PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — I was thrilled when the new schedule swept into golf in 2019. After all, what’s not to like?
The season gets cooking right away with The Players Championship in March, which is back where it should be. It always felt lost in May, and coming first brings with it a sense of enormity that was always a part of the Players’ identity.
The PGA Championship moving up to May was the other big move that, on the surface, was a masterstroke. It means we get five massive events a month between March and July, with the FedEx Cup soon to follow and the Ryder Cup every other year. It’d make golf ever-present in the wider sports landscape, which will help propel it onto greater popularity.
A win-win! Right?
But in a classic case of unexpected consequences, something seems to have been lost along the way.
Tiger Woods, for a start.
After his historic win at the 2019 Masters, fans would’ve been forgiven for thinking the good times of Tiger Woods have returned — that we’d be seeing him teeing it up at his favorite old-time haunts and bagging trophies for fun. That hasn’t quite materialized.
Tiger has played just one non-major since his Masters win. He has to protect his back, understandably, and with the majors the priority, he doesn’t have any other options.
“You have to understand, if I play a lot, I won’t be out here that long,” Woods said on Tuesday at the 2019 Open Championship.
Justin Rose reiterated the point, giving the harshest, but unquestionably fair, condemnation of the new schedule yet.
“It’s too condensed,” he said. “As a professional in terms of trying to peak for something, the process that’s involved in trying to do that can be detailed and it can be longer than a month.”
Rose is not alone in his feelings.
Tiger himself admitted he isn’t fully ready for this week — something that is fast becoming the new norm. When the meat of the season is packed so close together, players can’t sufficiently prepare for each event. Like this week; suddenly we’re in mid-July, and players face their last chance of winning a major.
It creates a situation where the hot hands become the favorites when the majors roll around. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the inverse is a bit of a problem.
Let’s say Tiger, Rory and Spieth have a mini-blip in form starting in April. A natural part of golf. But that short downturn in form essentially means an entire major season has passed them by before they even have time to fix it.
We want Tiger Woods playing in more than just the majors. We don’t want to inadvertently force our best players to skip noteworthy events — like Rory at the Irish Open — to grab a precious bit of rest. Or have them push their bodies too far and get injured. We want to create the conditions so the game’s best players perform on the biggest stages.
With both the Ryder Cup and the Olympics coming next year, the schedule is only about to get more crammed in the immediate future. And with these concerns already being raised, golf needs to figure how to tweak something good to make it great, before it turns bad.