The months of April and May should not be the doldrums of the pro golf season, but the post-Masters stretch of the calendar has always lacked pop and felt slow. It was certainly the case before the PGA Championship moved to May, and it still feels that way, even as the excitement and anticipation builds for a major at a Gil Hanse “historically renovated” Southern Hills in Tulsa next week. As we wait for that major, we convened a TFE roundtable to bat around some topics that are bridging us from the Masters to the PGA, including that schedule weakness, the LIV jumpers, and this week’s Byron Nelson.
Does the schedule between the Masters and PGA need to be punched up in some way? Is that even possible? How would you do it?
Andy Johnson: Emphatically YES! Pro golf confronts a unique situation where, for the fans, the culmination of the sport is the Masters, an event in the middle of its season. It rightfully captures all the attention of the sport in the weeks leading up to and after Augusta. There should be events leading into the Masters. But the week after, there should probably be a break.
There is no reason to have five events in these five weeks. The Tour is harming its overall product. After the highlight of the season, when millions of casual fans are engaged with the product, you then trot out what is arguably the weakest stretch of golf tournaments of the year.
These are events that could appeal to the casual fan that just watched the Masters. It’s a chance to get them to watch more golf. But the past two weeks have been a perfect example of what is wrong with the sport at the pro level. Each event was largely ignored by the Tour’s elite talents, showcasing just one top-10 ranked player and one other top-20 player. The mid-season between the major events should buttress the pinnacles of the sport, not be afterthought opportunities for bottom dwellers in the FedExCup to snag some points. Cut the number of events to just two between the Masters and the PGA Championship and the fields would be full of stars and yield an overall superior product. Sometimes, less is more and that’s the case of the Tour schedule during this stretch.
Meg Adkins: Something needs to change to give this part of the schedule a shot of life. The PGA Tour doesn’t take advantage of the momentum from the Masters and leaves even its most dedicated fans struggling to care about the product this time of year. But I’m not getting my hopes up. Entertainment value and the interests of fans appear to be second fiddle to the Tour’s bottom line, and a bloated schedule keeps the balance sheet in the black.
Garrett Morrison: I agree with Andy and Meg’s diagnosis: the stretch between the Masters and the PGA Championship stinks because the PGA Tour has too many events overall. But I don’t think it’s likely that the Tour, as it’s currently structured, will take away playing opportunities from its mid-level members.
As a stop-gap, I’d suggest correcting the lopsidedness of the current schedule. Right now, the first three months of the year are loaded: two elevated-status events (Riviera, Bay Hill), a WGC (the Match Play), and the “gold standard” (the Players). We also get the long views of Kapalua and Pebble Beach and the drunken chaos of the Phoenix Open during the same period. It’s a lot of fun, but by the time the Masters rolls around, the Tour has emptied its clip. So how about moving the WGC Match Play to late April or early May? Hell, put the Texas Open before it and the Byron Nelson after it to create a Texas Swing. Branding!
Hook 'em, Sergio
How could the Byron Nelson be made more consequential, as it was in a prior era?
Will Knights: The Byron Nelson is in schedule hell at the moment and I’m not sure it’s getting out of it. That being said, it fell in the best possible situation this season. For some context, the two strongest Strength of Fields that this event has had since the SoF metric has been kept were back in 2005 and 2006. Back then, the Players Championship was in March and the PGA Championship was in August, leaving the Nelson to be the focal point of the month of May. When the Players moved to May, the Byron was in Gold Boy’s shadow and the SoF tanked. The Players is back in March now but the PGA has moved in to keep the shine off the Dallas event. This year, the PGA being nearby-ish at Southern Hills has provided a nice bump. As long as the Tour schedule stays as diluted as it is, the Nelson will be one of a dozen or so middling PGA Tour events.
Garrett: Sadly, the presence of Byron Nelson himself, one of golf history’s great gentlemen, is probably what gave the tournament gravitas in the 90s and early 00s. After he died in 2006, the top players no longer felt obligated to show up, and the event has seemed adrift since then. I’m not sure what the fix is. A better golf course would help, as it usually does.
Meg: AT&T signing a couple more big name golfers might be the most realistic way it gains some momentum. Players show up to their sponsors’ events and can have an impact on strength-of-field as evidenced by the RBC Heritage earlier this year. Honoring Byron Nelson and what he meant to the game becomes a little less important for the overall PGA player population as the years go on. That’s not a knock on today’s players, rather an observance of what naturally happens over time. Were it not for Jordan Spieth bringing his gaggle of fans to the Byron Nelson in recent years this tournament would be on life support.
Who would be the most surprising or amusing name asking for a LIV London release?
Garrett: Few things are funnier than blatant, un-self-aware hypocrisy. Remember Paul Casey posturing about human rights and his UNICEF ambassadorship before the 2019 Saudi International, then taking a hefty appearance fee to play in the 2021 edition? Hilarious. So by that logic, I’d have to say it would be pretty amusing if Jon Rahm, who memorably pledged his “fealty” to the PGA Tour in February, made the LIV plunge.
What the hell, Garrett?
Will: It would be interesting to see if Webb Simpson criticized Saudi Arabian courses for being too long in order to sell more houses.
Andy: Bryson. After the supposed and rumored committal, to a very public late-stage bandwagon denial, to the King Abdullah Economic City table tennis injury and surgery, to then a return at LIV London, it would really put a bow on this entire saga.
Meg: Golden boy Spieth would have the entirety of golf’s fandom clutching at its pearls.
Who needs a win—not a major but any win like a Nelson—most?
Garrett: Maverick McNealy—not that he needs the money. For a while, he was the best college golfer in the country. He racked up eight individual victories for Stanford in 2015 and won the Haskins Award. But since turning pro, he just hasn’t had the extra gear. It took him two seasons to graduate from the Korn Ferry Tour, and he has been merely good so far on the PGA Tour (68th in the FedExCup in 2020, 58th last year). But this season, Mav has missed only one individual cut and had six top 25s. It’s time for him to knock off a mid-tier event, and a Byron Nelson or a Chuck Schwab would do nicely.
Andy: Bill Zalatoris. He feels stuck in the 30th range in the OWGR. It seems like a matter of time before he ball-strikes his way into a W but until then, there will be skepticism that he can actually get it done with his putter down the stretch. He has the personality of a superstar, he hits it like a superstar, he just needs to start winning like a superstar.
Will: Zalatoris is the right answer but I’d like to see the newly wed Dustin Johnson get back on the podium. He hasn’t won outside of Saudi Arabia since the 2020 Masters and feels like he’s been passed up by some guys. Would love to see him get in a groove this summer.
We’re in the midst of 3-in-4 events at the TPC network of courses. What’s your favorite TPC course of the group that appears on TV in pro play?
Garrett: I always enjoy seeing events at TPC Boston, a Gil Hanse renovation, and the Old White TPC, a competently restored Seth Raynor design. There are some good TPCs! I even have a soft spot for TPC San Antonio, the venue of the Valero Texas Open. But the bulk of the TPC Network does blend together. I recently interviewed Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and he said something I liked about TPCs: “They are excellent golf courses, but they remind me a little bit of the Four Seasons Hotel. They’re wonderful hotels, but I know exactly where the pillows are in any room any time before I even get there.”
Will: In the non-Sawgrass division, I actually do like watching TPC John Deere. When it’s not sopping wet, that place plays pretty fun and allows guys to go low. There are enough challenging holes to heat check the pros but also plenty of holes that encourage low scores.
Andy: The obvious answer here is Sawgrass so I am going to remove that from the options. My second favorite is TPC Sod Farm aka Twin Cities, just for the fact that it produced the Bryson meme.
Bryson's look of immense dissatisfaction with Matthew Wolff and his tournament-winning eagle at the 2019 3M Open