Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesdays.
Operation Head Start is complete. And so with the autumn portion of the 2013-14 wraparound season done, the PGA Tour won’t play an official round for another 44 days.
Golf-junkie dimple heads might not know what to do with themselves during that dark period, until resumption Jan. 3-6 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. But this corner welcomes the break from a sport that, unlike the major team sports, never goes away and lets fans miss it.
Some players like the new, improved wraparound system, some don’t and everybody seems to be trying to get used to it. For certain, it has changed the fall dynamic. In past autumns, top-125 card hopefuls tried to catch up or hold on; now players seek a jump start.
Unlike forever, we head into the next calendar year with the money list not set at zero for everyone. The Tour will go to Hawaii with six players already having earned more than $1 million (winners Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Harris English, Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson and Chris Kirk – four of them under age 30).
Thirteen players already have cashed more than the $610,178 it took to make the top 125 and keep a card in 2013. Fifty-one players have made more than $200,000.
Exactly 186 players have earned something. That means they are ahead of the unworried likes of five players in the world’s top 18. In other words, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Jason Day begin 2014 tied for 187th in earnings with $0.
Hunch here says that will change fairly quickly.
It’s early, very early, but it’s nice to have a cushion and momentum heading into the holiday season. Fall results suggest we shouldn’t be surprised by big seasons from guys like Walker, Charles Howell III and Hideki Matsuyama.
After the six tournaments, Walker leads in FedEx Cup points and birdie average and ranks second in driving distance and strokes-gained putting. Howell leads in top-10 finishes, with three, and scrambling (73.75). Howell has improved his short game significantly, going from finishing 115th or worse in scrambling in 2006-09 to placing in the top seven in three of the past four seasons.
At 21, Matsuyama continues to show star potential. He finished in the top 10 at the two major Opens last summer, tied for 19th at the PGA and played well at the Presidents Cup. Before he withdrew at the WGC-HSBC Champions, he had top-25 finishes in eight consecutive Tour starts. Now he enters 2014 ranks No. 1 on Tour in driving distance (317.8 average) and approach proximity to the hole (24.2 feet).
Yes, it’s early when it used to be late, but we’re getting hints and trends.
One unfortunate development is that some of the 50 Web.com Finals qualifiers didn’t have access into as many fall tournaments as the Tour originally had thought.
Seven players did not play in any of the four fall Tour events in North America, including injured Patrick Cantlay (back), who could have played all four. Those players now find themselves running uphill into the wind.
The average number of the 50 qualifiers who got into the quartet of domestic tournaments was 33.75. That includes gaining entry via the Web.com category, sponsor exemptions, top 10s from the previous tournament and open qualifying.
Field sizes of 132 worked against the Web.com qualifiers, as did the number of pros using medical and career money exemptions. Many players waited for the start of the new season to continue their medical extensions.
In the past during the fall, most players would not have had events left on medical extensions and those with career money exemptions didn’t play much.
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If you already didn’t think the Rules of Golf are complicated, consider this: On Tuesday the USGA and R&A announced 87 changes to the more than 1,200 entries in the “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” book in an effort, interestingly, to “provide greater clarity.”
The one change that figures to get the most attention – and create the most controversy – involves new decision 18/4. Now, when enhanced technological evidence (i.e., high-definition video) shows a ball has moved, “the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time,” the joint USGA-R&A release said.
Woods, of course, could have benefitted by that alteration at the BMW Championship. He maintained that, from his vantage point, he didn’t see his ball move, but video showed otherwise.
Unfortunately the new decision takes power away from rules officials and gives players more leeway. Something “not discernible to the naked eye” can be a matter of varied opinion. One can argue the decision puts a player in a tougher spot because if he isn’t penalized after a camera shows his ball moved, his integrity (as well as competitive fairness) could be called into question.
Common sense would seem to disapprove of any rule where truth isn’t the ultimate judge.