 40,878 weren’t part of any ceremonies.

While the festivities at Kapalua no longer mark the official start to the season, the schedule can’t prohibit its competitors from at least considering it the unofficial start. Maybe it will take a few years for the feeling of continuation rather than commencement to sink in; maybe it will never happen. But for now there’s an overwhelming sense that the new year is a time of fresh beginnings and hopefulness as opposed to everybody simply picking up where they’ve left off.

“I haven’t played much of the wraparound schedule,” Jason Dufner explained, “so looking forward to playing here and Sony next week and kind of getting my season started.”

“Obviously, it's a change in the schedule overlapping the calendar year,” added Adam Scott. “I haven't given it a lot of thought, but there are always changes and they are made for the better, I guess, of the Tour, and we'll just see.”

Nothing against the late-2013 triumphs of Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk and Harris English – each of whom are in this week’s field – but nine months from now we’ll likely have trouble remember in exactly which season their wins occurred.

Take the case of Johnson, in particular. He won twice in 2013, but in two different seasons – all of which still leaves him a bit befuddled.

“It's tough, especially if it's a new year,” said Johnson, this week’s defending champion. “I haven't won in 2014, but I have won in the 2014 season. Doesn't quite make sense to me yet.”

As if to prove how little sense it makes to him, he continued.

“Well, it's the first year of it, so it's still this is like the first tournament of the year,” he said. “You know, I'm sure after this year once you get used to it, it will feel normal. But as of right now, yeah, I mean, it's kind of – well, it's the new year. It's the first tournament of the year. So if you look at it as a calendar year, it is the first tournament of the year.”

That certainly clears things up, doesn’t it?

But hey, we can excuse the players for more than a little confusion when there’s pomp and circumstance prior to the season’s 40,879th tee shot.

When the Hawaiian blessing is read and the large man tenderly plays his small ukulele on Friday, it will no longer officially represent the start of a new season. Even the schedule, though, can’t stop the competitors from thinking about it that way.