NAPA, Calif. – So, fellas, how’d you spend that 424-hour offseason?
“A wedding and a Royals game,” Robert Streb said.
“Two charity events,” Roberto Castro added.
“[PGA Tour] orientation,” Harold Varner smiled. “Oh, and then I went to Vegas.”
“Didn’t touch a club,” Brooks Koepka shrugged. “Didn’t do anything and relaxed … for all five days of it.”
It’s already time to get back to work.
It’s Year 3 of the wraparound schedule, and it still feels strange.
There were 19 days between the end of the Tour Championship and the beginning of a new PGA Tour season. In between? Oh, not too much … only a Web.com Tour Championship in which 50 PGA Tour cards were handed out, and then a Presidents Cup that featured 17 top-30 players.
“It’s almost comical,” Patrick Rodgers said, “like, ‘How was your offseason?’ It was two weeks.”
No two American sports build up to a new season quite like the NFL and MLB, with around-the-clock coverage from the owners’ meetings, free agency, training camp and spring training. When opening night – sorry, Opening Night – finally arrives, it’s practically a national holiday. A whopping 27 million viewers tuned in for the NFL opener.
Here at the Frys.com Open, you can feel a buzz only in the winery tasting room.
Posters around Napa showed Rory McIlroy and the slogan, “It All Starts Now.”
It’s fair to wonder whether that elicits more groans or cheers.
Does this feel like a fresh start?
“Well, it has to,” Streb said, “whether you like it or not.”
Indeed, there’s no going back now.
The Tour may have diluted its product, but it isn’t about to turn away seven sponsors. And besides, players enjoy a $1 million-plus first-place check in all but one of the seven fall events, and they've realized the added benefit of playing more in the fall during a long FedEx Cup season. Last year, for instance, Streb won a fall event, had two other top-10s and eventually played his way into the Tour Championship.
The hard-core golf fans – the ones reading this story on a golf-centric website – likely don’t mind the seemingly never-ending schedule either; it’s more action at the end of a transformative year for the sport. The long-term concern is that those same fans will eventually grow weary of the nonstop global schedule, with upcoming events from California to China to Mexico to Dubai to Thailand. The only time they can exhale – the only time they can even think about missing the sport – is a two-week break before the New Year.
It’s worth noting that this season opener should have had a bit more sizzle.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy committed to play this year’s event as part of an agreement with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem when he allowed the two stars (and six others) to participate in a lucrative exhibition in Turkey in 2012. Woods will miss the Frys, and the rest of his scheduled events this year, after undergoing back surgery last month. Justin Rose, Webb Simpson and Schwartzel are also in this year’s field, part of the Turkey Eight. Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood have already honored their commitment within the three-year window.
The Frys field could suffer next year though, when the summer schedule becomes even more condensed and top players will look for weeks off anywhere they can get ’em.
But forget the stars for a moment. The so-called offseason is a particularly quick turnaround for the rookies, some of whom learned only a week and a half ago that they had status this season.
In 2012, when Castro was a newcomer, he had about two months to work on his game, plot a strategy and mentally prepare for the long year ahead.
“We had all of the holidays and a couple of months to think about it,” he recalled. “Then we started on the West Coast and cut our teeth out there. It’s definitely different now.”
Consider the case of Varner, who played in all 25 events on the Web.com circuit and now is in line for five more events this fall. The 25-year-old had eight days to process what is a massive career achievement – and part of that time was spent in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., for rookie orientation.
He said his desire to succeed outweighs any late-season burnout or fatigue.
“I’m ready to go to work,” he said.
That view stands in stark contrast to a top player like Koepka, the Phoenix Open winner who has already logged 23 PGA Tour starts this season. After playing here in Napa, he’ll tee it up at next week’s stop in Vegas, the WGC event in Shanghai, the Race to Dubai overseas and then Woods’ event in the Bahamas.
With his extended break still two months away, he spent his 424-hour PGA Tour offseason doing, well, absolutely nothing.
Is this the start of a new season?
“No,” he said. “This just feels like the continuation of a long year.”