The 2016 portion of the 2015-16 PGA Tour is under way, with some changes to this year’s schedule, most notably due to the disruption of the standard Summer order of tournaments due to the return of golf to the Olympics.
Almost all the tournaments between the U.S. Open in mid-June and the regular season finale in Greensboro in mid-August have been shifted slightly on the calendar to accommodate the week for men’s golf in the Olympics in Brazil (Aug. 11-14).
The PGA Championship at Baltusrol has moved up one week (July 28-31) to create some separation from the Olympics, with the John Deere Classic pushed back to the same week as the Olympics instead of its usual date the week before the British Open, which will be played July 14-17 at Troon.
The Canadian Open retains its less-than-optimal date the week after the British Open (July 21-24), with this year’s slot even worse than usual with the PGA Championship the following week.
The Hartford stop, usually played the week after the U.S. Open, will now follow the PGA Championship (August 4-7), with the WGC event at Firestone moving from the week before the PGA to two weeks after the U.S. Open (June 30-July 3). The field for that event will be diluted, as the European Tour will not recognize it as an official event this year because it is being played the same week as the French Open.
With Hartford moving on the calendar, the tour event at Congressional will be played June 23-26, the week after the U.S. Open. That will give the tour three tournaments on U.S. Open courses in seven weeks, with the British Open also being played during that stretch. The Greenbrier gets the unenviable date the week before the British Open (July 7-10), with the tour’s second-tier players getting plenty of opportunities for shots at success during that stretch with two opposite events and several more established tournaments with weaker-than-usual fields.
The other schedule change comes earlier in the season, with the WGC Match Play moving to Austin, Tex., and scheduled for March 23-27 after the conclusion of the Florida Swing. That will give the tour consecutive stops in Texas, with the Houston Open again playing the week before the Masters, which is scheduled for April 7-10. That gives the tour five tournaments in Texas in a two-month span.
After playing at two very modern courses last year, the U.S. Open and PGA Championship will be played on two of the most venerable courses on their rotations, with Oakmont the site of the U.S. Open. The 2016 portion of the schedule began with two events in Hawaii, part of seven tournaments on the West Coast swing.
The 2015-16 PGA Tour includes more than 25 exempt players with Georgia ties, six of whom qualified for the 2015 Tour Championship at East Lake. One of the nine former Georgia Bulldogs on the tour began the 2016 portion of the PGA Tour schedule on top of the FedExCup points list, with six other players with Georgia connections among the top 30 entering 2016.
Kevin Kisner, one of three tour members who were part of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team, emerged as an elite player in 2015, finishing second in playoffs three times, including the Heritage Classic and Players Championship. Kisner finished the season 21st in the FedExCup standings and was No. 1 in 2015-16 after a solo second in the WGC event in China and an impressive victory in the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC, his first PGA Tour victory in his fifth season on tour. Kisner, who was born and still lives in Aiken, S.C., was 17th in the World Ranking at the outset of 2016.
Acworth resident Jason Bohn began 2016 seventh in the FedExCup standings after three finishes of third or better in four starts in the 2015 portion of the schedule. Bohn finished one shot out of playoffs in the 2015-16 openers in northern California and Las Vegas, and lost in a three-way playoff in Mexico. Bohn, who scored the last of his two PGA Tour victories in 2010, made four serious runs at victory in the 2014-15 season and finished a career-best 40th in the FedExCup standings in his 12th season on tour at the age of 42.
Augusta native Charles Howell began his 17th PGA Tour season with just two tour titles, the second in 2007. After being one of the tour’s bright young stars in the early 2000s, Howell has settled into the role of consistent money-maker earning almost $30 million in his career. After a mostly disappointing 2014-15 season when he was 79th on the points list, Howell began 2016 in 15th place, with four finishes of 17th or better in five early season starts. Howell shot par or better in 19 of 20 rounds, and is in position for a strong season as he heads out to the West Coast, where he has traditionally played his best golf.
St. Simons resident Patton Kizzire is one of several PGA Tour rookies off to a successful start, tying for second in Las Vegas and for fourth in Mississippi in his first two starts as a tour member. He was 16th in the FedExCup standings entering 2016. Kizzire, an Auburn grad, did little after turning pro in 2008 until last year, when he enjoyed one of the best seasons in Web.com Tour history with two wins, two runner-up finishes, 12 top 10s and almost $525,000 in earnings. Kizzire was around 1550 in the World Ranking entering 2015 and was in the top 75 by the end of the year.
Former Georgia Tech golfer Cameron Tringale has yet to win in six-plus seasons on the PGA Tour, but scored his third runner-up finish since 2014 in Las Vegas last Fall and is 17th on the points list after placing 20th and 36th the last two seasons. Tringale is among a relatively small group of players who went straight from college to the PGA Tour.
Macon native Russell Henley has been successful at every level since his early days at UGA. He won the Georgia Amateur twice, recorded a top-25 finish in the U.S. Open and scored a victory on the Web.com Tour during his career in Athens, which included a school record tying seven individual victories and three first or second team All-America honors. Henley won three times on the Web.com Tour in 2011 and ’12 and added victories in his first two seasons on the PGA Tour before going winless last season. Henley had four top-5 finishes and had a chance to win in all four, but after placing 19th in the FedExCup in 2014, fell to 63rd last year. After back-to-back top-10 finishes to close out the Fall, including a tie for sixth in the RSM Classic, Henley was 20th on the points list.
Augusta native Scott Brown, who now lives in nearby Aiken, S.C., has been a solid player in recent seasons after winning a second tier event in Puerto Rico in 2013. He finished 94th in the FedExCup last year after a tie for third in the regular season finale in Greensboro, and played well in his last two starts of the Fall, including a tie for fifth in Mexico to stand 30th coming into 2016.
Patrick Reed, who led Augusta State to consecutive national championships in 2010 and ’11, has quickly emerged as one of the game’s top players, winning four times in his first three full seasons on the PGA Tour and making the Ryder and Presidents Cup the last two years while placing 21st and 12th in the FedExCup standings. Reed spent late 2015 playing overseas, recording four straight top 10s in Asia and the Middle East. Reed, who is 10th in the World Ranking, moved up from 37th to 11th on the points list after opening 2016 with a runner-up finish in the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
After disappointing seasons in both 2014 and ’15, Alpharetta’s Roberto Castro bounced back with a strong showing in last year’s Web.com Finals, and is off to a solid start this season. The former Georgia Tech standout enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2013, but lost his exempt status after struggling in 2014. He was limited to 16 starts in 2014-15, but recorded three straight top 10s in the Web.com Finals and made the cut in all five 2015-16 starts, including a tie for fourth in Mississippi. He was 38th in the FedExCup entering 2016.
Savannah native Brian Harman collected his first PGA Tour victory in 2014, and followed it up with respectable showing in 2015, placing 57th on the points list highlighted by a third place finish in Hartford, where he finished one shot out of a playoff. Harman, a two-time Walker Cup team member and former UGA golfer, tied for seventh in the tour’s annual visit to Malaysia last Fall, but did little else, missing the cut in the RSM Classic on St. Simons Island, where he resides. He was 51st on the points list entering 2016.
Fellow ex-Bulldog and St. Simons resident Hudson Swafford posted a pair of top-25 finishes in the Fall to begin the new year 59th in the FedExCup after placing 81st last year in his second season on tour. Swafford won a Web.com event at the UGA course in 2012, but has not finished higher than seventh on either the Web.com or PGA Tours since.
Harris English, Swafford’s UGA teammate and also a St. Simons resident, won one tournament each in his second and third seasons on tour in 2013 and ’14, narrowly failing to qualify for the Tour Championship both seasons. Although he didn’t win last year, he cracked the top 30 in the FedExCup standings to make it into the field at East Lake, and began the 2015-16 season with a pair of top 25s, one in the RSM Classic, to end the year 61st in points. English will be looking to match his 2015 start, when he tied for third in the Hawaiian Open and lost in a playoff in San Diego.
Former Clayton State Division II All-American Will Wilcox improved from 142 in the FedExCup standings as a rookie in 2014 to 97th last year, and was 63rd in 2015-16 after a pair of top-20 showings in the Fall. Wilcox placed second in 2015 in the all around statistical category and was in the top 10 in scoring, in part due to playing primarily in second and third-tier events.
Stewart Cink was among the PGA Tour’s most successful players for more than a decade after earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1997 following his Nike Tour Player of the Year award the previous year. But Cink, a three-time Georgia Tech All American and long time Duluth resident, has not been the same player since winning the British Open in 2009, finishing outside the top 75 in the FedExCup every year since 2011. He was 102nd last year with just one top 10 in 23 starts, and was 100th after the 2015 tournaments on the 2015-16 schedule with just one finish above 56th in four attempts.
After turning pro in 2001, former Georgia Bulldog Erik Compton did not qualify for the PGA Tour until 2012, but the double heart transplant recipient has managed to retain his playing privileges every year since. After a career best finish of 64th in the FedExCup in 2014, Compton fell back to 124th last year, and was 102nd after one finish better than 45th in his first four 2015-16 starts.
Bryce Molder was one of just a handful of four-time, first team All-Americans during his career at Georgia Tech, but has settled into the role of PGA Tour journeyman, never finishing higher than 60th in the FedExCup in nine seasons on tour. Molder has been a steady performer since 2009, placing 70th in 2015, the fifth time in the last seven years he has ended the season between 60th and 70th. With three missed cuts and a tie for fourth in the opposite event in Mississippi, Molder was 108th coming into 2016.
Chris Kirk scored four victories in his first five seasons on the PGA Tour, including a win in the Colonial last year, but was sidelined for two months after the U.S. Open due to a hand injury. After placing second in the FedExCup standings in 2014, Kirk fell to 44th last year, and was 121 on the points list entering 2016 thanks to a tie for 18th in the RSM Classic, which the former St. Simons resident won the previous year. Kirk, who grew up in Woodstock and was a member of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team, resides in Athens.
Matt Kuchar was 19th in the FedExCup standings last year, his poorest showing since he finished 40th in 2009. Kuchar ended up in the top 10 in four of the previous five years, winning six tournaments from 2009-14, but made only one serious run at victory in 2015, and a tie for 25th in the RSM Classic was the best finish for the St. Simons resident in two official Fall starts. Kuchar, a teammate of Molder at Georgia Tech, is looking to make a seventh straight Ryder/Presidents Cup team in 2016.
After scoring his first PGA Tour win and qualifying for the Tour Championship, Brendon Todd slipped a bit to 46th in the FedExCup last year. He played poorly in the Fall, missing three of five cuts and began 2016 at 129 in the standings. Todd, a teammate of Kirk and Kisner on the Bulldogs’ 2005 championship squad, has settled in Atlanta and has established himself as a quality player after a puzzling stretch of futility on the PGA and Web.com Tours in 2009 and ’10.
Henrik Norlander, who teamed with Reed to lead Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles, is back on the PGA Tour after playing the last two seasons on the Web.com Tour. Norlander, who played on the PGA Tour in 2013, earned a second shot by winning the first of four Web.com Finals events in 2015, firing a final round 62 in Ft. Wayne, Ind., to win by three after trailing by six shots after 54 holes. He made three of five cuts to start the 2015-16 PGA Tour, but was 130th in the FedExCup with no finishes better than T39.
St. Simons resident Jonathan Byrd is playing this season with only past champion’s status after finishing 158th in the 2014-15 FedExCup standings. Byrd won five tournaments between 2002 and ’11, but has struggled since undergoing wrist surgery in 2013. He began 2016 at 134 on the points list after making two of three cuts in late 2015.
Bubba Watson placed fifth in the FedExCup standings each of the last two seasons, but starts 2016 in a bit of a hole after playing only one official PGA Tour last Fall. He started the year 143rd on the points list, with his December win in the World Challenge in Bermuda not counting in the FedExCup. Over the last two seasons, Watson has four wins, six runner-up finishes and a trio of thirds with 18 top 10s in 40 starts. The former Bulldog has eight career victories including two Masters titles, and is fourth in World Rankings behind golf’s new power trio of Spieth, Day & McIlroy.
With his victory last season in Greensboro, St. Simons’ Davis Love delayed his transition to the Champions Tour for at least another year, and will be assessing his possible Ryder Cup captain’s picks as he plays his 2016 PGA Tour schedule. After two Fall starts, Love was 144 on the points list, and will attempt to remain relevant as a player while celebrating his 52nd birthday on Masters Sunday, which could represent his final round in Augusta if he makes the cut. Other than his victory, Love’s best finish in 2015 was a tie for 44th.
Like Byrd, Augusta’s Vaughn Taylor is playing this season on past champion’s status, and will be splitting his schedule between the PGA and Web.com Tours for a fourth straight year. Taylor finished in the top 25 in half his PGA Tour starts last year, but got into just 12 tournaments and finished 151st. He tied for 20th last Fall in Mississippi, and is 159 on the points list entering 2016.
Luke List returns to the PGA Tour after a two-year absence, finishing among the top 25 in the Web.com Finals last Fall. List, who grew up in north Georgia, made just one cut in three starts on the 2015-16 PGA Tour, and begins the new year 163 on the points list and well down the re-shuffled list of 2015 Web.com members, which will limit his starts until he moves up in the standings. The long-hitting, highly-touted List has not lived up to his amateur promise, and has only enjoyed one big season as a pro, that coming on the Web.com Tour in 2012.
Blake Adams enjoyed three solid seasons on the PGA Tour from 2010-12, but had hip replacement surgery in 2013 and made just 24 starts over the next three seasons. He has just two starts left on his medical extension, and will likely have to return to the Web.com Tour, where he enjoyed an outstanding season in 2009. Adams grew up in the Lake Oconee area and has settled in Swainsboro after playing his college golf at Georgia Southern. He made the cut in his only start of the 2015-16 season and was 180 on the points list.
Former Georgia Tech golfer Chesson Hadley was an immediate success on the Web.com Tour in 2013, placing third in earnings with two wins and five top-5 finishes. He won as a rookie on the PGA Tour in 2014, but fell from 49th in the FedExCup to 98th last year, and did not play especially well in his four Fall starts, beginning the new year 185 in the FedExCup.
After a busy 2015 that included a dramatic playoff win in the British Open and nine other top-10s, Zach Johnson took a little break last Fall, making his only 2015-16 PGA Tour start at home in the RSM Classic on St. Simons Island. As a result, Johnson started the new year 208th on the points list, but it shouldn’t take long for him to change that. Johnson has finished in the top 20 seven of the last nine years and was sixth in 2015, capturing his second major title and 12th career victory.
The number of PGA Tour members living on St. Simons has reached 10 with the recent additions of Michael Thompson and Scott Langley. Thompson has one win in his five seasons on tour, but finished a career-low 146th in the FedExCup last year and needed a strong showing in the Web.com Finals to regain his exempt status. He began the year 93rd in the standings after making four of five cuts in the Fall. After placing 77th in 2014 in his second season on tour, Langley slipped to 127th last year, but was able to get into four tournaments in the Fall. He made three cuts and was 119 in the FedExCup at the outset of 2016.