Previewing the 2014-15 PGA Tour season
Hey, did you know that the new PGA Tour season starts this week?
After a LONG seven day offseason, the 2014-15 campaign kicks off at the North Course at Silverado in Napa, California with the Frys.com Open. If you recall, Jimmy Walker used this event last season to pick up his first career win on the PGA Tour and he’ll be back to defend his title this week. What can we expect this season on the PGA Tour? I’ve put together a quick preview and answered some questions below.
Why is the season starting now?
Good question. Last year, the PGA Tour implemented their controversial wraparound schedule to make it more like traditional sports leagues with an actual playoff system and a season ending event, the Tour Championship, instead of having the Fall Series tournaments like the Frys be a weak ending to the season. Did it work? I guess it did in the sense that the Tour Championship actually seems like a proper ending to a season, but not having a real break at any point during the season still doesn’t make a whole ton of sense to me. The one thing that it did accomplish is that these former Fall Series events do have better fields than they did in previous years, which is always good for the PGA Tour and their sponsors.
When are we seeing Tiger?
So far, Tiger’s plan is that he’s going to be in the field for his own tournament at Isleworth in the first week of December. After that though, it’s anyone’s guess. He could always go over to the Middle East like he has in recent years in January, but he didn’t do that in 2014 after playing in Turkey a few months prior. Outside of his own event, I’d be shocked if we saw him on the PGA Tour before Torrey Pines in early February, but if he gets his reported $3 million appearance fee, you’ll probably see him in Dubai before that. The big question of course is how healthy he is, and in all honesty, I doubt that even he knows at this point where he’s at and likely won’t know until December at the earliest.
Are there any new faces that could make an impact?
The list of 50 players that recently earned their PGA Tour cards for this season is listed here and there are a few names that stand out:
- Adam Hadwin: One of three Canadians to earn his PGA Tour card, Hadwin won twice and finished on top of the money list with just over $529,000 earned.
- Carlos Ortiz: The 23-year old Ortiz turned pro just last year and qualified for the Web.com Tour. How did he do? He struggled with consistency, but he managed to post three wins and cruised to a guaranteed spot on the PGA Tour.
- Justin Thomas: Thomas is also just 21, and he’s proven an ability to hang on the PGA Tour already, finishing tied for 10th last year at the Farmers Insurance Open. He’s got a good pedigree too, winning six times at Alabama and picking up the Haskins Award in 2012 as the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Golfer.
- Sam Saunders: Did you know he’s Arnold Palmer’s grandson?
- Max Homa: Homa won the individual medal at the 2013 NCAAs and played in the Walker Cup before turning pro and finishing tied for 9th in his first stop on the PGA Tour at the 2013 Frys.
Other names who have earned their card: Bud Cauley, Colt Knost, John Peterson, Richard Sterne, Jason Gore, David Lingmerth, Andres Gonzales, Sean O’Hair and J.J. Henry.
Where are the majors being played?
- The Masters: Augusta National, obviously.
- U.S. Open: Chambers Bay in Washington. Scottish links style course that opened in 2007 and played host to the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Fox also takes over broadcasting duties from NBC.
- Open Championship: The Old Course at St. Andrews, holding it’s regular “every five years” spot in the Open rota. Louis Oosthuizen ran away with the win when it last hosted back in 2010.
- PGA Championship: Whistling Straits. Last hosted in 2010 as well. You may recall that Martin Kaymer beat Bubba Watson that year, but it’s definitely best remembered as the “Dustin Johnson grounded club in a bunker” fiasco.
- Phil Mickelson went winless on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2003 and outside of the PGA Championship, he didn’t really come close either. My thought is that we’ve seen the end of Phil’s run as a consistently dominant force on the PGA Tour, but he’ll still pull something out every now and then because he’s still incredibly talented. We all know that he’s focused on the U.S. Open for the career grand slam, but going to a brand new course in Chambers Bay probably doesn’t help things. What can we expect from Phil? I honestly have no idea.
- After the utter mess of the Ryder Cup, Team USA has a chance to play for something that they actually win these days: the Presidents Cup. Jack Nicklaus GC in Korea will play host in the second week of October as Jay Haas will lead the Americans against Nick Price and his International side. I doubt that Bill Haas is going to get overlooked for Webb Simpson this time around.
- The topic of the “Rory Era” has been beaten to death by many, myself included, but it’s hard not to think that we really are in some kind of new place here. If you look at the Official World Golf Rankings, 14 of the top 25 players have yet to win a major in their career. Last year, we saw Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy all win majors again, but there is a new breed of players who are ready to contend for these titles.
- One of those players that’s ready to win a major is the guy you see above, Rickie Fowler. Despite the fact that he’s only got one PGA Tour win to his name, he was in contention at all four majors in 2014, joining Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to finish inside the top-5 in all four majors in one calendar year. Fowler winning a major this season would be huge for everyone involved.
- I could be overreacting to what happened last season, but it really seemed to me that when the new crop of players stepped up, it came right as a bunch of established players hit the wall and were either injured or stopped performing at a high level. Tiger, Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Brandt Snedeker, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen are just a few of the names that for whatever reason, just didn’t do much of anything last season. I’m really interested to see how some of these guys bounce back.
- The (still stupid) anchored putter ban will officially take effect in 2016, but players are probably going to start testing it out this season if they haven’t already done so in real tournaments. Carl Pettersson switched last year and ended up finishing 125th in strokes gained putting, and you should start seeing players like Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott make the transition over the next few months. Expect these players to look at the apparently legal way that Matt Kuchar putts as an alternative.
- Over the last few years, we’ve seen several European Tour players make the transition to play more on the PGA Tour, with some like Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy starting to essentially play full time in North America. That is likely to continue this year with Ryder Cup stars Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson both planning to play more on the PGA Tour in 2015, and while the European Tour isn’t going anywhere for the time being, it certainly seems like the gap between the two biggest tours in the world is widening quickly.
- What does Rory do for an encore? No matter what he does, it’s going to be difficult for him to top what he did last season unless he goes “Tiger in 2000” on us, but he’s clearly become the world’s best player and at the moment, it’s really not even all that close. The one thing working against him is that unlike Tiger in 2000, the competition now is much stiffer and will continue to pose a challenge, but this kind of quote is scary:
Buckle up, everyone.
- Lastly, we need to talk about Tiger for obvious reasons. He claims that he’s healthy and that he’ll be ready to go for his tournament in December, and I have to take him at his word. If that’s the case, even with all of the quality players at the top of the world, I still think Tiger is the guy that poses the biggest threat to Rory. Remember that the last time he was healthy two years ago, he won five times on the PGA Tour and he didn’t do it at events like the Frys and John Deere. Luke Donald is a former world number one ranked player, and he has five PGA Tour wins in his career; Tiger had that many in a few months. The people that are writing him off are entitled to their opinion, but frankly, I think they’re crazy. Is part of this wishful thinking? Perhaps, but I think we can all agree that while golf is in a pretty good place right now, it’s even better when Tiger is on the course and playing well instead of limping off of it and making appearances with Rory on Jimmy Fallon.
- Masters: Tiger Woods
- Feel free to call me an idiot in seven months.
- U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy
- Chambers Bay is a beast of a course at nearly 7,600 yards and there’s no one else that I would trust to win on a difficult, brand new course that plays that long.
- Open Championship: Rickie Fowler
- Clearly likes it over in Scotland and actually played pretty well back in 2010 when the Old Course last hosted. My guess is that it might be his second or third win of the season too.
- PGA Championship: Hideki Matsuyama
- The only thing to not like about Matsuyama’s game is the putter, and even a slight improvement in that area could result in two or three wins this season on the PGA Tour because of how good his ball striking is. Staying out of the 897213 bunkers at Whistling Straits is of the utmost importance and I like Matsuyama in this spot to become Japan’s first major golf winner.
Jim Furyk will win a tournament
He might have to get Fluff to read and hit his putts for him, but I think Furyk’s got at least one more tournament win in him. Someone who strikes the ball as well as he does shouldn’t go five years without a tournament win.
The PGA Tour will do something about digital coverage
I’ve been harping on this for what seems like forever, but I really think the time is right here for the PGA Tour to jump into 2005 and actually have some sort of digital coverage option for their events like MLB.tv. In 2015, people should be able to watch Tiger and Rory when they tee off at 7:45 AM on a Thursday if they desire.
Fox will stumble but show promise in their U.S. Open debut
When Fox picked up the rights for USGA events last year, I was unsure of what to think but I’m actually looking forward to seeing what kind of fresh take Fox can provide to golf coverage, which let’s be honest, has become more than a little stale over the last few years. I like Joe Buck being tabbed as the play by play man, and Greg Norman in the Johnny Miller role should be a lot of fun and believe me when I tell you that Norman will bring the same amount of confidence that Miller has on NBC all these years. There are concerns with a brand new crew and two guys in Buck and Norman who have never done live golf before, but I think that after a few initial stumbles, they’ll be just fine.
My one request: Figure out a way to make Pro Tracer happen on every shot, even if it’s done digitally only and not on TV. I’ll pay for it.
Paul Azinger won’t be named captain of the Team USA at the 2016 Ryder Cup
Just a gut feeling on this one.
Advanced stats become a bigger part of the overall discussion
Strokes gained putting has been the statistical benchmark for measuring quality on the greens for the last few years, and over the last few months, Mark Broadie and his team were able to release strokes gained information from tee to green as well. People like Jake Nichols are doing great work in golf analytics and even though golf is way behind other sports in this area, it’s starting to gain ground and that’s a very good thing.