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BlogPrelude to the Charles Schwab Challenge

Charles Schwab Challenge

June 11th – 14th, 2020

Colonial C.C.

Fort Worth, TX

Par: 70 / Yardage: 7,209

Purse: $7.5 million

with $1,350,000 to the winner

Defending Champion:
Kevin Na

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:
sal@golfstats.com

Normally we have a preview of this weeks tournament, but since golf has been shut down for the last three months, we thought that it’s best to do a little prelude to this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge before our preview. Hopefully, this will catch you up on what has happened and what we should expect as golf gets ready to return.

It’s hard to believe that the last round of the PGA Tour happened 91 days ago, yes we have had no golf for three months. This is the longest stretch on the PGA Tour since the mid-80s when the season ended mid-October and started up in January.

This week golf returns at the Charles Schwab Challenge. The last time golf was played was on March 11th on a perfect day in Northern Florida. The first round was played at TPC Sawgrass and despite the uneasiness in the world over the spread of COVID-19, the Jacksonville area seemed safe. All across America sports was still on, Baseball was in full swing with spring training in Florida and Arizona and the NBA was still going strong. But as the first round was going on at the Players, sports was quickly shutting down. In the afternoon the NHL, NASCAR, and MLB decided to suspend their seasons. As the announcement was leaking out, rumors were going around at baseball stadiums across Florida and Arizona that they were playing their last game. While this was going down, the PGA Tour decided after consulting with the White House and the Florida Governor’s office to play the rest of the Players Championship without gallery. They decided this would include the next three events at the Valspar, WGC-Match Play, and Valero Texas Open. Still, things changed real fast, an NBA player tested positive for COVID-19, and despite people showing up at arenas, it was decided to postpone the NBA season. When golfers finished their first round at the Players, they started voicing concern if it was still safe to play. Between this and when DisneyWorld decided to shut their doors along with states closing down with “shelter in place” rules, The PGA Tour decided it was in the best interest to cancel not only the Players but the three events after it.
On the morning that the 2nd round was supposed to be contested, players came to the course and gathered up their gear and the 144 players scattered to different parts of the globe not knowing how long things would be shut down. For those that lived in Florida and up the road in Sea Island, Georgia, the decision was easy to return home. For some that had family with them and lived outside of Florida, it was a wild scramble to find early transportation for not only them but all of their family members. The hardest decisions were from those that lived outside of the United States. While playing the first round, Tommy Fleetwood who entered the Players as one of the hottest players on tour, worried throughout his round about his family who was in England. Many were surprised at his first-round 78, but for Fleetwood he had bigger worries. With President Trump sharply restricting travel from Europe, for Fleetwood and other Europeans if they went home the chances of returning for the Masters in three weeks were in jeopardy. For Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, he had a sleepless Thursday night after talking with friends and family home in Austria. They told him of the problems in Austria as grocery stores had emptied and with the travel ban going into effect it would prevent his family from coming to Augusta. At the same time, he worried that it may be impossible for him to get home and when he awoke on Friday of the news that the tournament was canceled he quickly booked a flight to Newark that would connect to the last flight out on Austrian Airlines to Vienna. For Shane Lowery, who had his wife and child with him, they didn’t know what to do. They had planned on going home to Ireland before the Masters, but with all the ban on travel he decided to instead go to their new part-time home in Palm Beach Gardens. Little did he know they would never get back home to Ireland.

So what direction does the rest of the year look like?

Over the course of the next 13 weeks, there are 14 events on the schedule. With 22 events already played that means the 2019-20 schedule will have 36 events, yes 11 less than last year. The big loss historically is the fact that only one major, the PGA Championship will be played this year. Now the 2020 U.S. Open and Masters will be played, but that will be part of next year’s schedule which we will get to in a second. With the FedExCup playoffs still being played, the season will be official if there are no other events canceled.
Now the tour has announced the start of the 2020-21 season which starts with the Safeway Open September 10th-13, followed the next week with the U.S. Open and the week after the Ryder Cup. The Tour is planning on going to Korea, Japan, and China in October (honestly I doubt this will happen) with the Masters being played November 12th -15th. Now I would say the U.S. Open and the Masters will be considered 2020 for the history books, but for the PGA Tour they will be part of the 2021 season, so in that year there will be six majors as the Masters and U.S. Open will also be played in their regular April and June dates. So that will present a bit of a problem historically.
The next question will be if any tournaments will be canceled? The country has made great strides with the Pandemic as more and more of the country opens up. According to the PGA Tour, the first five events will be played without a gallery and it’s been approved by the state of Ohio to have a gallery at the Memorial Tournament. That is great news as right now the plans are to let 8,000 attend. The week before a tournament will also be played at Muirfield Village and it was announced that the event would not have a gallery, but hearing rumors that the Muirfield Village people would like to have some gallery. We will see what happens. One of the things we will see in the next ten days is what effect the George Floyd protests will have on the country. In the first couple of days, most of the protesters didn’t wear masks and there was no social distancing, so we could see if the virus trends up in the next couple of weeks. Think this is going to be very important if events will have a gallery of not.
As for the PGA Championship, I think it’s going to be played in San Francisco with or without a gallery. Now we have heard a lot of rumors that players don’t want to participate in the Ryder Cup without crowds, so we are on a wait and see. Personally I think that if the Ryder Cup along with the U.S. Open and the Masters aren’t allowed to have a gallery, they will be canceled, again that’s my personal thoughts.

What about having a tournament with no gallery?

With the Skins Game and the Capital One match played a couple of weeks ago, the lack of gallery didn’t seem to play into the equation. Nobody didn’t seem to miss it, but of course, we were all starved and just having golf again was a big deal. I also think that having just one group on the course made it acceptable, I think we may see the same this week at Colonial.  Just having regular golf back is a big deal.  But frankly, the lack of a gallery will start showing the effects and hurt the outcome. Having a big crowd plays an important part in the overall contest. It brings the level of excitement up and for some players, it helps them, some it hurts them. If the country stays healthy and COVID cases goes down, we will see more people on the course. Now for the Ryder Cup, they could have a very limited amount of people on the course, say two to three thousand. This takes care of what some say is a gallery-less Ryder Cup, but the atmosphere of the matches won’t be the same with limited spectators, think they need at least 10,000 to make it work. Still, the big question is the reaction of having no gallery plays in these first four or five events. I think it will be deadly and I can’t imagine having a U.S. Open or a Masters with no people on it.
Guess we just have to hope that the number of COVID-19 goes down in the weeks ahead.

So what did this mean for players?

Despite leading a vagabond life, players on the PGA Tour are creators of habit. For most of the players, each day consists of daily workout regimes and playing golf. They may take a day or two off from golf to travel or to take a week or two off. It’s very rare to hear of players taking more than a couple of weeks off, most of the time this comes between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But when players left TPC Sawgrass the Masters had already been postponed and players knew they had four weeks off. Most of them realized it was probably going to be a lot longer as everything in the United States shut down and the prospect of a long delay was very realistic. With this, a good many of the pros returned home and threw the clubs into the garage or closets. Some of them found this to be a great time to play with the kids, spend time with their wife or girlfriend while others got reacquainted with their couch or recliner to either read a good book or watch Andy Griffith reruns.
But for others like Gary Woodland, he wanted to play golf. When he returned to his home in Delray Beach, Florida he didn’t like the fact that in his area they closed all of the courses. So Woodland packed up the family and moved to his birthplace of Topeka, Kansas in which he has worked hard on his game. For Woodland who won the U.S. Open at Pebble last June, he didn’t play very well the rest of the summer and has been working his game back in shape. After finishing T-12th in Mexico he was T-8th at the Honda Classic and his game was getting back in shape so he really wasn’t looking forward to any delay. So he has been working hard on his game and may be a player to watch in the next couple of weeks.
For some who were playing well the break is probably not that great. One that probably hated the break was South Korean Sungjae Im. Since turning pro at the age of 17 in 2015, he has been golf’s ironman. In 2016 he played in 21 events, but since then played 20 in 2017, 34 in 2018, and 35 in 2019. In 2020 since starting at the Sony Open in Hawaii he had missed just one event, the AT&T Pebble Beach. Going into the Players he won for the first time on the PGA Tour at the Honda Classic and was 3rd at the Arnold Palmer and is the leader in the FedEx Cup race. So it’s safe to say that Im just travels from hotel to hotel as he really has no home. In the last two years on the PGA Tour he has played in nine different countries and 19 U.S. states, so when things shut down he didn’t know what to do. In talking with a friend who lives in Tampa, Florida, he invited Im to stay with him. He took him up on the offer and traded his golf clubs for a fishing rod but with courses still open in the area, he still has played every day. He also has his parents with him in Tampa and last month brought over his coach from South Korea and has been working hard on his game so he feels ready and able when the tour starts up.

So who may really benefit from the delay?

When the tour shut down Brooks Koepka was just rounding into shape. After the Tour Championship Koepka took some time off as he just underwent stem cell treatments on his left knee that was bothering him since March. Unfortunately, he returned to early and re-tore it in Korea and was sidelined for three months. He got his knee back into shape and started playing in Abu Dhabi in mid-January. But his game was terrible as in five starts his best finish was T-17th in Saudi International. After missing the cut at the Honda and then finishing T-47th at the Arnold Palmer, he flew out to Las Vegas to spend a couple of days working with the legendary Butch Harman. Now Koepka has been working the last year with Butch’s son Claude but felt that a couple of days with Butch could help his problems. It took Butch about ten minutes and four swings to show him to make two adjustments which brought a new awareness and confidence to Koepka. After a slow start in the first round of the Players in which he played the front nine in 37 shots, he played the back nine in 33 for a 70 and felt his game coming around. So it will be interesting to see if the good play continues, he is in the stretch that he usually plays well in.  On top of that, his knee has been well-rested and he is ready to go.

Two players to watch

For those playing well long breaks could be the kiss of death. But for those playing terrible, a long break could spell a new outlook. One of those players is Jordan Spieth who many thought would be the second coming of Tiger Woods when he won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015. Spieth was this special talent who was not only great from tee to green but also had a deadly putter. Unfortunately, Spieth got caught up in a deadly trap of trying to get better by changing things that worked so great. We have seen this a lot in golf. Between 1936 and 1940 Ralph Guldahl was the greatest player in golf. In 1937 he won the U.S. Open and the Western Open. The next year he won those two again, in 1939 he won the Masters and he was the best. But sometime after the Master’s victory, he went to a movie house and before the main show a newsreel came up on his Master’s win. During the piece, they showed a slow-motion of his swing, and Guldahl thought it was very ugly. He spent weeks trying to make it look pretty and before he knew it, his game was terrible. After messing around with his swing he never won again and with the advent of World War II, when golf started up Guldahl had given up the game. The same has happened to others, in 1991 Ian Baker-Finch won the British Open and at the time had one of the greatest swings in golf. But Baker-Finch felt that he could be even better if he could drive the ball 10 to 20 yards longer and in the quest to hit the ball long, just like Guldahl messed up his swing and was never able to regain the magic. For some, they think the same has happened with Jordan Spieth, whose swing today doesn’t look anywhere close to the way it was when he was winning in 2015. So the thought is that yes Spieth didn’t play much golf in March and April and has been working on his game in May. Maybe the combination of Spieth taking time off and possibly reverting back to the way the swing looked three years ago could help. On top of that, he is playing at Colonial, a place he does well at winning in 2016 and finishing T-2nd in 2015 and ’16. He was T-8th last year so maybe the friendly surroundings of Colonial will bring on some good vibes.
Another person looking for good vibes will be Justin Rose. He was one of the best players on tour between 2010 and 2019. At the end of 2018, he was the best player in the world. Between his runner-up finish at the 2018 Dell Technologies Championship and his win at the Turkish Airlines Open, he played seven straight events and was out of the top-four once, with an 8th place finish at the British Masters. At the end of the year, Rose signed a very lucrative deal to switch and play Honma clubs. Do I need to go any further? We have seen this story before, great players like Nick Price, Curtis Strange, Corey Pavin, and David Duval to name a few made the switch for big money and all four ruined their games, to the point that they never returned to dominate play again. Well, Rose switched to Honma and put ten clubs in his bag. After poor finishes at the Indonesian Masters and the Desert Classic, Rose looked very smart when he won the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open. But after that, his game went into a terrible decline, at the U.S. Open he hit the ball terribly but his short game saved him as he finished T-3rd. Still, he went into one of the worst slumps of his career. In 2020 he missed the cut at the Farmers, Honda Classic, and Arnold Palmer, finishing T-56th at the Genesis, and at Bay Hill his old clubs were back in the bag. He had played with TailorMade for 20 years and in May made it official as he has spilt up with Honma. So the question is, with TaylorMade in the bag will his game magically reappear? Have to say with Colonial coming up, a course he won on we will see if some of the enchantment is back.

So the point of all this, we will see this week who benefits the most from the three month break.

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