SAN MARTIN, Calif. – There’s no palm trees and Pacific Ocean views for the start of the season. Players see golden California foothills covered by coastal fog – a marine layer, in California parlance -- instead. Northern California’s CordeValle Golf Club is an ocean away from Waialae Country Club in the Aloha State, but it now has a distinction once held by Hawaii: site of the PGA TOUR’s season opener.
This week’s Frys.com Open is the first event of the PGA TOUR’s 2013-14 season, the inaugural “wraparound” schedule. A new season now starts shortly after the previous one’s grand finale – the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, the last event of the FedExCup Playoffs – instead of with the turning of the calendar.
The fall portion of the PGA TOUR schedule used to be defined by players’ pursuit of playing privileges for the following season. Now the latter half of the calendar commences the chase for the FedExCup. This is the first season that the TOUR’s fall events will offer FedExCup points.
Jonas Blixt is the perfect illustration of the fall’s new significance. The Swede made the cut in all four of his fall events in 2012, including a win at last year’s Frys.com Open and third-place finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. His good play had plenty of perks, namely a two-year TOUR exemption for his win and millions of dollars. But his efforts also earned zero FedExCup points. He finished 52nd in the 2013 FedExCup.
If the current calendar configuration had been in place last year, Blixt’s accomplishments in fall 2012 would’ve earned him points for the 2013 FedExCup Playoffs. Blixt, who also won The Greenbrier Classic in 2013, would’ve been a virtual lock for his first TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola appearance.
He’ll debut in another prestigious event, the Masters, in April because of his win at The Greenbrier Classic. His Frys.com Open win, because it didn’t come with FedExCup points, didn’t get him to Augusta. That changes this year, though. The winners of the fall events also earn Masters invitations for the first time.
Blixt is in the field this week to defend his first TOUR title. The fall events have a new signifcance, but his goals remain the same. "The leaves are still turning yellow and red," Blixt said. "For us players, it's a golf tournament and we're coming to win it. I get excited every time I tee it up."
He’s had three weeks off since his last event of the 2013 season, the BMW Championship. There’s no doubt that there’s now a quick turnaround between seasons. Players have jokingly greeted each other this week with, “Happy New Year.”
That’s a good thing for players who are in good form. Take Gary Woodland, who qualified for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola after winning the Reno-Tahoe Open in August and finishing second in the first FedExCup Playoffs event, The Barclays. The fall “means a lot more” now, he said, because he can already start racking up points for the next Playoffs.
John Peterson concurs. The leading money winner from the Web.com Tour Finals finished the season with five consecutive top-5 finishes. He had one off week after his second-place tie at the Web.com Tour Championship. “It’s good for me,” he said of the quick turnaround. “It’s like blackjack. You don’t want to get up from the table when you’re hot.”
The TOUR Championship ended Sept. 22, and The Presidents Cup finished Sunday. Many players are taking a well-deserved break this week, especially with two TOUR events in Asia, including the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, on the horizon.
The players who are here have an advantage, though.
“If you want to get a head start on the year, you can,” Jimmy Walker said. Some players at CordeValle, such as Walker, have their eyes on next year’s TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. He finished 36th in last season’s FedExCup standings, narrowly missing his first TOUR Championship berth. Points earned in the coming weeks could prove valuable in the next FedExCup Playoffs, helping him be on the correct side of the cut line for East Lake. Walker finished fourth at the 2012 Frys.com Open.
Other players – especially the Web.com Tour graduates – would like to earn some early points to alleviate the pressure of trying to keep a TOUR card. A good start can get players in this category higher in the periodic reshuffles, which means more playing opportunities throughout the season. Good play always has its benefits.
The current season’s FedExCup points list is used to fill fields at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and THE PLAYERS Championship, as well as the TOUR’s invitationals.
Scott Langley knows the rewards a good start can bring. He finished third in the first event of his rookie season, the Sony Open in Hawaii. That finish allowed him to get into invitationals like the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and the RBC Heritage, as well as THE PLAYERS Championship.
“Getting off to a great start made my year easier,” he said. He’s at the Frys.com Open after getting married Saturday in Santa Barbara, a couple hours south on the California coast. “I view these four tournaments as bonus time. It’s hard to sit out PGA TOUR events. I’m excited to play and get off to a great start.”