There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to the PGA Tour’s fall slate: It needs to be fixed, or it needs to be eliminated. Both share the same ideology, that this portion of the wrap-around schedule is an imperfect conceit. Such a sentiment is cemented by low TV ratings, the absence of star power and divided attention among other sports.
We, too, have been guilty of venturing into one of those camps. And there is truth to their logic; professional golf, at least in the United States, has perceived flaws come autumn. It is a notion that the tour essentially acknowledged by moving the FedEx Cup Playoffs and Tour Championship finale a month earlier to coincide with the end of summer.
Yet the past five weeks have revealed another truth, one that runs parallel to the above. For all the fall schedule lacks, it still offers a heck of a lot.
In 2019, it has been the best version of itself. Good and spirited golf, sure, but also living up to its billing as a platform for rising talents. Joaquín Niemann became the youngest non-American winner (20 years old) in more than a century at The Greenbrier, Sebastián Muñoz (26) the first Colombian to win on tour since Camilo Villegas in 2014 with his Mississippi conquest, and Cameron Champ (24) showed that last year’s Sanderson Farms victory was no fluke in Napa. It has brought us breakthroughs in Munoz and Lanto Griffin, the latter who went from broke to a millionaire in less than two years, and the promise of young bucks in Akshay Bhatia and Cole Hammer (even if they occasionally fell off the saddle).
Of course, there will always be up-and-comers, and trophies tend to lose luster when 49 of them are handed out per year. The tales and quests to that finish line, though, are far from fleeting.
So far the 2019-’20 season has brought admiration for Tony Romo, if only for a day, bettering the likes of Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama and awe in Kevin Chappell shooting 59 at The Greenbrier, which doubled as poignant, as it was Chappell’s first tournament in a year after an injury that nearly ended his career. There has been relief with Kevin Na’s Las Vegas win serving as a release from personal strife. And heartbreak, as Champ tearfully embraced his father Jeff, who had his pops Mack—Champ’s conduit into the game—on the phone as Mack laid in hospice care an hour away. There has been inspiration, too, as Scott Harrington nearly won Houston after spending 15 years in the minors and leaving the game to support his wife through leukemia.
Professional sports depend not just on the performance of their stars but the stories that surround them. It is why television and radio and podcasts and columns and bar talk with your buds rarely breaks down the plays of the game and instead focuses on the narratives the games produce. Golf is no different.
Tiger Woods won the Masters, but it was what he returned from that gave that magical Sunday its juice. Open champion Shane Lowry winning the claret jug doesn’t mean as much if it’s not grabbed in Ireland. Brooks Koepka’s PGA Championship isn’t just a victory in a high-profile golf tournament, but history thanks to his impressive resume over the last two years.
The fall’s stories might not include these big names or big events but they remain rich and compelling, allowing quieter voices to be heard.
Some fans look at the strength of fields and say no thanks, if they look away from football and baseball at all. The thing is, for 40-odd events, the tour’s stars command center stage. That includes the upcoming three-tournament stretch in Asia, where the events will be littered with top-20 talent. But for a few blissful weeks, the tour gets an alternative from its routine. And there’s something to be said for what this period is, rather than focusing on what it is not.
It is apropos that the latest five-week American tour was capped by Griffin, whose namesake comes from the “ascended spiritual master of Light.” The fall features the game’s other performers, and they did not disappoint in their chance to shine.