KAPALUA, Hawaii – For Tim Finchem, any grumbling about missing players at this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions was drowned out by the high waves crashing ashore off Honolua Bay. There may be some stars missing in this elite, winners-only field – of 39 qualified players, 12 failed to tee it up this week – but Finchem says the Tour is not about to overreact and do anything drastic.
“We may look at some changes,” the PGA Tour commissioner said Sunday at Kapalua Resort, “but you’ve got to be careful before you change things.”
Though eight of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking had invitations to play in this week’s championship, only two showed up – No. 6 Steve Stricker and No. 10 Webb Simpson, who late Sunday afternoon stood atop the third-round leaderboard along with defending champion Jonathan Byrd.
Phil Mickelson, eligible again this year, stopped coming to this event a decade ago (he’s not enamored with the golf course), and Tiger Woods (not eligible in ‘12) last played in Hawaii in 2005. The new challenge the Tour faces in getting PGA Tour event winners from Europe to play here when their home schedule extends deep into November in Asia and the Middle East.
And this season, there were other key factors in play, too.
“There’s two things, really,” Finchem said. “I think one is we could ask players to stop having babies (Justin Rose, whose wife Kate gave birth to the couple’s second child) and stop falling off paddle boards and stepping on coral (Lucas Glover, injured this week) and falling off snowboards and getting hurt.
“. . . And then the other group is the European players, and the European players is a question mark because of obviously their season – their Race to Dubai is much, much later than our FedEx Cup finals and playoffs. It’s impacted their scheduling. Now, whether that’s a long-term dynamic or not, I don’t know. … But having said all that, we’ll look at those things. I think this is a pretty special week at a pretty special place.”
As enticing as a week in paradise, free rooms at the glitzy Ritz-Carlton, a concert by LeAnn Rimes, quality family time and the inviting blue ocean may seem, some players acknowledge this event comes too close to the holidays. It also comes on the heels of a global golf season that now extends 11-plus months. Nine players in the Hyundai field played into December, competing at the Chevron World Challenge in California.
Three of the players who aren’t playing are injured or coming off injuries and received unofficial last-place money ($59,750) – Dustin Johnson, Fredrik Jacobson and Brandt Snedeker. A fourth, Glover, traveled to Maui, injured himself paddle surfing and now may miss not only this tournament, but the Sony Open as well. (He received unofficial money, too.) Glover had ambitious early-season plans, but won’t know for a few days whether a sprained right knee and sliced foot will allow him to compete at the Sony.
“They all have a story of why they aren’t here,” said David Toms of those missing at the Plantation Course.
“It’s a shame, because I’m sure the telecast and the writers aren’t telling those stories. They’re just saying they’re not here, that these guys didn’t show up. I’m sure they all have a reason. It’s a great place to come.”
Toms said he’d be in favor of a later starting date to start the Tour season anew, and he’s not alone.
“I think we should start the season in the middle of January. Nobody really is playing anywhere in the world this time of the year. Why are we?” Toms asked. “I think more guys would come, they’d get a little more time at home for the holidays, and it would give those guys who played in December in other parts of the world a chance to go home for a little while and then show up here.”
The sponsor, Hyundai, is in its second year of a three-year deal to sponsor the event, and has put a good face on the field situation, choosing to see the glass as more than half-full. Hyundai vice president of marketing Steve Shannon said the company is pleased with this week’s field makeup – Hyundai is a young, vibrant 25-year-old company, and seeing so many young first-time Tour winners “is exciting” – and Finchem knows as well as anyone tinkering with the Tour schedule is a delicate process.
“Any time you move something, there’s an action, there’s a reaction,” Finchem said. “When you start moving things around, it’s dominoes. This one, we looked at hard three years ago, but we might look at that again. It involves a number of factors with other tournaments at this time of the year (the Tour opens with back-to-back events in Hawaii) and we like to make decisions not based on any one week, but what’s in the best overall interest of the Tour. If we move X tournament but it hurts Y tournament, we probably wouldn’t do that.”
As far as the Tour’s long-term future at Kapalua, Finchem said, “I think everything is in good shape here.”