PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was recently chatting with one top player when the subject of this year’s schedule came up.
“He’d just sat down with his team and was going through the 2018-2019 schedule and they went through event by event and at the end of that, he said, OK, that's it. The player picked 37 tournaments,” Monahan said.
Tour stars don’t play 37 events in a season. In fact just three players last season played more than 30 events (31) and no one in last year’s top 10 on the FedExCup points list played more than 22 tournaments.
For all players, from the stars to the rank-and-file members, the 2019 schedule is an embarrassment of riches. The new line-up features 46 events, three less than in 2018, with a window to play these events that has been squeezed by a month.
The PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players’ shift back to March are the two biggest elements of the new schedule. The Tour wanted a “marquee” event each month beginning in March but the result of the condensed schedule is a non-stop parade of must-play events.
“I was looking at the summer schedule from basically post-U.S. Open all the way through to after the FedExCup and potentially I could play 11 out of 13 weeks, which is a lot of golf and that's, it's too much for me,” Rory McIlroy said.
There will be two stretches this season that feature quality and quantity and will force players to play more than they have in the past. Starting with the Genesis Open in mid-February through the Masters the second week of April is a run that includes The Players, two World Golf Championships and the year’s first major. Add player's personal preferences to those must-play events and you end up with a grueling stretch like that planned by Billy Horschel, who will play nine events in 10 weeks beginning at the Honda Classis through the Zurich Classic, where he’ll be the defending champion.
It will be a similar crush to end the season beginning with The Open Championship in mid-July. The new WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational is the next week in Memphis followed by the Wyndham Championship and three consecutive playoff events.
Most players will try to avoid the type of marathon Horschel has planned, which means something will have to give.
“There's five or six or seven events I would love to play and I want to play, but it just doesn't work out in the schedule, which is a bummer and I would hope tournament directors understand that,” Justin Thomas said. “I think the Wyndham is one of the greatest events that the Tour puts on and it's just so hard, that's one in the past where I would have loved to play along with a lot of other events, just the schedule and the timing doesn't work out.”
It’s going to be a similar story in the spring during the Florida swing. Traditionally, top players would include the Honda Classic, which is a home game for many South Florida-based professionals, or the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Even the Valspar Championship has seen a boost in field depth in recent years, particularly in 2018 when Paul Casey outdueled Tiger Woods to take the title. But all three of those events could be negatively impacted by the new schedule.
“They’ve really jumbled some things up and I’m afraid some tournaments are going to get hurt from it that probably don’t need to get hurt,” Charles Howell III said. “It’s going to make picking and choosing some events hard. You’re going to have to miss some events that you like and some events that don’t deserve to get hurt.”
It’s just not the relatively smaller events that will take a hit. Last week at the Sony Open, Adam Scott revealed his current schedule doesn’t include any of this year’s World Golf Championships.
“In the end I just kind of took the simple approach and thought I'll just play the ones I like and that make sense to play,” Scott said. “At the moment I have not scheduled a World Golf Championship because they don't fall in the right weeks for me. I feel like there are good tournaments right around them that are a preferred option.”
For some players the new schedule creates better continuity. For a player like McIlroy who likes to play the week before a major, the new lineup worked perfectly into his schedule, while for others the chance to focus on blocks of the season is preferred.
“For us it’s actually gotten better,” Webb Simpson said. “I think there is a better flow. It seems like for me I play a lot of golf in bunches, but this year it’s a little spread out. I’m playing a little lighter West Coast, but the rest is a nice flow gearing up for the majors, The Players and the rest of the year.”
The promise of the new schedule is something approaching a real offseason, although like in past years the Tour will pick up the wraparound portion of next year’s schedule shortly after the Tour Championship. But even that creates a challenge for players who balance dual membership on the Tour and in Europe.
The European Tour adjusted its schedule in response to the new calendar in the United States and shifted five of its eight Rolex Series events after the Tour Championship in late August. That means there will be little rest for players like Casey.
“We have a very, very busy schedule now in August and September. From mid-July to September is looking quite exhausting, but it is what it is,” Casey said.
For Monahan, and really any chief executive, these are all good problems to have. Giving consumers, in this case the players, too many attractive options is simply good business.
“I think we'll all be interested to see how it evolves, but I think it's very positive. Generally very positive,” the commissioner said.
But also like any good business this is about market forces and that might not work out favorably for every tournament.