'Crescendo' now exists for new PGA TOUR schedule
July 10, 2018
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- With the changes the season will now conclude with three-straight events to decide the FedExCup Playoffs. (Ryan Young/PGA TOUR)
Few have worked harder or come from more improbable golf backgrounds to make it onto the PGA TOUR than Olin Browne, as late a bloomer as you’ll find. Smitten with the game at 19, he honed his talents while at Occidental College in Los Angeles and turned pro at 25.
So, making it to the big leagues demonstrated uncanny determination. Yet, it wasn’t quite what Browne envisioned that late autumn day in 1994, enveloped by the surroundings of arguably the liveliest city in America, Las Vegas. At an age when many of his PGA TOUR peers were in the middle of their careers, Browne at 35 was in his sophomore season and feeling privileged to be there.
Still, the bright lights and big-league stage of the PGA TOUR in Las Vegas didn’t mesh with the melancholy in his heart. It was the last full-field tournament of the year, No. 44 on the schedule and the 31st start of the season for Browne, yet “it just felt so sad,” he said. “The season was over, but there was no crescendo.”
Twenty-four years later, Browne – a regular competitor on the PGA TOUR Champions – was apprised of the way the 46-tournament 2018-19 PGA TOUR schedule will conclude and in support of his younger colleagues, he nodded his approval.
“Now, there’s a crescendo.”
What caught Browne’s attention was the climactic finish to next season – three consecutive weeks of the FedExCup Playoffs culminating with the TOUR Championship Aug. 22-25. Reducing the FedExCup Playoffs by one and concluding the season before Labor Day and the onrush of football are definitive exclamation points, in Browne’s view, and two former PGA TOUR competitors who helped give shape to the FedExCup Playoffs agree.
“It’s more dynamic, instead of the season petering out like it used to,” said Joe Durant, who was a member of the Policy Board when the FedExCup debuted in 2007. Another Policy Board member was Brad Faxon, who recalls that “we always had the thought to eliminate competing against the NFL when the FedExCup started. This new schedule is good. I think it’s better to have only three playoff events.”
That they were in on the ground floor or the FedExCup Playoffs but didn’t really get to reap the enormous benefits gives Durant and Faxon reason to laugh. Yet they’re in good company, because their contemporaries – players like Browne and Billy Andrade and Mark Calcavecchia – pretty much were on their way off the PGA TOUR when the FedExCup Playoffs started. But to a man, they sing the same refrain.
“No regrets, none at all,” said Andrade, who, like Faxon and Browne, never qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs. “The PGA TOUR provided me with so much, so I’m thrilled that I was part of it.”
Durant played in just the very first FedExCup Playoff in 2007. “We probably all wish we were out there for these playoff tournaments, there’s so much money, but to be fair, we had our opportunities and they were pretty good, too,” he said. “It’s the way life rolls. There’s nothing to be bitter about.”
Instead, Browne points to the mission of the PGA TOUR – to provide financial opportunities – and appreciates that the FedExCup Playoffs “are another way to funnel proceeds to members.” But he credits PGA TOUR leadership for molding the schedule the way it has; whereas in much of his career it ended without that season-ending crescendo, now the close of the season – three events in a row coming on the heels of a summer stretch of two majors and a World Golf Championship – is the best part of the year.
“You could make that point and you’d have a hard time arguing that,” said Browne.
Not that there aren’t highlights elsewhere in the 2018-19 schedule, among them:
- With THE PLAYERS Championship returning to March (14-17) for the first time since 2006, there will be four straight tournaments in Florida.
- That easy travel flow will appear again in the summer with three Midwest stops – new tournaments in Detroit (Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club June 27-30) and Minneapolis (3M Open at TPC Twin Cities July 4-7), followed by a longtime favorite in Silvis, Ill. (John Deere Classic July 11-14).
- Given the PGA Championship’s move to May, the month of August will be cleared for the PGA TOUR’s dynamic sprint to the season’s finish line with three straight weeks of FedExCup Playoffs: THE NORTHERN TRUST (Aug. 8-11), the BMW Championship (Aug 15-18) and TOUR Championship (Aug. 22-25).
From the PGA TOUR’s perspective, a significant aspect of the schedule involves the vitality of the deals with the title sponsors. Nine are signed on for 10 years, six others for at least seven years, and 29 partners have deals that extend beyond 2020. All positive factors at a time when the PGA TOUR is firmly establishing a different look to its schedule and welcoming a wave of younger faces.
While a veteran such as Calcavecchia – who was in his 12th PGA TOUR season and had won seven times by the time Jordan Spieth was born – competed most of his career without the FedExCup Playoffs, he suggests there is a common denominator with he and that younger star. “My goal was always to get to the TOUR Championship at the end of the year,” he said. “I don’t think that’s any different.”
Spieth would likely agree. But what has changed are the logistics to getting to the TOUR Championship. Andrade pointed out that back in his playing days, competitors lagging well down the money list could make a big charge in the mid-August-to-late-October stretch and he was a big fan of those tournaments. Now, “they are still big tournaments in the fall, only players need to take advantage of them to get a jump on the (FedExCup) list.”
Back when the FedExCup was announced, then-Commissioner Tim Finchem said there were layers of intent. One, an exclamation point was needed to the season, with the best players gathered for a series of tournaments. Successful as that has been with 11 seasons of the FedExCup, that scenario will be stronger with the 2018-19 FedExCup Playoffs. But Andrade and others remember Commissioner Finchem talking of “creating a situation where players will play more,” and that vision has come to fruition, too.
Consider the fall and early January tournaments that begin the wrap-around season. Players have approached them differently as the race for the FedExCup has become more established and numbers from the 2017 TOUR Championship prove this. Of the 30 players who made it to East Lake Golf Club, 12 of them had started their seasons by playing in at least five of the first nine weeks.
Then, at the other end of the schedule, the push to improve FedExCup status and take advantage of the FedExCup Playoffs has produced stellar fields, too. Of the top 20 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, 17 of them played in at least six of the last nine PGA TOUR tournaments, including No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who played in eight of them. That represents a shift in the landscape, because 15 years ago six of the world’s top 10 players play in just two or three of the final 10 weeks of the season,
Such data has made a believer out of a Faxon, who was involved in discussions to bring on the FedExCup Playoffs, but not the wrap-around schedule. “The wrap-around season didn’t make sense to me until I realized the NBA, NHL and NFL all do it successfully,” said Faxon.
“But now it all makes more sense and I’m very impressed how they moved it this quickly.”