ORLANDO, Fla. – In this week’s edition of Cut Line, we dissect the good, the bad and the unknown about the PGA Tour’s overhauled schedule.
The goods. The Tour’s grand plan of designated events doesn’t work if the stars don’t deliver and, at least through 3 ½ events, the leaderboard has been the ultimate proof of concept.
At the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the first designated event, Jon Rahm outdueled Collin Morikawa in primetime. A month later, it was Scottie Scheffler who emerged from the star-studded pack at the WM Phoenix Open, followed by Rahm and Justin Thomas. And at the Genesis Invitational, Rahm again won with Max Homa and Patrick Cantlay just off the pace. Through two rounds at Bay Hill this week, it’s Xander Schauffele and Cam Young carrying the flag.
Each of those players finished inside the top 20 on last year’s Player Impact Program and were incentivized to play the elevated events with the hope that if the Tour was able to bring the top players together more often, the product would improve.
There are plenty of reasons to question the path the Tour has plotted into a new designated world, but the basic tenet of “build it and they will come” appears solid.
A breakthrough. Chris Kirk’s victory Sunday over Eric Cole at the Honda Classic ended a title drought that had stretched 179 starts and an inspired battle with alcoholism.
But it was the way he celebrated that was truly inspired.
After a two-hour “nap” Sunday, he was back on the tee at 7:25 a.m. Monday at the Seminole Member-Pro, a bucket-list item for most professional golfers, before making the trip to central Florida for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he doubled down on the good life to watch his friend and Tampa Rays utilityman Charlie Culberson prepare for spring training at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports.
Before locking back into his day job at Bay Hill, Kirk capped the week with a casual round at nearby Isleworth Country Club. “Had a blast. I think Charlie hit about five or six houses out there. So sorry, it was him, not me,” Kirk smiled.
There were countless perks that came with his victory on Sunday at PGA National, but it was the smile that seemed priceless.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Designations. The Tour unveiled the basic concepts of next year’s schedule on Wednesday to mixed reactions and it’s best to analyze the two-page memo by bullet point.
The idea of bigger events with the best players (as noted above) has been widely accepted. The inner workings of such a schedule, however, has left some questioning the future of the Tour. Of particular concern are the eight designated events beyond the majors, Players Championship and FedExCup playoffs and how limited fields (70 to 80 players) will impact playing opportunities.
If all eight fields are reduced – which doesn’t seem likely considering that the Sentry Tournament of Champions, a designated event in 2023, will have a bigger field going forward based on the new qualification criteria – it would add up to roughly 414 lost playing opportunities which is a problem, but it’s not the problem.
Tweet(s) of the week: There were no shortage of opinions across golf Twitter this week following Wednesday’s memo outlining the changes the Tour plans to implement next year, so we offer a sampling:
Details. While the headlines and hyperbole focused on the Tour’s move to limited fields for the designated events, many observers instead turned their attention to a line deeper into Wednesday’s memo.
“The FedExCup points model will be adjusted, with allocation of additional points to The Players, majors and designated events. Details will be shared with the membership in the coming weeks,” the memo read.
This is important to note because there is a concern that without knowing exactly how many more points the elevated events will be awarding, it’s easy to envision a world where the gulf between the stars and the rank-and-file is so wide, as to make an uneven playing field.
Consider that a player could finish 50th on the final FedExCup points list, which is the cutoff to qualify for the following season’s designated events, and play a vastly different schedule than the player who finished 51st, who would be qualified for just one of the designated events (The Players) depending on their world ranking.
“Play better” has always been the cliché for those looking to break through the grass ceiling, but a new landscape that offers precious few options for advancement and a system that so heavily favors the incumbent would leave that trope hollow.