Shackelford: Schedule shift needed for good of golf, today’s young stars

PGA: The Presidents Cup-Day Four Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images

Shackelford: Schedule shift needed for good of golf, today’s young stars

PGA Tour

Shackelford: Schedule shift needed for good of golf, today’s young stars

 

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – With a Presidents Cup thrashing by the most united and relaxed Team USA in the post-task force, post-Tiger Woods era, the state of American golf seems almost unfathomably robust. And lovable.

Take Rickie Fowler, who sat out Saturday’s afternoon’s four-ball session. Instead of hiding inside the swelling armada of carts, wives, girlfriends and assorted Cup infantrymen, he made unscheduled rounds. There were stops in the grandstands with the fanatics, visits to a few sponsor skyboxes and behind-the-scenes goodwill for the less fortunate, reinforcing that today’s stars give back in ways different than their predecessors. 

In a breakthrough season, anchored by the young stars producing more exciting tournament finishes than snoozefests, it would seem PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan can focus on some looming big-picture issues related to scheduling. While the Presidents Cup blowout will have a few PGA Tour VP’s working late into the night in search of ways to ensure tighter matches, the smart money says a measured response will carry the day. Because once that “crisis” has passed, the most pressing issue on all fronts is a 2018-2019 schedule revamp.

Besides needing to adjust the number of events and flow interrupted by the PGA Championship’s move to May and the Players Championship’s return to March, all signs point to a schedule break being a necessity for all involved. Increasingly, players are showing signs of strain, increased injury risk and perhaps even hints of retreating to a cocoon of cockiness as they soak up the good vibes.

Take the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York, just blocks from the players’ hotel and timed to coincide with the Presidents Cup. The hope was for officials and players gathering in the city to attend, particularly with 2016 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love going into the Hall. Common sense would suggest the players and the assistant captains would want to be there for what Love insisted was his greatest lifetime honor. Yet not one player or assistant from Love’s 2016 Ryder Cup squad or the 2017 Presidents Cup team was able to show support in person.

Maybe there were naps to take for players who have been asked to be on the road for four playoff events and the Presidents Cup. But given how much praise is heaped on today’s young players for hanging around after a buddy wins, the no-show brigade gave the impression of a lack of appreciation for their elders or golf’s rich history. Or maybe they just were catching up on rest from a relentless schedule that restarts just days after the current one ends.

Worse than the younger players not attending: the noticeable absence of longtime Love competitors and Cup colleagues Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, who were all in town and not able to make the trip from a downtown hotel to Wall Street’s beautiful Cipriani ballroom. The first four are current World Golf Hall of Fame members, and the last two will be inducted someday.

Had they shown, they would have seen a ceremony attended by past inductees who have accumulated more than 150 major wins. Hall committee voters Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam were the headliners. Had the players been up to the task, they would have heard speeches that might remind them golf has been a source of joy, fulfillment, pain and struggle for folks who came along well before them. The satisfaction of the World Golf Hall of Fame ceremony is not in the hors d’oeuvres, but in the inspiration from hearing about a life well-played.

Besides the obvious show of respect for those who built the platform on which today’s American superiority rests, there is a humbling aspect to such a ceremony that would serve today’s players well. These lines from Love’s speech suggest how he might genuinely feel about the no-show brigade, though he was too busy enjoying the moment with his rich collection of family, friends and colleagues to let those not there bother him.

“I was lucky enough to play for Arnold and for Jack, too, when they were captains of Presidents Cup teams,” he told the audience. “I was lucky enough to have Watson, Kite, Watkins, Strange and Sutton as my Ryder Cup captains. I was a captain twice of Ryder Cup teams. This week I’ll be an assistant captain of a Presidents Cup for a third time. When I look back over the 31 years of my professional career, my involvement in these team matches, matches that have brought together the world of golf, have meant as much to me as anything I have done in the game. And I’m looking forward to supporting my teammates this week at Liberty National.”

Too bad they couldn’t be bothered to return the Love.

While it would be easy to say this is was a generational issue, most at Liberty National chalk some of the behavior to schedule over-saturation and the over-extension of today’s players. They do appear to respect their elders and the game, As Fowler demonstrated Saturday, the future has arrived in style. But they also need a schedule fix that allows them time to collect their thoughts, enjoy their riches and reflect on how fortunate they are to play the PGA Tour. 

(Note: This story appears in the October 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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