After a renovation at TPC Sawgrass, schedule switches might be on the way for the Players and the US PGA Championship.
Big-time professional golf, anchored by the US PGA Tour, is an intricately constructed mosaic designed to bring the best players to the best courses for the right tournaments without upending the international circuits that produce an increasing supply of the world’s elite. It’s a marvel of co-ordination, painstakingly fine-tuned. Somehow, it usually works.
But not perfectly, which is why the whole megillah is under constant assessment and adjustment.
Over the years, some of the biggest tweaks have included the all-exempt tour in 1983, the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986, the World Golf Championships in 1999, the FedEx Cup in 2007 and the wraparound season in 2013-’14.
But for all the improvements, there’s an underlying consensus that the golf season is too long, too crowded, too much the same from event to event, and irregularly paced. It starts at a crawl in the northern autumn, crescendos briefly at Augusta before hitting another lull, then has a steady beat from the US Open through the US PGA Championship. However, the finale is an anticlimactic blur that mostly feels like a quixotic battle against the behemoths of American pro and college football.
The ending never felt more cluttered than last year, when golf in the Summer Olympics for the first time in 112 years forced a scheduling squeeze culminating in a Rio-to-Ryder Cup rush that, while at times thrilling, was clearly going to be unsustainable for the game’s stars, let alone the rank and file. The 2016-’17 wraparound season began only 11 days after the United States won the cup.
As golf has in the past, but with more self-awareness than ever, the game is responding with a proposed fix. On the surface, it seems straightforward: move the Players Championship from May back to March – where it was played for 30 consecutive years until 2007 – and the US PGA Championship from August to May. Of course, it won’t be simple to agree on or execute, but if the change comes to pass – possibly as soon as the 2019-’20 season – the professional game will be condensed into a leaner and more logical product.
It will be the next big move, arguably bigger than all the others. One that might even finally provide that elusive feeling of completion, like the last satisfying click of a suddenly solved Rubik’s Cube. Here’s why.
Currently, after the PGA Championship concludes in mid-August, the tour plays four consecutive events that make up the FedEx Cup playoffs, concluding with the Tour Championship in late September (and followed almost immediately by the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup). But if the Players and the PGA could be moved to new dates, the Tour Championship could be completed by early September. The net effect would be an important tournament highlighting each month from March through August in this sequence: Players, Masters, PGA, US Open, British Open, Tour Championship. With its most important strokeplay tournaments finished before the audience-eating American football season, golf would have the sports fan more to itself and presumably gain value as a television property.
What about the Ryder Cup? Whether it’s moved up in September or retains the same finish in late September/early October, it would still bump into football. But the transcendent crossover event’s ratings and buzz have proved it can flourish no matter the TV competition. The Presidents Cup, which has gained momentum over the years, hasn’t been as successful but has proved feasible.
‘It’s clear that the PGA of America has less to gain and potentially more to lose by moving its championship from August to May.’
FINDING A FIX