For Butch Harmon, this week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open doubles as an impromptu mini-camp for his stable of high-profile PGA Tour players.
The Tour’s nonexistent offseason has led players and coaches to make the best use of what little off time there is, and this week’s stop for the Las Vegas-based Harmon is a perfect chance to multitask with a few of his clients, including Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Jimmy Walker.
For Harmon, it’s a chance to focus on what went well in 2014-15 and what needs to be refined for the 2015-16 season, which got underway last week at the Frys.com Open.
Harmon explained that Fowler needs to improve his proximity to the hole from 140 yards and in, while Walker’s slow finish to the season - he had just one top-10 after the Florida swing - had more to do with his schedule than any type of swing issue.
“We talked about what happened at the end of the year,” Harmon said. “He ran out of gas a little and we talked about picking our places to play. He starts fast and then pushes real hard at the end of the year to make sure he makes the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup.”
Harmon’s observations will become a familiar theme next season when an already condensed schedule is squeezed even more by the addition of the Olympics in August.
The Rio Games made officials dramatically overhaul next year’s schedule, moving the PGA Championship to late July, just two weeks after the Open Championship.
In a 16-week span to close next season, beginning with the U.S. Open in June there will be 10 tournaments that would normally qualify as must-play stops, including three major championships, a World Golf Championship, the Olympic Games, four FedEx Cup Playoff stops and the Ryder Cup in early October.
The schedule will be particularly hard on those players who split their time between the Tour and the European circuit, like Rory McIlroy.
“It's tough the way a couple of the tournaments clash before the Olympics, like the French Open and the Bridgestone [Invitational],” McIlroy said last week. “Then having the Olympics in there and playing the PGA Championship in July is going to be sort of strange. But they had to accommodate for it somehow.”
The championship congestion will lead to more last-minute scrambling for players vying to maintain status on both tours, like Ian Poulter, who this week was an 11th-hour addition to the Hong Kong Open field to assure his 13-event minimum after he failed to qualify for the WGC-HSBC Champions in two weeks.
Even Patrick Reed, who took up membership in Europe this season, had to add to his schedule this season after missing two starts earlier this year (BMW PGA Championship and Irish Open) because of a death in his family.
Reed plans to play this week in Hong Kong, the HSBC event in China and the BMW Masters the following week to meet his minimum.
“It's tough. After I play [the Hero World Challenge] and Shark Shootout, I'll be at 35 or 37 weeks of the year I'll be gone,” Reed said. “It's a lot.”
The inevitable crush that awaits players next season likely explains what appears to be much more active schedules this fall for some of the game’s top players.
Fowler hadn’t played the Las Vegas stop since 2010, and although McIlroy's participation last week was based on an earlier agreement with the Tour, he had never played the Frys.com Open before.
Any gain this fall, however, will likely result in a net loss early next year for events on the West Coast swing - which will not include a World Golf Championship for the second consecutive year - and as the Tour heads through Florida toward the Masters.
Most players polled over the last few weeks said they plan to add a start in the fall, like this week’s Las Vegas stop, in exchange for a week they would normally play in the spring or early summer next year as a result of the condensed schedule and the addition of the Olympics to golf’s landscape.
“The sponsors and the tournaments understand the value of why we are in the Olympics,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at last month’s Tour Championship. “In the short term everybody has contributed. There is some awkwardness to some of it, but in balance they understand the bigger view.”
That bigger picture is the impact golf’s return to the Olympics will have on the game globally and the reality that this is a fire drill players will have to endure just once every four years. But in the short term, like Harmon, players should get used to multitasking for the next few months.