PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – From Jay Monahan’s office at PGA Tour headquarters, you can see the first green and down to the second tee of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
In the commissioner’s office is a collection of suitcases and travel bags, the easily recognizable sign of a man on the move. It's also as a fitting metaphor for a circuit that’s officially in full flight.
Although the major changes to the Tour schedule are still months away – with the first piece of the overhaul coming in the form of The Players Championship’s return to March – Monahan can already point to the earliest ripples of change.
You can see it on Thursday’s tee sheet at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, with the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at an event that just a few years ago was very much an afterthought for the Tour’s best and brightest.
Real change doesn’t come to the fall portion of the Tour’s wraparound schedule until next year, when the lineup is expected to expand from eight events to as many as 11. But big changes in 2019 have prompted many, including Fowler and Spieth, to start exploring new options.
“You are seeing right now at the first part of the season more top players playing and trying to get themselves in position as we flip the switch and get into the new year,” Monahan told GolfChannel.com. “It’s important not to be too far behind and to be in a solid position for the FedExCup.”
That’s not any different than its been since the Tour began the wraparound schedule, but what is different is that, starting in March, the meat of the circuit’s schedule will be a nonstop sprint to the season finale, which will be played a month earlier.
Instead of the traditional ebb and flow of the schedule, players will now have five consecutive months with a marquee event – The Players in March, Masters in April, PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June and Open Championship in July – slotted around other must-play stops like the World Golf Championships.
This new reality has prompted players to take a long look at their own schedules and decide if change is needed.
“Given where we are now with the significance of the FedExCup and now the Wyndham Rewards Top 10 and a shorter season with fewer at-bats in the playoffs, the significance of these fall events has grown. The support they get from the markets they play in and the sponsors has grown and they are as critical a part of the season as any,” Monahan said.
“You’ve got to take advantage of a quick start.”
Monahan concedes that the flow of the new schedule will likely create an extended learning curve for players who must now find places to take breaks in order to play their best when it matters the most at the majors. One of the likely ways players will do that is to add to their fall schedules.
“Those events were extremely highly talked about by my friends and ones that, when I've been watching them during the offseason in the past, I've been jealous I haven't been there,” said Spieth, who played last week in Las Vegas and this week in Mexico for the first time.
Already this season, the fall stops have seen a spike in participation by top players who have traditionally viewed this time of year as a chance to recharge. Four of the five non-World Golf Championship events this fall have seen better fields according to the Official World Golf Ranking, with the only drop off coming at the CIMB Classic, where the strength of field dropped only slightly, from 297 in 2017 to 289 last month.
“I think this is just the start. This trend line will continue and players might be adding more events as we get into the second, third and fourth year of this new schedule,” Monahan said.
Monahan anticipates the trend to accelerate next fall with the addition of something approaching an offseason following the Tour Championship.
“This year we went from Atlanta (Tour Championship) into France (Ryder Cup) to the Safeway Open. It was a quick turn,” he said. “Now you’re going to have a little more time. Three weeks is not an eternity, but three weeks is not something they’ve had in the past.”
The new schedule was years in the making and focused primarily on the Tour’s desire to wrest itself from football’s shadow. What impact that has on the competitive flow of the season remains to be seen, but as Monahan gazed out onto a Stadium Course that is already being prepped for next year’s Players Championship, it was clear that the golf world won’t have to wait until March to see how drastically the competitive landscape has been transformed.