Golf needs an offseason, one longer than the blur between the end to one and the start to another, a chance to appreciate what just occurred while taking time to soak in what will be new. Fans need a chance to miss the game to truly appreciate it.
That said, if you are going to cram 11 tournaments into 10 weeks prior to Thanksgiving and call that the start to the new year, then it could not have gone much better for the PGA Tour during the first stretch of the 2019-20 season that began in September in West Virginia and ended Sunday in Georgia.
Six players won tournaments to qualify for the Masters. One of them, Brendon Todd, produced a comeback for the ages to win twice and contend for a third straight title. And big-timers Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy swept the Asian Swing of events.
Throw in the conjecture surrounding Woods’ participation in the Presidents Cup in two weeks as a player captain, and it’s been a pretty entertaining fall of events that are played as a time of year when sports fans might be looking elsewhere. Hence, a recap.
The Big Comeback
In a year of remarkable achievements in golf, it is possible that Todd saved the best for last, doing so seemingly out of nowhere. And the fact that his name isn’t Tiger or Brooks or Rory or Jon Rahm makes it all the more astonishing.
Todd won consecutive tournaments and contended for a third before tying for fourth on Sunday at the RSM Classic at Sea Island, Georgia, the final official event of the PGA Tour’s fall schedule. With even modest success when the tour schedule resumes, Todd should waltz into the PGA Tour’s final FedEx Cup playoff event at the Tour Championship in August.
Months ago, heck weeks ago, Todd seemed better suited to walking off a plank — if anyone in the golf world even noticed.
Now he’s won the Bermuda Championship, an opposite tournament to the WGC event in China. Great story, a one-off perhaps. Then he came back last week and beat a solid field at the Mayakoba Classic for a win that included a Masters invitation. He took the third-round lead at Sea Island before falling back to a tie for fourth.
Not long ago — like in 2018 — Todd, 34, was so down about his game because he was sometimes petrified to pull the club back that he considered other lines of work, among them opening a pizza restaurant.
“I had the full-swing yips,” Todd said. “I was hitting 4- and 5-irons out of bounds, 3-woods out of bounds. You’re frustrated because you work hard and you lose a ball on the fourth hole and you go, “Oh my god, why is this happening again?”
At one point, Todd missed 37 of 40 cuts. Even at the start of this season, he missed four straight cuts. Now he’s in the Masters. And he’s set on the PGA Tour for at least the next three years.
Battling back from the swing yips is considered even more daunting than those who contend with it putting. Henrik Stenson overcame the issue early in his career. Ian Baker-Finch, who won the 1991 Open, never did. The broadcaster was so troubled that he couldn’t hit one of the widest fairways in golf at St. Andrews in 1995. Seve Ballesteros struggled with it so bad that despite leading the European Tour in putting in 2001, he made just three cuts.
Put simply, the yips are a disruption in the “programming” that run a fine motor skill. Instructor Hank Haney, who worked with Tiger Woods, among others, had the driver yips and described it as like a scratch in the grooves of a record. In the golf swing, it would cause an uncontrolled flinch at impact.
You can see why Todd had his doubts about future employment in golf. Now he’s set up for a big year.
The Tiger Comeback
Be honest, nobody saw it coming. We’re not talking about the Masters victory, which might have been a surprise, but which Woods had been building toward, win or lose.
No, we mean the win last month at the Zozo Championship in Japan, where Woods tied Sam Snead with his 82nd PGA Tour victory and looked pretty good in doing so.
Going in, few, including Woods, could have expected such a result. He hadn’t competed since August, and had a fifth knee procedure in the interim. He had only started hitting balls a few weeks earlier. And then he opened the tournament with three straight bogeys.
That he bounced back to shoot 64 on the first day and added another one after rain washed out play on the second day was an impressive feat. That he then won by three shots was hardly expected.
As it turns out, getting his knee problems resolved was a pretty big deal.
“The knee didn’t allow me to rotate and because of that it put more stress on my lower back and my hip,” Woods said. “I didn’t do the procedure, and as the year went on, it deteriorated a bit and I struggled. Now I’m able to clear a little bit better, I feel better, I’m able to hit shots that I know I can hit and this week was a good sign for the future.”
Woods will compete again next week at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, followed by serving as playing captain for the United States at the Presidents Cup. And the outlook for 2020 sure looks brighter.
Joaquin Niemann (Greenbrier), Sebastian Munoz (Sanderson Farms), Cameron Champ (Safeway Open), Lanto Griffin (Houston Open), Todd (Mayakoba) and Tyler Duncan (RSM Classic) are the six players who earned invitations to the 2020 Masters by winning full FedEx points events in the fall.
That means there are currently 76 players qualified for the Masters. Dec. 31 is the next key date, as players who are among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking not otherwise in the field will get invited. Among several players likely to qualify this way are Eddie Pepperrell, Adam Hadwin, Berndt Wiesberger, Billy Horschel and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
Starting with the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, winners not otherwise in the field through the Texas Open will also earn invitations, as will those who find the top 50 in the world a week prior to the Masters.
If there is one, this is basically it. The PGA Tour has no event the week of Thanksgiving. The Hero World Challenge is next week, followed by the Presidents Cup. The QBE Shootout, which is hosted by Greg Norman, is the week of the Presidents Cup. Then there are two full weeks prior to the first official event of 2020, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which begins on Jan. 2.
As for now, approximately one fourth of the PGA Tour season that concludes in late August is complete. The Masters is 135 days away.
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