The PGA Tour regular season is over. These 4 questions remain
Three hundred and twenty five days and 44 tournaments ago, the 2022-23 PGA Tour season began. On Sunday it came to a ceremonious end, with just 70 players advancing to next week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis.
If that feels different than normal, that’s because it is. In years past, we would be anxiously watching the FedEx Standings around the 120-130 mark, curious who might lose full status on the Tour. Things are different now. We watched the 65-75 mark all week, focusing on just a few players who turned the Wyndham Championship into a playoff play-in event. A playoff before the playoffs.
Now that the dust has mostly settled and we turn to a three-week sprint for millions upon millions in bonus money, a few important questions remain.
1. Has Justin Thomas done enough?
It’s been a question we’ve been asking for weeks now. We asked it of Zach Johnson when Thomas missed the cut at the Open Championship in July. We asked it again a week later when he missed the cut at the 3M Open in Minnesota and he may have answered it himself when he committed to play this week’s event.
Thomas made the cut at the Wyndham with a sterling 65 in the second round and continued his way up the leaderboard (and in playoff contention) with 66 Saturday. But does that solve his Ryder Cup riddle? Only Zach Johnson really knows. Thomas needed at top 10 finish this week to earn a berth in next week’s playoffs, and at the time of this writing, he came excruciatingly close, but appears he will miss out. With his PGA Tour season looking like it could end this week, his playing audition for a Ryder Cup captain’s pick is also looking to be finished.
So…has he done enough? Thomas ranks in the mid-teens in the points chase. He’s got as good of experience in the event as anyone up for a spot. He wasn’t in contention this week in North Carolina, but he did beat 140+ top-level professionals. Could that sway Captain Johnson in his favor?
2. How weird will the first fall series be?
Those who don’t advance to next week’s first playoff event will have five weeks off before Fortinet Championship and the official beginning of the PGA Tour’s new fall series. ‘FedEx Cup Fall’ is the official moniker of the eight events that conclude in mid-November at the RSM Classic. Anyone who really wants to play these events can. Max Homa, for example, will surely play the Fortinet, where he is the defending champion. But the only things Homa will gain from playing that event would be world ranking points and money. Good vibes, too. Just no FedEx Cup points.
The fall will now be a reordering stretch where, say, a Joel Dahmen — who finished the season 84th — can play his way into the first two Signature events of 2024 following the Tournament of Champions. On the other hand, players will want to play enough to remain within the top 125 to maintain full status on the Tour. Will this make the RSM automatically more interesting than it’s ever been? Probably. Will people be that interested in the lower end of the membership grinding during the glut of NFL football season? Probably not.
For those reasons, we could have the fall actually live up to the “silly season” nickname it has long held. It’ll be for the nerdiest of PGA Tour nerds. And that’ll probably make it great.
3. Who will win Player of the Year?
This is one of those questions that I think about year-round. In Hawaii when the first big-time events are won and in March at the Players and especially in the summer during the glut of major championships. How much do players think about it? Definitely less. The gap was never more obvious than when I asked Jon Rahm how much he was considering the Player of the Year race after the Open Championship.
“Well, goal was to hopefully win an Open,” Rahm said, a bit annoyed. “That’s done. So now focus on the Playoffs. That’s all I can say. Good golf takes care of things.”
In other words, Sean you’re thinking about this. I’m not. Next question.
Even if Rahm would rather not discuss it, the POY question is only going to linger throughout the playoffs. Many a POY award has been won with a great stretch of play during the final few events. Just ask Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and Rahm. All four of those men have either had a POY lead taken from them late, or they snatched the lead themselves and were holding the hardware a month later.
As far as 2023 goes, it’s really just a two-horse race. Jon Rahm has won four times, one of them being a major championship, but cooled off his torrid pace in the summer. Scottie Scheffler compiled a ridiculous 19-straight top 12 finishes, won twice, one of those at the Players Championship, by five strokes no less. Who was better this year? Who accomplished more? All these things are up to the membership to decide. As much as I clearly care about these things more than Jon Rahm seems to, he has a vote and I don’t.
4. Does the PGA Tour grab control while the lights are brightest?
There are many more questions than these four swirling about outside the ropes. Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal wants the Saudi PIF leader Yasir Al-Rumayyan to sit for a hearing. Investigations by various government bodies are ongoing. The PGA Tour membership of players has made a recent stake for greater control by naming Tiger Woods to the policy board. Negotiations between the Tour and the PIF continue, but the deadline of December 31 hangs in the air.
For the next few weeks, before the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup begin to dominate the news cycle, does the PGA Tour earn some favor from its membership, its fans, its sponsors, etc. as it tries to make everything copacetic once again.
The Tour will officially announce its 2024 schedule this coming week — along with record-breaking purse totals — but will commissioner Jay Monahan being back at work lead to some greater form of transparency? Will the pressure of accountability from top pros begin to bear fruit? The next few months will tell us a lot.