The 2019 portion of the PGA Tour schedule began with two events in Hawaii, and will be followed by four annual stops in California and one in Arizona, the same as it has for the past two decades.
After that, the usually standard sequence of tournaments has been significantly shuffled, along with a number of rules changes that are slightly confusing but not overly impactful.
The major schedule changes involve the Players Championship and PGA Championship, which both move to earlier dates, and the Playoffs, which are pushed forward several weeks with one of the three tournaments leading up to the Tour Championship at East Lake having been eliminated.
The changes will create a considerably more crowded first three months of the calendar year, along with a major-a-month schedule from April to July.
There are also two new tournaments added for 2019 in Detroit and the Twin Cities, with other tour stops either disappearing (Washington, D.C. and the Playoffs event in Boston) or moving to the Fall (Houston and the Greenbrier).
The Players is returning to its original mid-March dates after being played in May for about a decade. The switch re-establishes a month-long Florida swing following the WGC event in Mexico, which will bridge the shift from West Coast to East Coast in late February.
The WGC Match Play Championship will follow the Florida swing finale in Tampa, and creates a six-week stretch of two WGCs and the Players, ending just two weeks before the Masters.
In recent years, the tournament in Houston has served as the tune-up for the Masters, with most of the players who like competing the week before a major appreciating the efforts of tournament officials to provide relatively similar playing conditions to that of Augusta National the following week.
With the Houston event moving to the Fall, the Texas Open in San Antonio will now serve as the final event before Augusta. The TPC San Antonio layout is not among the more well-liked or highly-regarded courses that host PGA Tour events, and its spot on the schedule will likely result in a diminished number of players in the Masters competing that week, which will come as good news to those looking to get the final invite to Augusta with a victory.
The primary Masters tune-up will now be the Match Play event in Austin, not exactly an ideal situation for either tournament.
With the Players moving from May to March, the PGA Championship has left its traditional early August date for mid-May in between the Masters and U.S. Open. This year’s tournament will be played at Bethpage Black in the New York suburbs, and will be immediately preceded and succeeded by the former back-to-back tournaments in Dallas (Byron Nelson) and Ft. Worth (Colonial), resulting in an odd bit of scheduling.
The U.S Open will be played this year at Pebble Beach, and after the increasingly popular tour stop in Hartford the next week, will be followed by a newly-created Midwest swing featuring the new events in Detroit and the Twin Cities.
The changes to the PGA Tour schedule have also had an impact on the European Tour, which is trying to retain its top players who are competing more frequently in the U.S. and less in Europe. After the early season swing through the Middle East, there are few tournaments of consequence on the globe-trotting European Tour until the Irish and Scottish Opens the two weeks prior to the British Open, which is being played at Portrush in Northern Ireland.
With the PGA Tour season now ending in late August, the European Tour has moved some of its bigger events to September and October prior to the geographically disparate conclusion to its season in China, Turkey, South Africa and Dubai.
With the earlier end to the PGA Tour schedule, there will be only two weeks left in the regular season after the British Open, with the WGC event that annually preceded the PGA Championship now being played the week after the British. That tournament has been played at Firestone CC since the WGCs began in 1999, but is moving to Memphis to accommodate the wishes of PGA Tour mega-sponsor FedEx.
Going from Northern Ireland to Memphis in the heat of late July may result in a record number of no shows for the WGC event, especially with the Playoffs beginning two weeks later. This year’s two Playoffs tournaments prior to the Tour Championship will be played in New York and Chicago, with both events sporting revolving sites for the near future.
The Tour Championship will be played at East Lake August 22-25, with the tournament no longer having to worry about broadcast competition from football, but tournament spectators likely subjected to more unpleasant temperatures than the previous dates a month later.
The big story in golf in 2018 was the return of Tiger Woods, who broke his long victory drought in memorable fashion at East Lake after several previous close calls at his 80th career victory and 15th major.
With Woods predictably attracting the lions’ share of attention from the golf media, the accomplishments of several of the game’s top players were overlooked, most notably Brooks Koepka’s repeat as U.S. Open champion, followed by his triumph in the PGA. Koepka fought off a Sunday charge by Woods to win the PGA at Bellerive, only three weeks after Woods faded down the stretch of the British Open at Carnoustie, which was won in understated fashion by a flawless performance from Francesco Molinari.
Woods thrilled golf fans with his win in the Tour Championship, but was denied the FedExCup title when Justin Rose birdied his 72nd hole to edge out Woods for the $10 million bonus.
Other than Jordan Spieth, who was 31st in the FedExCup standings and did not qualify for the Tour Championship, most of golf’s rising stars enjoyed successful seasons in 2018 and will look to crowd Woods out of the headlines (if that’s possible) this year.
With Spieth, Koepka and Rory McIlroy already owning multiple major titles and Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson – the latter two the veterans of the group at the ages of 31 and 34 – also major champions, golf already had an abundance of prominent story lines without Woods’ comeback.
There have been plenty of first time major champions in recent years, among them a mixture of veterans and youngsters, with the twenty-something trio of Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Tommy Fleetwood the leading contenders to join that list in 2019.
Former Augusta State standout Patrick Reed collected his first major in 2018 in the city where he made his name as a collegian, holding off Rickie Fowler and Spieth in the final round at Augusta National to disappoint most of those watching the Masters in person or on television.
Reed and ex-Georgia Bulldog Bubba Watson, who won three times in 2018 including the Match Play, were the most successful players with Georgia ties last season. Former Georgia Tech great Matt Kuchar and Augusta native Charles Howell won the final two PGA Tour events in 2018, with Howell beginning the 2019 portion of the wraparound schedule at the top of the FedExCup standings.
Howell fell to fourth despite a top-15 showing in the 2019 opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, and is part of a 24-man Georgia contingent in the field for this week’s Hawaiian Open. Six players – five former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Augusta resident Luke List — will make their 2019 debut next week in the title sponsor-less Desert Classic.
Reed (15) and Watson (16) began 2019 as the highest ranked of the PGA Tour members with Georgia ties in the Official World Golf Ranking, with Kuchar and ex-Georgia Bulldog Kevin Kisner among the top 40. Brian Harman, also a former Bulldog, and List are both in the 50s, and will need to move into the top 50 the week before the Masters to earn their way into the field. Howell is also in the 50s, but his win in November in the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC put him back in the Masters for the first time since 2012.
Also in the top 100 in the OWGR are two-time major champion Zach Johnson and Patton Kizzire, both St. Simons residents; former Georgia Tech golfers Chesson Hadley and Duluth resident Stewart Cink; and former UGA golfer Russell Henley. Johnson, Kizzire and Cink are in the Masters field, Hadley and Henley are not.
The Georgia contingent on the PGA Tour consists primarily of players who competed in college at either Georgia or Georgia Tech, or who currently reside on St. Simons Island.
In addition to Watson, Kisner, Harman and Henley, the other former Georgia Bulldogs are Chris Kirk, Harris English, Hudson Swafford and youngsters Keith Mitchell, Sepp Straka and Joey Garber, the latter two rookies this season. Kirk and Straka, who attended high school in Valdosta, are both living in Athens, with Harman, English, Swafford, Mitchell and Garber residing on St. Simons. Harman (Savannah), Henley (Macon), Kirk (Woodstock) and English (Valdosta) are Georgia natives.
Along with Kuchar, Cink and Hadley, other Georgia Tech alumni on the PGA Tour are Roberto Castro, Cameron Tringale and recent teammates Ollie Schniederjans, Richy Werenski and 2018-19 rookies Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves, the lone Georgia native among the group (Duluth). Castro (Alpharetta), Schniederjans (Powder Springs) and Albertson (Woodstock) all grew up around Atlanta and still reside in the metro area.
Kuchar is the lone ex-Yellow Jacket living on St. Simons along with five former Bulldogs. Other PGA Tour members who call St. Simons home are Johnson, Kizzire, Trey Mullinax, J.T. Poston, Michael Thompson, Jonathan Byrd and veteran Davis Love.
While Howell no longer lives in Augusta, several PGA Tour members now reside in the city, including fellow Augusta native Vaughn Taylor, who played his college golf at Augusta State. List recently moved to Augusta, joining Taylor and Columbia, S.C., native Wesley Bryan. Scott Brown, who lives just across the Savannah River in Aiken, S.C., as does Kisner, is an Augusta native who grew up in North Augusta, S.C.
Thanks to their victories in the fall, Howell (4) and Kuchar (9) are both in the top 10 in the FedExCup standings after the Tournament of Champions. Hadley (21), Werenski (23) and List (28) were all in the top 30, followed by Kizzire (43), Albertson (56) and Reed (64).
Mitchell (81), Johnson and Kisner (both 89), Castro (92) and Reeves (97) were among the top 100, with Cink (113), Taylor (114), Swafford (117) and Poston (118) all in the top 125. Harman (127), Thompson (128), Byrd (130) and English (132) were just outside the top 125.
Among those off to slow starts are Kirk (151), Watson (152), Brown (155), Henley (157), Tringale (177), Love (178), Schniederjans (183), Straka (184) and former Georgia Bulldog Brendon Todd (193), who has limited status this year as a past champion and made the cut in the RSM Classic after making the field in a Monday qualifier. Mullinax was 203.