On Tuesday morning, Australian time, Dustin Johnson captured his first FedEx Cup title, thus bringing to a close the PGA Tour’s most challenging and bizarre season yet, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s on to the 2020-2021 season, which starts tonight. Yes, tonight, our time, at the Safeway Open in Napa, California.
The offseason might have been short, but with no golf to watch for three months this year you’d be hard pressed to find anyone complaining. Here are nine storylines to keep an eye on as the tour rings in another season this week.
1. There will be 50 tournaments – including six Majors – in the 2020-2021 campaign, the most in a season since 1975, when the tour had 51 tournaments. No, there aren’t any new events on the calendar. This year’s US Open and Masters were postponed to September and November, respectively, thus explaining the increase. That’s hardly the only change, though, which we wrote about here in our breakdown of the upcoming schedule.
2. We know the upcoming US Open will be played at Winged Foot and, of course, the Masters is always at Augusta National. What about the other Major venues for 2021? The PGA Championship returns to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, where Rory McIlroy won in 2012; the US Open is back at Torrey Pines for the first time since Tiger Woods’ epic victory there in 2008; and the Open Championship goes to Royal St George’s, where this year’s edition was scheduled to be held before being cancelled. Darren Clarke hoisted the Claret Jug the last time it was played there in 2011.
3. Because of coronavirus, fans haven’t been allowed at tournaments since the Players Championship in March. So when will we see them again? Though it’s not entirely clear, the tour is moving closer to allowing spectators on site. This week, the PGA Tour Champions event in South Dakota will have fans – case numbers are relatively low in the sparsely populated state (though there have been sharp spikes lately) and it figures to be a good test run for the PGA Tour. Also, the tour will reintroduce pro-ams this northern autumn and has already allowed for a small number of sponsor guests at select events in recent weeks. In other words, expect to see fans again sometime in early 2021, if not sooner.
4. What can we expect from Tiger Woods? Since winning the Zozo last October, Woods has made just seven starts, with his best result a T-9 at the Farmers Insurance Open. The rest of the year he was a non-factor, and he once again missed time due to injury. Woods will also turn 45 in December. Translation: while he has shown that he can still contend and even win on occasion, his schedule is slowing down. But if he can stay healthy, it’s possible he could make as many as 15 starts or more, a number that’s boosted by a busier-than-usual September-to-November.
5. Will Jordan Spieth end his winless drought? It’s been three years and counting since Spieth won, and he showed flashes at times, but in the end the 27-year-old three-time Major champ finished the season with just three top 10s – the fewest of his career. Just about every facet of his game, save for his strokes gained/around-the-green, was mediocre at best, and there was little from this past season to indicate that he will suddenly turn it around in 2020-2021. By the way, he’s not the only star riding a three-year winless streak: Hideki Matsuyama is, too.
6. WWPMD? Phil Mickelson is 50 years old, yes, but it’s clear he isn’t moving to the senior circuit to take everyone’s cash full-time just yet. Mickelson is teeing it up this week in Napa and will be in the field for the US Open at Winged Foot. He also showed he still has enough game to occasionally compete with the younger set, finishing equal second at the WGC–FedEx St Jude Invitational and third at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Like Tiger, he still has the ability to dial it up on the rare occasion.
7. How big will Bryson get? Eventually he’s going to reach a point of diminishing returns, but he’s not there yet. If anything, 2019-2020 proved that all his added bulk and increased clubhead speed paid off in a big way. His ultimate goal: drive it 400 yards (and straight) every week – something that would be an enormous advantage. Improving his wedge play and short game would also help immensely, something he is also keenly aware of.
8. Can Brooks’ body hold up? Like the much-older Woods, Koepka, just 30, was limited by injury in 2019-2020 and has now withdrawn from next week’s US Open. Even when he did play, his performances were rarely feast and mostly famine with just two top 10s, a final-round implosion at the PGA Championship and five missed cuts. Of course if Brooks is reading this it will probably provide all the motivation he’ll need for another big year.
9. Don’t forget about the Olympics and the Ryder Cup. The two biggest marquee international events fell victim to coronavirus in 2020 and were pushed back to next year. As such, that means the men will have until June 21, 2021, to accumulate points for the Tokyo Games. Meanwhile, the top six point-getters through the 2021 BMW Championship will automatically earn a spot on the US Ryder Cup team, and Steve Stricker will have six captain’s picks instead of the usual four. The European team will freeze its qualifying process until the start of 2021.