In this week’s edition, we ponder what a November Masters will look like, celebrate a surge in PGA Tour Champions interest and cautiously welcome back fans to the PGA Tour.
Gameday. What will Augusta National look like in November? How will the Masters feel without fans? Do azaleas bloom in the fall?
There are no shortage of questions heading into next month’s Masters and it’s certain this will be a different tournament, but officials at Augusta National unveiled a plan this week that they hope will fill in some of this year’s pandemic-induced gaps.
The plan includes ESPN’s "College GameDay" broadcasting from on-site on Saturday and enhanced views of the course for the broadcast audience. The club also will introduce a “My Group” digital component that will allow fans to personalize their feed to see every shot from every player.
“When exploring ways to showcase a fall Masters, we were drawn to the concept of hosting 'College GameDay' at Augusta National to introduce the tournament to a new audience and provide even more anticipation and excitement to the event,” club chairman Fred Ridley said.
We also learned what will be different with the club confirming that the Par 3 Contest has been canceled, just in case you forgot that these are still strange times.
Golden opportunity. Phil Mickelson has been a refreshing jolt for the PGA Tour Champions since turning 50 in June and winning his first two starts on the over-50 circuit, and that trend may grow beyond Lefty’s interest.
Padraig Harrington, who turns 50 next summer, told reporters this week in Bermuda that a move to the senior circuit is enticing and there are growing rumors that the Tour is considering lowering the eligibility age for the Champions to perhaps as low as 45.
If the PGA Tour is mulling such a move may we suggest making the announcement on Dec. 30, the day Tiger Woods turns 45.
Tweet of the week:
It’s been a good month for Los Angeles sports and no one has savored it more than Homa.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Fans. Galleries returned to the PGA Tour this week at the Bermuda Championship, which is allowing up to 500 fans a day. Next week’s Houston Open will allow as many as 2,000 fans a day.
While most agree even a smaller footprint of fans is a step in the right direction, the move didn’t draw universal support. Phil Mickelson suggested that he might not play the Houston stop because of the risk of fans; though, he changed his mind. And Scott Stallings appeared to speak for many this week in Bermuda.
“It’s not worth the risk with only three events left in the U.S.,” Stallings told Golf Digest. “We’ve made it this far without issue, why rush back?”
The Sentry Tournament of Champions is also planning for a limited fan footprint to start the year and the PGA Tour appears to be eyeing a return to something closer to normal next spring during the Florida and Texas swings, which are both states that have relaxed rules for large gatherings.
The Tour’s ability to navigate the pandemic storm has been nothing short of astonishing and everyone would love to see fans return sooner rather than later, but a hasty rush back to normal isn’t in anyone’s best interest.
Fall. The Tour season isn’t over following next month’s Masters but it might feel that way.
The fall portion of the 2020-21 schedule ends with the RSM Classic followed by the Mayakoba Golf Classic. But after one of the most hectic chapters in Tour history, don’t expect to see many star players following the year’s final major.
“Augusta's my next one and I'll take a couple of months off after that and come back at Torrey [in January],” Rory McIlroy said last week in Los Angeles.
With the exception of Dustin Johnson, who committed to the Mayakoba Golf Classic, most of the game’s top stars plan to take a similar winter hiatus and for good reason.
After the Tour’s restart in June there was a rush to play as many events as possible. Consider that McIlroy played 12 events in five months - the same number he played during the entire 2015 season and he managed just 14 starts in all of ’17.
Following a frenzied few months, perhaps one of the most curious byproducts of the pandemic is a true off-season.