New PGA Tour schedule has players rethinking where and when to play

Brian Wacker
Golf Digest

HONOLULU — When the PGA Tour revamped its schedule beginning with the 2018-’19 season the goal was twofold: Wrap it up before college and pro football started and create a more seamless flow of events.

It nailed both. The FedEx Cup Playoffs, now reduced to three tournaments, will own the month of August and conclude the weekend before Labor Day. The Players, meanwhile, will become the first “big” event of the year, moving from May back to March, before the run of four majors from April through July. Not to mention smaller changes, like the tour traveling from Riviera to Mexico to Florida as opposed to Riviera to Florida to Mexico and back to Florida.

A potential unintended consequence, however, is the impact the rejiggering will have on players and who you might see turn up a what tournaments. After all, there’s only one fewer event being played but there’s also a much more condensed window to play the remaining tournaments.

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The season’s new rhythm is something players are still trying to figure out.

“It seemed like in the past years I would have late in the season an eight- or nine-week run [of tournaments],” said Patrick Reed, who made 22 starts on the PGA Tour last season, to go with a few more on the European Tour. “Now it just seems like [it’s going to be] a lot of three weeks on, one week off or four weeks on, one week off. There’s not any of these really huge, long stretches [where I’ll play]. So I think the more I looked at it, the more it feels like it’s front-loaded compared to back-loaded like it’s been in the past.

“There might be a couple spots where in the past I might have played a certain event, but now I might not be playing that event because I’ll be playing one later on,” Reed continued. “But the actual amount of events is not changing for me. It’s going to be around the same number. It’s just it’s spread out a little better for me.”

To Reed’s point, you can cross Adam Scott’s name off your short list of players at this year’s World Golf Championships events.

While the Aussie typically doesn’t play the WGC-Dell Match Play anyway, he likely won’t be playing the other three, either.

“In the end I just kind of took the simple approach and thought I'll just play the ones I like and that make sense to play,” Scott said. “Any inconvenience, whether it’s a big tournament or not—I don’t know how everyone can define a big tournament differently —but at the moment I have not scheduled a World Golf Championship because they don’t fall in the right weeks for me."

In other words, it’s a balancing act.

<cite class="credit">Matthew Lewis</cite>
Matthew Lewis

Scott isn’t alone. Nearly everyone has some figuring out to do because playing one tournament might mean not playing another, or vice versa.

Take Tiger Woods. He is expected to open his year at Torrey Pines as usual and play the Genesis Open at Riviera three weeks later. Then things get complicated.

After Riviera comes the WGC-Mexico Championship, followed by the Honda Classic, which is played in Woods’ backyard at PGA National, then the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he has won eight times, the Players and Valspar Championship.

<h1 class="title">PGA Championship - Round Three</h1> <cite class="credit">Jamie Squire/Getty Images</cite>

PGA Championship - Round Three

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Woods isn’t going to play all of them, so something has to give. Given he played Valspar for just the first time last year, that’s likely out. And maybe Honda, though, too.

There are other considerations as well, including those who don’t make 25 starts having to play a tournament they haven’t played in four years. Add two new stops (Detroit and Minneapolis) plus a WGC moving to Memphis the week after the Open Championship at Royal Portrush and there are no shortage of scenarios to work out.

“I don’t play [the week] before the majors, [but] I was maybe thinking about playing before the majors,” said Justin Thomas. “It’s definitely taken more thought. Just because of the difference of it.”

<cite class="credit">Chung Sung-Jun</cite>
Chung Sung-Jun

For players who are members of both the PGA Tour and European Tour, things can get even more complicated. It’s part of the reason Rory McIlroy will focus his attention on the PGA Tour this season, as will Francesco Molinari. This year McIlroy kicked off the season at the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui, as opposed to in the Middle East.

“I think all the guys are trying to reduce their travel as much as possible,” McIlroy said. “Having to hop back and forth from the states to Europe and back again, there’s not a lot of that going on which is a good thing.

“I feel like every time I show up to the start of the year on the PGA Tour, other guys have played nearly 10 events and I’m sort of playing my first or my second one. So I wanted to try and start a little bit early, get a few more starts under my belt before the big bulk of the season kicks in.”

Of course not everyone is burdened by the new schedule.

“I’m really not playing any different schedule,” said Dustin Johnson. “For me it kind of lined up pretty much the same.”

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