News & Opinion

Major hopes, minor letdown for spring

It was no coincidence that Smylie Kaufman’s wedding was last weekend. In fact, it no doubt was planned with the PGA Tour schedule in mind. Shortly after Kaufman repeated his vows in Birmingham, Ala., and whooped it up at the reception, Satoshi Kodaira of Japan defeated South Korea’s Si Woo Kim in a playoff at the RBC Heritage.

Maybe Golf Channel and CBS should have televised the wedding instead of the Heritage. The nuptial ratings no doubt would have been higher. That’s because three of the top players in the world were in the wedding and not at the Heritage. Justin Thomas (No. 2), Jordan Spieth (No. 3) and Rickie Fowler (No. 6) are famously good friends of Kaufman’s. In fact, the spring-break foursome was back together, only this time as groom and groomsmen in tuxedos.

Thomas, Spieth and Fowler clearly were not going to play the week after the Masters. So, it was a perfect time for a spring wedding that included all of Kaufman’s friends.

They didn’t play this week at the Valero Texas Open, either. Nor will they probably play again until the Players Championship on May 10-13. Fowler likely will play at the Wells Fargo in two weeks because he’s a former winner.

But it’s a case in point that on the PGA Tour we’ve become more major-centric than perhaps we’ve ever been. The majors – and for the sake of argument, we will include the Players in this conversation – are what players and fans alike gear toward in the golf season. The rest of the events are either a run-up to a major or a wind-down after a major. And, if we’re honest, the Players is seen by many as a precursor to the U.S. Open in June.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good events that aren’t majors, because there are. But few, if any, of the non-majors get all of the top players in the same place at the same time, and that’s why most golf fans – and even non-golf fans – want to watch.

There was nothing wrong with the RBC Heritage. It was fine golf on a Pete Dye-designed waterfront course. However, announcers made it a salient point that the Heritage is the perfect event for the week after a major: it’s laid-back and non-intense. And the competition reflected that fact. There was drama, but it just didn’t feel like it.

This week’s Valero Texas Open in San Antonio has only one player in the field in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Sergio Garcia is No. 10, and he’s playing for two reasons that are apparent: he has adopted his wife, Angela’s, hometown of Austin, Texas, which is about 80 miles from San Antonio; and he was a consultant to Greg Norman, who designed TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course, which hosts the tournament.

Will Garcia be grinding away, trying to win? Or will he be working on a thing or two in his golf game, getting ready for the Players and the U.S. Open? And if he happens to be in the hunt on the back nine on Sunday, he’ll turn on the intensity. Until then, only he knows what he’s trying to accomplish this week.

And that’s true for the rest of the top players. When they play in an event or two leading up to a major, they are preparing for what’s next. It’s not to say they aren’t trying to win, but that’s not the major reason they choose a particular event.

The sad truth is that there is more of a gulf between the haves and the have-nots on the PGA Tour schedule. That’s because we’re spoiled. We want every week to be like a major week, and that’s just not possible.

The in-between tournaments on the Tour schedule, if the top players aren’t in the field, are an opportunity for others. When top players aren’t sucking up all the oxygen in an event, second-tier players take advantage of the weaker field, and that’s how they can win. And a victory on Tour can change a golfer’s life and career trajectory, especially if it’s the first. Lower-tier players are trying to make cuts and accumulate enough money and FedEx Cup points to keep their card for next season. It’s easier to accomplish those goals without the top players present.

Tiger Woods always said he was trying to win every event that he entered – even now. Whether that’s true for other top players isn’t easily known. But one thing’s certain: tournaments that include many of the top 10- or 20-ranked players are the ones that will capture the most attention.

The rest? Unless you are a superfan, it’s simply a way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter@mikepurkeygolf