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 Frys.com 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 Frys.com 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.