Adjusting to a world where the Open Championship is the year's last men's major
A year from now, the major season will be over.
When said like that it feels like such a downer. It’s only late July. It’s the heart of summer across the country. Golf season is just making the turn.
At the same time, the PGA Championship, which will move to May beginning next year—as part of a larger revamping of the PGA Tour schedule—has always felt like a bit of an outlier among the other majors, the others seeming to carry more weight. Some of that had to do with venues (Bellerive, Atlanta Athletic Club, Southern Hills are a few that come to mind), some of it a lack of cache (a green jacket, claret jug and national championship simply have more), some of it the hodgepodge of winners (Keegan Bradley, Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem to name a few). And, well, someone’s gotta be fourth.
Now the Open Championship will be fourth, at least in terms of chronological order on the calendar. The oldest of the four majors, it can more than stand on its own as the anchor to the major season. “In fact it probably adds more to the drama because it is the final one,” said Ian Baker-Finch, who claimed the claret jug in 1991 at Royal Birkdale. “From their perspective, they don’t lose a thing.”
Indeed, think about the exciting final round from Carnoustie in the context of it being the climatic Sunday of the year’s major season. As if the chaos of Tiger Woods grabbing the solo lead (then stumbling), Jordan Spieth’s struggles, six-way ties and, eventually, a masterful finish from Francesco Molinari giving him the claret jug wasn't theater enough, imagine if that was the conclusion to the sprint from the Masters? Pretty sweet.
Meanwhile, I’m still left wondering what the PGA Championship gains by going to May, a month that impact what parts of the country the championship can be held that time of year. It does avoid being last on the schedule, at least, though I’m not sure what that will end up meaning in television ratings given a busier spring sports television slate.
The PGA Tour, meanwhile, stands to gain plenty. Its FedEx Cup Playoffs will now own the month of August, avoiding a head-to-head clash with football, something that was a goal when it was created just over a decade ago.
In order to make it all work, the tour had to move its flagship event, the Players Championship, back to March. That’s OK, too, because that event has grown enough in its own right. It’s not a major and will never be confused for one, but it will be the first “big” event of the year on the calendar, a few weeks ahead of the Masters (though there is some question as to what it will do to the rest of the Florida swing with such a packed golf calendar of other significant tournaments that early in the year).
“No one loves change, but when you look at trying to make a product better change is necessary,” Zach Johnson said. “I go back to ’07 and the first FedEx Cup, and it was much different. In the end, everything got better and in this instance the intentions and reasons to push the schedule to end in August are better. I think in the long run, it’s a great thing.”
Having the Open Championship be the final major of the year will be as well given its significance—though no one’s exactly in a rush to go from Portrush to Memphis for the WGC-FedEx St.Jude Invitational in 2019. What better way to put a cap on the four biggest tournaments of the year than by making the trip across the pond to venues such as Royal Portrush, Royal St. George’s and St. Andrews, the sites for the next three Opens.
The downside? That we’ll have to wait nine months until the next major instead of eight.