News & Opinion

PGA Tour’s premature reboot will come with a cost

'Money-grubbing sensibilities’ will deliver for FedEx but unwrap other problems in a schedule illogically re-formed while coronavirus pandemic rages

Five or six residents in my neighborhood have contracted coronavirus in recent weeks, so this notion that pro golf could resume around Memorial Day falls somewhere between impetuous and ludicrous. With all due respect to the value of optimism and precepts of business pragmatism, the PGA Tour will do well to play its first tournament by the end of July.

That neighborhood, by the way, is roughly the size of a driving range. Not nearly as large as the consequences of prematurely rebooting a schedule likely to lose 40 percent of its original bulk. At least 20 events are almost certain not to be held, which makes the decision to try and salvage the FedEx Cup playoffs a pathetic submission to the Tour’s money-grubbing sensibilities.

WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational
American Xander Schauffele can thank FedEx for its sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s regular-season WGC event near the delivery giant’s corporate headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. But the big payoff comes with FedEx’s title-sponsorship of the playoffs, which is no small reason for the PGA Tour’s effort to preserve the 3 postseason tournaments as part of the shortened season.

Commissioner Jay Monahan is a smart guy, but he has been on this earth long enough to know that you can’t stage a postseason halfway into a regular season, with just one of the four majors factoring into the balance of the competitive equation. Welcome to the only sports league owned and operated by a Tennessee courier.

What FedEx wants, FedEx gets. We’re left with a $70 million raffle so Camp Ponte Vedra can placate its most important partnership, which is kind of like the tail wagging Dino the Dinosaur. Why not turn the first two playoff bouts into standard events, then move the Tour Championship to the week after the Masters? It can get a bit chilly in Atlanta by mid-November, but we’re talking about 30 guys playing in optimal sunlight for a $15 million bonus.

That can buy you a lot of hand warmers. The more the Tour bows to accommodate its title sponsors, the less appealing the product becomes, although there’s no guarantee that any portion of the restructured 2020 schedule will occur as planned. When there are so many questions and not a single answer in sight, the guessing game amounts to a visit to the roulette wheel.

Here is one man’s take on the future of a virus-addled golf season.

Major malfunction – As fluid situations go, the PGA Championship has a lot working against it. Not only could the early-August slot prove to be a bit ambitious, but the venue (TPC Harding Park) is a municipal course run by the city of San Francisco, which might complicate matters involving spectator attendance and spatial provisions.

After a rough start, California has emerged as one of the more efficient states in containing COVID-19. San Francisco County has been particularly strong, with 15 deaths reported as of late Monday. What does that have to do with the PGA? Perhaps local government has grown tired of all the negative media attention aimed at the Bay Area in recent years and is waging war against its reputation as a bastion of urban blight.

A golf tournament without galleries obviously isn’t ideal, but no golf tournament at all beats one that turns into a fiasco. The politicians know that.

Chance of cancellation: 30 percent.

Best foot forward? – Six weeks later, after the FedEx Cup cash grab and a few days off, it’s on to Winged Foot for the U.S. Open. We’re talking about the heart of illness country here; New York state has accounted for more coronavirus cases than any nation on the planet. Long considered one of America’s ultimate power clubs, Winged Foot resides less than 15 miles from New York City, which has combined with its four surrounding counties to produce 93 percent of the statewide case count.

The USGA has a lot more clout than the PGA of America in the real world, and that pull definitely could matter in September. It’s our national championship. It also pays for all the non-revenue events such as the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior. Speaking of which, the bluecoats love their cash. With $400 million in the bank and an annual budget north of $200 million, they’ll play this baby in a bubble, if necessary.

Some things can’t be messed with, however, and a public-health scare is one of them. The month of October is wide open on the updated golf calendar, and that might be an option if the crisis in New York is still looming. A fan-free U.S. Open is also a distinct possibility. It would be very weird, but the USGA doesn’t necessarily need the money from tickets or merchandise. That gigantic TV contract signed with Fox in 2014 can cover the bills for a year.

Chance of no spectators: 40 percent.

A tradition unlike any other – The lordship at Augusta National didn’t bother trying to squeeze its way into the late-summer/early-fall madness. Somebody in a green jacket drew a big circle around the second week in November, and that was that. As Martha Burk might attest, nobody tells the fellas who run that little club in Georgia how they should roll.

As previously mentioned, the 6½-week gap between the Ryder Cup and Masters could come in very handy. One might consider it ample room for makeup dates, but I’m sure the Tour has designs on dumping a few Fall Series events into those vacant weeks and getting the 2020-21 season started before the 2019-20 campaign is complete. How’s that for silly? The Tour has no jurisdiction over the empire at Augusta National, but it easily can justify adding some competitive opportunities for all those middle- and lower-class players with a few ounces of status.

Maybe Monahan will pull a rabbit out of his briefcase and revive that one-and-done Players Championship from last month. Stick it in the middle of October and start from scratch. Seeing how the British Open has been given the year off, we can refer to it as golf’s “fourth major” for a brief spell.

Chance of additional scheduling changes: 35 percent.

Chance of something really clever being added: 7 percent.

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