There are a legion of intriguing storylines for the new 2019-'20 PGA Tour season, which begins next week at the Greenbrier. The follow-ups of budding stars Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland. If Brooks Koepka can continue his reign of major dominance. The Olympics and who will qualify. Rory McIlroy's rejuvenated trajectory. Eddie Pepperell's never-ending quest to wreck the status quo. Even pace of play seems to be nearing a fervor pitch of sorts, transforming it from tired talking point to possible revolution.
Unfortunately, for all the good on the horizon, there are also plenty of narratives that need to be retired. And by "retired" we mean put down, thrown in a sack, placed on a wooden raft and torched at sea. Here are 10 storylines we are NOT looking forward to this season.
The USGA/R&A’s distance-study debate
The roll-the-ball-back cries were relatively muted this summer. Expect them to amplify with vigor upon the expected release this fall of the Distance Insights Project, a joint endeavor by the R&A and USGA into the present and future impacts of distance in golf. And it could get particularly loud if the report comes anywhere near a possible announcement that Augusta National's 13th will be lengthened.
It’s not that we’re apathetic about the subject. Rather, the distance debate is golf’s version of modernized politics. Conversation has been replaced by entrenchment, each side yelling their argument without listening to the other. Whatever the report says will be used as evidence by both sides, and/or dismissed as failing to capture the entire picture. Besides, there are only so many causes to be fought, and pace of play is the bigger threat at the moment.
What’s wrong with Tiger?
Greatness bestows no grace periods, at least in modern times. What should have been a year-long victory lap for Tiger Woods lasted all of (checks calendar) four weeks, with whispers about his preparation—or lack thereof—for the PGA Championship turning into full-blown criticisms at the Open Championship, replaced by worries and doubts during the FedEx Cup playoffs. Fan is short for “fanatic,” after all.
This season proved, no matter what Tiger accomplishes, the game will always want and expect more. Majors, PGA Tour events, exhibitions … it is an insatiable thirst. Tiger’s next appearance is the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan in October. That part of the schedule, in that part of the world, is generally followed by only zealous fans, yet expect Woods’ performance to be dissected like the newest Star Wars trailer. Everybody, just relax.
Brandel Chamblee rips (Insert player name here)
The media—this website and author included—has milked this cow dry. Three points to consider, though:
• His job is to be an instigator. That’s the unfortunate reality of sports-television commentary. The next time he goes after someone, we might as well write, “Golf Channel personality does what he’s paid to do” in the headline.
• Compared to other provocative talking heads, Chamblee is astute and conversant. Most of his ilk take a flamethrower without prejudice or concern. When Chamblee is on the attack, he’s (most of the time) surgical about it.
• The Chamblee/Koepka family feud is nearing Pyrrhic territory. The only way to diffuse it is to ignore it.
Speaking of ...
Why doesn’t Brooks connect with fans?
To Koepka's credit, he has opened himself up and try to cultivate a rapport with fans and his crusade against slow play has been commendable. Plus unequivocal domination inherently begets its own admirers. However, golf is learning what other sports have known for decades: The best are not automatically beloved. Look no farther than Major League Baseball, which faces a similar issue in Mike Trout. Although can you imagine the fireworks if Jay Monahan said Brooks' popularity is Koepka's problem?
That's fine; the game's cupboard is more than full with fan favorites. It's not like Brooks is a villain. He's more of a gunslinger: Respected and feared, known yet mysterious, only rolls into town a few times a year but makes a commotion in those visits. The worst thing the sport can do is put a star on his chest and call him sheriff.
Though we wish certain tournaments would be more judicious with them—especially when it comes to calls of nepotism—these spots are also a necessarily component in the economic fabric of the tour, and are only going to increase in usage in the upcoming seasons.
Can Phil find redemption at Winged Foot?
The Phireside chats are cute, as are his recent Twitter #Phirestorms. The fact he remains Phormidable as he nears Phifty is Phantastic. But any assertion that Phil, who’s had one top-15 finish in his last 18 major starts, can compete at one of the hardest venues in golf needs to calm the Phrick down.
Yet make no mistake, it's coming. Mickelson will post a handful of solid starts in 2020, sprinkle in a couple, “I promise, I’ve never been in better shape, or more focused, in my career” testimonies and bam, this train is flying down the tracks. Don’t get us wrong, a Phil U.S. Open victory, at the site of (one of) his biggest heartbreak, would be sweet. So would Pine Valley opening tee times to the public.
Some prominent figures, highlighted by Justin Rose and Jack Nicklaus, voiced their displeasure with the cadence of the new major schedule. Rory McIlroy chimed in last week, stating golf should take a lesson from tennis. "They have a nine-month window of relevancy. You want to stay relevant for as long as possible throughout the year," McIlroy said, "and I don't know by spacing the [golf] majors so close together that that's the right thing to do."
That's more opinion than observation—a very good argument can be made that tennis is relevant only for four tournaments—yet the sentiment McIlroy and others hold has veracity. This is a sport, after all, that's not used to change. Any break from routine can be a system shock. With an expanded fall slate, expect this same subject, albeit tuned to a different frequency, to sing out shortly, and grow with the Olympics returning this summer.
Nevertheless, the reconstructed calendar warrants time before any pronouncements can be made, either way. Give it a chance to breathe before sucking the life out of it.
We're not so much annoyed that we keep discussing his perceived struggles, but at the notion that, when Spieth does win, there will be a self-righteous “Spieth proved the haters wrong” indignation from the very people that have been bashing him.
If we are going to discuss his win drought, let's try to keep it in perspective. For the 2018-'19 season, he ranked second in strokes gained/putting, was ninth in Thursday scoring and first in Friday scoring, was 10th in birdie average and had four top-10s. There are issues—ranking 145th in sg/approach just two years after finishing second in the category is curious, as are his weekend woes—but he's not missing cut after cut. Funks happen, even to superstars, so to wonder what is wrong is a fundamental misunderstanding of how this sport works.
Just kidding. Wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. We welcome these bad boys with open arms.
Why do the Americans wither at the Ryder Cup?
You know the greatest hits: "The Europeans want it more," "The Americans have chemistry issues," and "Europeans grow up in a team dynamic while the U.S. preaches individualism." There are degrees of truth to the above. Two wins in two decades isn't a coincidence.
But, since the Ryder Cup has transformed from an exhibition to a global phenomenon, no longer consumed over days but years, every bit of minutia is extrapolated to a degree that simply does not matter. Strategy, course set-up, clubhouse rapport, analytical comps ... we barely care about these items the week of the event, let alone in June, four months out from the event. How about we just let the boys go golf their ball, eh?