Well … here we are again.
If it feels like just seconds ago you watched Rory McIlroy win the FedEx Cup title and grab a $15 million payday at East Lake, you’re not alone. But the calendar says … (double-checks calendar) … it’s been two whole weeks, time enough to start the traveling circus once more.
Beginning Sept. 12 with A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, the 2019-’20 PGA Tour season gets underway, one that’s expected to be as compelling as its predecessor. On the horizon are more Rory McIlroy-Brooks Koepka head-to-head matchups (hopefully), an intriguing group of major-championship venues, a second modern go-around with Olympic golf, a Ryder Cup showdown at Whistling Straits, purses totaling upward of $350 million and the answer to whether Tiger Woods will pick himself for the Presidents Cup.
Perhaps we should code name this season "Vin Diesel" because the golf will be coming fast and furious. Since you’re probably still processing the 2018-’19 campaign, it’s best to break down what’s to come in small parts. Here then are a handful of questions to help you understand what’s in store as the tour gets rolling once more.
Is this season starting earlier than previous years?
Yes, it is. A year ago, the first official event was the Safeway Open in the first week of October. That means the fall season is starting nearly a month earlier, a byproduct of the revamped PGA Tour schedule that now has the season-ending Tour Championship coming in August.
Are they playing the same number of events then in the fall?
No, they’re actually playing more (surprise, surprise). Joining the usual fall schedule are the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan this October. Additionally, stops at The Greenbrier and the Houston Open move from their previous summer and spring dates to the fall. All told there will be 11 tournaments over 10 weeks (with one off week as well) before Thanksgiving, which is the most since the advent of the wraparound schedule.
How many tournaments are there on the schedule overall?
This season there are 49 official PGA Tour tournaments, including majors, World Golf Championships and FedEx Cup playoff events.
What are the biggest changes to expect this fall?
There are a handful of structural changes players will need to be aware of. Starting at The Greenbrier, the PGA Tour has adjusted how many players make the cut at a given event. Instead of the typical top 70 and ties, this season will see only 65 and ties making it through to each weekend. This small tweak will eliminate any secondary 54-hole cut, such as the one that got the best of Jordan Spieth at the Wyndham Championship in August.
The tour also is implementing a new driver-testing protocol in response to the mess that the R&A made at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. One more thing: The PGA Tour is in the process of reviewing its pace-of-play policy after the theatrics surrounding Bryson DeChambeau, notably at the Northern Trust.
So, how does the fall play out?
For the first time, The Greenbrier opens the fall season, followed in quick succession by the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Safeway Open rounding out September. As part of a restructuring of the schedule, the Houston Open is now in mid-October as opposed to the last decade or so when it was usually played the week before the Masters. The first off-week will come on Nov. 4, and the final fall event—the RSM Classic—is set for Nov. 24, three weeks before the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Oh, right. The Presidents Cup. Where does picking the team stand again?
For both the United States and the International teams, the automatic eight have been finalized. The Americans with have Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau. The real question is who Tiger Woods will choose for his captain’s picks to play at Royal Mebourne. I’m not sure if you noticed, but Tiger isn’t part of the qualified grouping, so he’d have to use one of his four selections on himself if he wants to compete. Along with Woods, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff are jockeying for position for a chance to be selected. We haven’t even mentioned Phil Mickelson, who has played on every Presidents Cup team since the matches began in 1994. The European team is anchored by captain Ernie Els and players Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama and Louis Oosthuizen.
With the Presidents Cup, it’s looking like it’s going to be a pretty hectic season. Am I right?
You have no idea. Along with the Presidents Cup, the Olympics and Ryder Cup will be crucial events during the 2019-’20 run. If you thought last season was chaotic, this season is even more jammed. We’re not complaining, though. The more golf, the merrier. We’re just a bit exhausted thinking about it.
How does the Olympics selection work? I know we had one four years ago, but a lot has happened in that time.
Qualifying for the event began last year and is based on the world records. The top-15 players will qualify with a limit of four golfers per country. Any remaining spots will go to countries that do not already have two golfers qualified, with a limit of two per country. Currently, Koepka, DJ, Thomas and Cantlay are ready to represent the United States, with Woods in the first reserve position. However, there’s plenty of golf to be played before that. Final selection day is June 22, 2020, for the men’s teams, and June 29, 2020, for the women’s teams.
Who won four years ago?
It was Justin Rose of Great Britain in the sport's comeback, with Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Matt Kuchar of the United States finished for silver and bronze respectively.
How will this impact the four majors? How closely together will they be played?
Like last year in its anarchy, the majors will be played within a 15-week span. The Masters at Augusta in April, the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco in May, the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in New York in June and the British Open at Royal St. George’s in England in July will all be right on top of each other along with the Players Championship in March and two WGC events also during this span. That’s eight of the biggest golf events being played in just under 20 weeks. It might be time to buy that comfortable new couch you’ve been waiting for.
And for the FedEx Cup in 2020, what are we expecting there?
Although we’re not even sure if Rory McIlroy has cashed his winnings check yet from a few weeks ago, the oddsmakers have already placed Koepka as the heady favorite to be atop the leader board at the end of the 2020 Tour Championship. Remaining the World No. 1 over McIlroy, Koepka’s hit-or-miss play over the final month of the season hasn’t swayed Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook from listing him at 5/1. Woods is 40/1.And if you want to make a big swing, might I recommend Phil Mickelson at 250/1? The returning champion Rory McIlroy owns the second-lowest odds at 8/1.
How’s Rory doing by the way? I’m sure he’s enjoying a nice vacation after climbing the leader board in Atlanta.
About that ... only seven days after his FedEx Cup victory, McIlroy competed in the Omega European Masters and found himself in an insane five-man playoff, ultimately losing to Sebastian Soderberg (No. 287). The $15 million from the week before will be helpful in wiping away any tears.
So what’s Tiger up to after his recent knee surgery? What can we expect from him in the fall season?
Tiger announced back in April that he will be playing in the Zozo Championship, part of the tour’s new investment in Japan. That’s coming up relatively soon, Oct. 24-27. Other than that, look for Tiger to play sparingly, as he will most likely be making sure things are heating early on in 2020.
Just how big a deal is fall golf anyway?
It depends on who you are. For the lower-ranked players, this is a perfect opportunity to grab some FedEx Cup points while the bigger stars rest up after playing late into August. Most fall events are worth 500 points to the winner, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to get a W, especially with the chance to go up against a comparatively weaker field. For the stars, the fall events are still an offseason of sorts as they can get a few rounds in here and there with less pressure knowing how many points will still be available in the following months.
So, this all sounds pretty fun, right?
That’s not really a question. But, yes. Yes, it does.