The PGA Tour season is over. The next one starts in two weeks.
So much for the offseason.
“I am tired, but we have the opportunity to play for $15 million [for the FedEx Cup], which is a ridiculous amount of money,” Bryson DeChambeau said ahead of last week’s Tour Championship. “It’s a good problem to have. You just have to plan accordingly.”
Golf has always been a sport in which its players could tee it up when they wanted and take off when they wanted. But that freedom is becoming tougher to enjoy.
With the addition of two new tournaments to the schedule, there are 44 weeks of competition (and 49 events) in a 2019-’20 tour season that kicks off at the Greenbrier from September 12-15. Said another way, there are just eight weeks (seven if you include the Olympics) when there isn’t a PGA Tour event being played somewhere. With 11 events in 10 competition weeks coming in the (northern) autumn portion of the calendar, long gone are the days when a player can afford to pack up the clubs until January.
At least not without a price.
“Typically, the Farmers Insurance Open is my first event [on the PGA Tour],” Justin Rose said. “But then you’re 2,000 points behind the [FedEx Cup] leaders, so you’re always playing catch-up.” Which is why the Desert Classic was added to his schedule in 2019.
It has been that way ever since the tour went to a wraparound schedule in 2013, starting the season in the autumn and continuing it into the next calendar year. The importance of playing in the early weeks has only increased since.
For Rose and many Europeans, the task is made tougher by the decision to play two tours.
Case in point: newly crowned FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy hopped on a plane on Sunday night bound for the European Tour stop in Switzerland this week. The rest of his year also will include trips to London and Scotland, plus PGA Tour events in Japan and China then back to the European Tour and its season-ending tournament in Dubai.
“I’ve still got quite a bit left,” McIlroy said when asked about his offseason on Sunday night. “I’d like to learn about that proper offseason.”
For Rose, his “offseason” came early in the year when he took five weeks off starting in February. Prior to that, he had won twice, finished second twice and had a pair of third-place finishes over a 10-tournament span during which he reached No.1 in the world. What he gained in rest, though, he lost in rhythm, as he felt flat through the Florida swing before missing the cut at the Masters for the first time.
“I played so much last year I knew coming into this year I had to take a break at some point,” he said. “Taking February off I thought would help, but then I lost my feel for the game a little bit.
“To have your offseason be in mid-season was a little difficult. But, unfortunately, that’s a byproduct of playing both tours.”
Even playing just one takes some adjusting to.
Among other changes on the PGA Tour this year was a schedule that featured the Players moving back to March and a Major championship every four weeks, starting in April and ending in July. Then came the WGC–FedEx St Jude Invitational the next week, followed by the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs two weeks later.
Next year, the WGC–FedEx St Jude Invitational will be one of the weeks between the US Open and Open Championship, allowing for a little more breathing room and perhaps fewer of the game’s top players not skipping it as they did this year. The Rocket Mortgage Classic, played in early July this year, moves to May, the week prior to the Memorial, which should theoretically lead to a better field for that event, too.
But next year will also be tricky (at least for some) with the addition of the Olympics, which will conclude at the beginning of August.
As DeChambeau and others have pointed out, these are good problems to have. But they begin early: exactly how do you plan for the next three-plus-month stretch when the PGA Tour starts for 2019-’20? How much rest do you take without, as Rose noted, finding yourself too far back in the FedEx Cup chase?
For many, the answer is still unclear as they work through all the quirks in the new schedule for the first time and continue to experiment to find the right balance of when to play and when not.
“I don’t like to play four weeks in a row,” said Rickie Fowler, who did that in March and suffered. “I tried that this year and ended up sick at the Players.”
Fowler will take the next 11 weeks off – he’s getting married along the way – before returning to action at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in mid-November. As for 2020, he says he’ll re-examine that, too.
Rose, meanwhile, found the narrower gap between Majors left little time to shift his preparation from one to the next. There’s a potential unintended consequence of that that as well, he says.
“I don’t feel like the Majors are compromised, but I felt like one or two of the tournaments around the Majors were,” he said. “Guys have to figure out how to prepare for the Majors and that means missing tournaments or adding tournaments they wouldn’t normally play.
“It’s hard to fit it all in, but I have to protect the Majors and be fresh for those.”
So what’s the solution?
“Having two weeks off every once in a while even though maybe there’s a course that suits you,” DeChambeau said. “It might be a benefit. That’s the tough part I had to work with this year. There were some tournaments I wanted to play this year that I didn’t get to play in.
“We could play almost every single week of the year out here. I don’t necessarily know how to attack it. You just do.”