logo

Len Ziehm On Golf

Olympics’ influence will make for a different season in 2016

OK, so the 2014-15 PGA Tour season is over. You want more? No problem. You don’t have to wait long, thanks to the circuit’s decision to go with a split season just like the National Hockey League and National Basketball Assn. have done for years and years.

Last season ended with the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which finished up when the last putt dropped at The Tour Championship in Atlanta.

This season starts with the Frys.com Open on Oct. 15 at Silverado’s North Course in Napa, Calif., with Sangmoon Bae the defending champion. It won’t have a weak field, either, if for no other reason than Rory McIlroy has entered. McIlroy will be making his first appearance in the $6 million event, and Tiger Woods would have been there, too, had he not opted for more back surgery. He had to withdraw after announcing that he would compete in the event.

What used to be the PGA’s Fall Series doesn’t end there, either. The Shriners Hospital for Children’s Open in Las Vegas and the CIMB Classic in Malaysia also have October dates and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico and the McGladrey Classic in Georgia will be played in November.

And in December there’s those unofficial events – Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge in Florida and the Franklin Templeton Shootout in Florida – along with some of the overseas exhibitions. They traditionally draw the top players who are ready to get their games in shape for the flood of weekly events that begin in January. Jordan Spieth, for instance, believes his “offseason’’ wins in the Australian Open and Hero World Challenge started him on his way to his banner season that included wins in the Masters and U.S. Open. He plans to be back at those two unofficial events this year.

As you can see, tournament golf doesn’t stop these days – not even in the dead of winter. To me, that’s a good thing.

What isn’t so good is what happens to the schedule after the new year – July in particular. The Masters is still in early April (7-10 in 2016), The Players Championship is sill in mid-May (12-15) and the U.S. Open is still in mid-June (16-19 at frequent site Oakmont in Pennyslvania).

July, though, is the heart of the golf season in Chicago, and in 2016 it will also be the heart of the golf season world-wide. A good thing? I don’t think so.

The British Open will be played at Royal Troon from July 14-17, the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey is the next week and the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, in New Jersey, is the week after that. Bunching up the big ones like that only takes some of the luster away from each of them.

That change in scheduling, of course, was due to the Summer Olympics. It’s great that golf is back as an Olympic sport for the first time since 1904, but I’m not so sure that epic development should have come at the expense of the tournaments that have been in the forefront for decades.

Why couldn’t the Olympic organizers have chosen their dates, the countries participating in golf determine their players and the competition go on from there? The PGA Tour could have continued with business as usual and, if some of the other tournaments lose a top player or two to the Olympics, so be it. The PGA Tour schedule didn’t need to be revamped just because of one new tournament, even one that admittedly will have global interest.

The major affected the most, of course, is the PGA Championship. It is traditionally played in mid-August, and the Olympics golf competition is Aug. 11-14. It wouldn’t have made much sense to play the PGA opposite the Olympics, since too many top players would likely prefer to play in Brazil.

Instead the John Deere Classic was put opposite the Olympics. JDC director Clair Peterson, citing his desire to be a “good partner’’ with the PGA Tour, took the decision gracefully. The JDC has thrived in its July dates, especially after Peterson made the brainchild move to hire a jet that would take JDC players directly to the following week’s British Open.

Now there won’t be any jet, and the JDC will likely be without its defending champion. Spieth is a shoo-in to be on the U.S. team in Brazil.

Given the local support the JDC traditionally enjoys, I suspect TPC Deere Run will still be a crowded, exciting place even with the Olympics being shown on television at the same time. One aspect of the JDC scheduling even intrigues me.

As part of pitting the JDC opposite the Olympics the PGA Tour granted Peterson some extra sponsor’s exemptions. Who will he invite? Who knows, but Peterson has consistently used them wisely. Spieth was just one of the many young stars who received an invite to the JDC as a young player and later demonstrated loyalty to the event. Perhaps the difficult scheduling in 2016 will turn out a blessing in disguise for Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop down the road. At least I hope so.

The impact of scheduling around the Olympics doesn’t end there, however. The FedEx Cup Playoffs will lose some of their edge as well.

Only two tournaments – the JDC and Wyndham Classic – will be played between the Olympics and The Barclays, first event of the Playoffs. Players in the Olympics – the top stars in the game – have to rest some time. They could well skip those two regular season stops and might even choose to skip a playoff event as well. Players like Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia have done that, even with the huge prize money offered in the playoff events.

Things will be back to normal come September, when the BMW Championship returns from Sept. 8-11 at Crooked Stick in Indiana. That’s the site in between two stagings at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

Again big events are bunched up at least in part because of the addition of the Olympics. The season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta follows the BMW Championship and before September is out the Ryder Cup begins, on Sept. 30 at Hazeltine in Minnesota. That’s a lot of big-time golf in a condensed period of time. Will it be too much to sustain golf’s mass appeal? We’ll soon find out.