PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Last year at this time it was the grass roots issues to grow the game that dominated PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s Tuesday press conference at The Players. This year it was damaged roots and the inability of the circuit’s best minds to grow grass that highlighted his talking points.
The agronomic agony that has beset this week’s championship is equal parts poor timing, peculiar application and this winter’s imperfect storm. It will also turn out to be much ado about nothing when the first opening shot goes in the air at 7:15 a.m. on Thursday.
Let’s be honest, players will putt on mud for a chance to win $10 million and, in the final analysis, the rub of the green gives and takes with equal abandon regardless of grass condition.
That’s the take of most, if not all, of the players assembled for this week’s event and they have passed those sentiments on to the commish, like on Monday when he strolled across one of the Stadium Course’s 15 greens that were opened for practice after the combination of a particularly cold and wet winter, the normal high volume of play and the misapplication of product called Primo Maxx that rendered many putting surfaces, well . . . less-than-championship ready.
“He’s a little frustrated with it but it has a lot to do with the weather,” Steve Stricker said. “The growing season down south wasn’t great and they have struggled. It’s partly due to Mother Nature and things we have to struggle with on a yearly basis.”
But understanding and sympathy isn’t what Finchem is interested in at this point.
“It doesn't make it any more palatable that the players are being good about it,” Finchem said. “I mean, it's just, we need to fix our greens, and we intend to take all the steps I just mentioned and some others aggressively next year. So I think we're going to be fine.”
Finchem has come by his aggravation honestly.
Since the Tour’s flagship event moved to May from March in 2007, three of the seven championships have been adversely impacted by poor weather that resulted in poor course conditions.
In 2010, it was a similar story in the run up to The Players because of another extremely cold and wet winter. The issue was complicated this year by the misapplication of Primo Maxx, which prompted officials to close Nos. 4, 11 and 12 to all practice so far this week.
The move to May, officials proclaimed at the time, was advantageous on many levels. It moved The Players out of the long shadow of the Masters and gave it its own neat spot in the major championship season. The story went that it would also make TPC Sawgrass play to its best by allowing the grass cutters to transition to Bermuda grass instead of the cold resistant winter overseed.
Of all the books in the Tour’s opulent new clubhouse, it seems no one could find a Farmer’s Almanac.
Forget about the high volume of play – TPC Sawgrass is, after all, a resort course – and the chemical snafu, these things happen. The real culprit here is geography.
It gets cold in north Florida and those fancy grasses that were supposed to make the Stadium Course play to its firmest and fastest don’t like the cold.
With these facts now squarely planted in the Tour’s playbook, Finchem’s dramatic steps include re-grassing and expanding the Stadium Course’s greens after the ’15 Players, removing a “significant” number of trees and reducing the volume of play the course gets throughout the year.
Even moving The Players back to March seemed to be part of the conversation when Finchem was asked about the possibility on Tuesday.
“If we're doing everything we can and it just is a continuing weather problem that we can't beat, I suppose we'd rethink the date,” he allowed. “But when you're talking about a perennial problem of three greens, three or four greens, which have been stubborn most years since '07, I think we'd probably get a different set of greens on those holes, different kinds of greens.”
A move back to March is not imminent, and the commish pointed out it took at least a decade of playing the event in March to dial everything in agronomically, but it seems this year’s cold and wet winter has left the Tour with an interesting case of the seven-year itch.
April showers may bring May flowers, but at TPC No-grass, things may start looking greener elsewhere on the calendar if they don’t start getting greener where it matters.