By John Strege
SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- A new PGA Tour season is kicking off, which means, what, that it won the toss and elected to defer? The Tour Championship concluded only three weeks ago, September two weeks ago, the Presidents Cup a week ago. It's football season.
Yet the PGA Tour calendar says it's 2014 -- not as the tour's first substantive effort to speed up play, either. Instead, it is a nod to the former Fall Series events that, for their generous investments, deserved something more than afterthought status.
The opener, the Frys.com Open, did not entice an influx of elite players to end hiatuses only days after they had begun; Japanese upstart Hideki Matsuyama, who played on the International team in the Presidents Cup, was the only player entered from the top 30 in the World Ranking, and he was ranked 30th. Only two others from the top 50, Jonas Blixt at 34th and Billy Horschel at 35th, were entered.
Still, the Frys.com Open at CordeValle in the scenic foothills southeast of San Jose, Calif., had on its leader board potentially compelling story lines. The fact that there were no rain or wind delays pushing the tournament into Monday and then into Tuesday, also meant that the 2014 season opener is one up on the 2013 season opener at Kapalua.
The leader board included Vijay Singh, who has sued the PGA Tour (every good story needs an antagonist), reigning NCAA individual champion Max Homa making his professional debut, Japanese wunderkind turned enigma Ryo Ishikawa, and Brooks Koepka, 23, the traveling man, who has played in 15 different countries in the calendar year, winning in three of them, all on the European Challenge Tour.
The winner was none of them. Jimmy Walker, 34, won for the first time in 188 PGA Tour starts with exceptional weekend play (62-66) and Koepke's inability to protect a four-stroke lead through seven holes on Sunday.
Walker becomes the first to capitalize on the new schedule. More than just turning the page on a calendar and allowing these events to appear at the top of the schedule rather than the bottom, the Fall Series events have received bona fide promotions. For the first time, they offer full FedEx Cup point and Masters invitations to their winners. Walker has never played in the Masters.
"Most of the time, this time of year, golf is kind of optional," Kyle Stanley said. "This is a new year and full FedEx points and all that. Mentally, it doesn't take much to get into it."
Camilo Villegas put his own spin on it: "More tournaments that count. More money. More opportunities."
Hard to argue that, even with an off-season that was shorter than a gimme. Happy new year, boys.