HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – For the casual golf fan, last week’s Masters marks the unofficial start to the golf season, with marquee events defining the next five months; but according to the actual math of the circuit’s wraparound schedule, this week’s RBC Heritage is the mid-point of the calendar (the 25th of 49 events), which means it’s time for GolfChannel.com’s annual mid-terms.
A complicated Reed. Late Monday afternoon, one sports network ran a headline that read: “Why is [Patrick] Reed an unpopular champion?” It was all part of a larger narrative that has now defined the Masters champion as anti-social at best and difficult at worst.
Reed is a complicated player with, let’s say, an eventful past, but that doesn’t change what he accomplished on Sunday. He might not be the most popular champion in Masters history, but he’s still a champion. GRADE: A.
On schedule. At last month’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the circuit would likely be ready to unveil the 2019 schedule at The Players in May.
Monahan conceded that the overhauled line-up has been challenging with more moving parts than a 15-handicap’s swing, but he remained confident the Tour would get to where it needed to be.
More pieces of that puzzle fell into place this week, with reports surfacing that the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a staple on Tour since 1976, would be replaced on the schedule by a new World Golf Championship that will be played in Memphis and sponsored by FedEx.
There was also talk this week from various sources that the annual stop in Fort Worth, Texas, is poised to announce a new, long-term sponsor in the next few weeks, which shores up at least a part of the title sponsor concerns.
It’s best to withhold judgment until the Tour announces the entire schedule, but so far Monahan and Co. appear to have all the pieces falling into place. GRADE. Incomplete.
This is a warning. The normally relaxed Sony Open endured a jolt this year when players, caddies and officials were awoken before Saturday’s third round by a text message that was sent across Oahu.
“Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
It wasn’t a drill, but it was a mistake. That didn’t make the tense moments until the all clear was given any less stressful. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of life on Tour until an accidental text message snaps you back to reality. GRADE. F.
The Process. It’s worked for the Philadelphia 76rers, and for Tiger Woods.
First the hard news: Tiger hasn’t won this season and, whether it’s fair or not, that’s always the ultimate litmus test for a 14-time major champion. Now for the perspective: six months ago Woods didn’t know if he’d ever play golf again, even recreationally, following fusion surgery on his lower back last year.
Competitively he’s found himself in the hunt at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, and even though he struggled with his game (irons) last week at Augusta National, there’s now a resilience to his play that can’t be ignored.
“I had missed it for the last couple of years, I hadn't been able to play in it,” he said last week at the Masters. “I missed it, I really did. I missed playing out here. I missed competing against these guys.” GRADE. B+.
Leading by example. During their primes, neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson served on the Player Advisory Committee or the policy board. It’s hard to criticize either player considering their resumes, but it is worth noting that Jordan Spieth was elected PAC chair this year and will ascend to the policy board next year.
There’s no doubt Woods and Mickelson were influential when it came to Tour policy, but Spieth’s decision to embrace a leadership role is both encouraging and telling.
He might not have had the season he would have liked to this point - before Houston and last week’s spirited Sunday charge at Augusta National Spieth had largely struggled on the course - but he deserves credit for stepping up to help guide the Tour through what promises to be an eventful few years. GRADE: A-.
Still pacing. Last Friday, the day’s final threesome made it around Augusta National in a little under six hours. The next day Paul Casey played with a marker, club member Jeff Knox, in about 3 1/2 hours.
Although some of that improved pace of play can be attributed to playing twosomes and with a marker, the dramatic difference between rounds was glaring.
“Obviously I prefer how we played it today in pace of play. On pace of play, honestly, it frustrates me,” Casey said. “I would love to do that every single weekend if I could.”
The majority of Tour players agree with Casey and prefer a better pace of play, and yet the circuit continues to ignore what most involved see as a glaring problem. GRADE: F.
Mixed bag. Dustin Johnson began his season with a runner-up finish in China last October, rolled the field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions by eight strokes and seemed to be on pace for another dominant year.
Although he’s remained atop the Official World Golf Ranking, his only real chance for a second title this season was a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach and he tied for 10th last week at the Masters, eight strokes behind Reed.
“I definitely expect better,” Johnson said on Wednesday at Harbour Town where he’s making his first start in nearly decade. “I felt like I played well enough to win last week, I just didn’t putt well.”
It’s easy to let expectations turn what has otherwise been a solid season into a reason to be concerned, but remember that DJ still has four of the year’s most important events to play and reason to think something special still awaits. GRADE: A-.