Revamped PGA Tour schedule gets positive reviews
The revamped PGA Tour schedule forced some players to alter their plans coming into this year’s Masters Tournament - in a positive way, most believe.
The biggest change leading into the Masters was the tour restoring the pre-Masters Florida Swing to four consecutive tournaments, highlighted by The Players Championship. The Players was moved from May to mid-March as the third of the four Florida events. It was the first four-tournament Florida Swing since 2016 and the first that included the Players since 2006.
Photos: Tuesday Masters Practice Round
“It’s probably helped my schedule, so I can play in blocks,” said Marc Leishman, who finished ninth in last year’s Masters.
Leishman played in the Mexico Championship, which ended March 4, then skipped the following week’s Honda Classic, the first leg of the swing. He then played the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players the following two weeks. He passed on the final Florida stop, the Valspar Championship, then competed in Match Play the following week in Austin, Texas, where he made the Round of 16. He skipped last week’s Texas Open and is here for his seventh Masters.
“I can get two in a row (Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players), week off, match play, week off, then I can be fresh coming into Augusta,” he said. “Match Play is a good preparation for me for the Masters because of all the uneven lies. It’s something you don’t get to practice a lot out there.”
Tommy Fleetwood played two of the four Florida Swing events and the Match Play but skipped last week’s Texas Open.
“I’ve always played a lot,” Fleetwood said. “It actually makes the schedule a little bit easier and I’m actually going to end up with a little bit more time off and a little bit more time at home, which will be really nice.”
A major reason for the schedule change was anchoring six consecutive months with significant events, starting with the Players, followed by the four majors and the season-ending Tour Championship. The Masters is annually in April, the PGA Championship is in May now (instead of August). The U.S. Open is in June as usual, and the British Open stays in July. The Tour Championship, annually held in late September, will now be played in late August.
“I think it actually kind of works in my advantage that way, having a good solid four months there of, you need to be dialed in on those four months with the majors and the Players,” said 2018 Player of the Year Brooks Koepka. “I think that’s extremely important. And to have it so close together, if you get on a hot run, you might be able to pop off all five.”
There has traditionally been nine weeks between the end of the Masters and the next major, the U.S. Open. Now the PGA Championship is only four weeks after the Masters. The overall schedule will allow Masters champion Patrick Reed to spread out his schedule a little more.
“It seemed like in the past years I would have late in the season an eight- or nine-week run of tournaments,” said Reed, who is also a European Tour member and played four events last year and two this year already (not counting the majors and world golf championships).
“Now it just seems like 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 (to 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.”
With so many top tournaments starting a run in mid-March, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Italy’s Francesco Molinari decided to focus this year on the PGA Tour instead of the European Tour, which has undergone some schedule changes of its own. Neither one has played in a European Tour event yet this year.
“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,” said McIlroy. “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.”
That plan has already worked out: Molinari won the Arnold Palmer, and McIlroy took The Players in consecutive weeks.
Molinari said he learned in 2018 to be “flexible with the schedule playing both tours.”
The schedule change hurt the field at the Honda Classic, the first stop on the Florida Swing, which was preceded by the Mexico Championship in Mexico City.
Justin Thomas played in the Honda Classic and The Players.
“It’s a shame because this is such a great stretch of golf tournaments, and it’s just not possible for us to play all of them,” he said. “I know it’s unfortunate for (the Honda Classic), just the time in the schedule it had a lot of people that always play that just can’t play this year.”
Paul Casey skipped the Honda and Arnold Palmer then played The Players and won Valspar for the second consecutive year.
“Yeah, we’ve got great tournaments, you’re just trying to balance it all so that you’re always peaking and you got an opportunity every time you tee it up and balancing family life,” Casey said. “And for me that means that I’ve missed a couple of events normally I would, or have I played in the past, Bay Hill and Honda. And that’s always tough when you see, you walk up and there’s like, oh, guys, (Honda Classic executive director) Ken Kennerly, I got to speak to Ken, how can I explain my absence a little bit. And that’s tough.”