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PGA Tour begins yet another grueling season

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The new golf season is already upon us. Only two weeks following the conclusion of the 2016-17 season-ending Tour Championship, won by 23-year-old Xander Schauffele, the PGA Tour kicked off its 2017-18 season this past week at the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif.

The “wraparound season,” as the Tour calls it, was established in 2013 in an attempt to revitalize the Tour’s failing Fall Series. The Fall Series was a group of events that awarded 95 of the 125 full PGA Tour cards for the following season (the other 30 were given to the participants of the Tour Championship). However, as the best golfers usually locked up their PGA cards by the conclusion of the regular season, they tended not to participate in the Fall Series events because they offered small purses, few FedEx Cup points, and little respite from the grind of competing every weekend.

In 2013, the Tour began to award full FedEx Cup points for the events in the fall, effectively eliminating the offseason. The Tour hoped this change would increase the strength of the fields, which in turn would hopefully increase attendance, sponsorship money, and the value of TV contracts. And while the change has given Tour rookies and journeymen the opportunity to gain experience and establish themselves early in the FedEx Cup standings, big-name players still tend to sit out until January. They don’t feel the pressure average players do to play or risk falling behind in the FedEx Cup points race.

Boo Weekley, a three-time winner on Tour, but someone who feels pressured to play in the fall in order to keep his job, discussed his sentiments about the wraparound season.

“It’s just golf after golf after golf. Ain’t no time for hunting and fishing, man.”

Regardless of how players feel about it, the new season is upon us. The schedule this year features 49 tournaments, up from 47 in 2016-17. New this year are THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES at Jeju Island and the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship, Korea’s and the Dominican Republic’s first ever Tour events, respectively.

With new events, new faces, and a young core of stars, the 2017-18 PGA Tour season is bound to be exciting. Here are five burning questions I have heading into the new season.

  1.     In 2016-17, young stars Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, and Schauffele won 13 events combined, while Schauffele also took home the Tour Championship, and Thomas captured the FedEx Cup. In total, 19 players in their 20s won 28 times last season. Will these young guns continue to dominate, or will 2017-18 be a year for the veterans?
  2.     Will former world number ones Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Adam Scott rediscover their winning ways after disappointing 2016-17 campaigns?
  3.     Will either McIlroy or Spieth complete the career grand slam, with McIlroy requiring only a Masters victory to accomplish the feat and Spieth needing to win the PGA Championship?
  4.     Will the exciting new class of PGA rookies, featuring former college stars Aaron Wise, Beau Hossler (for technical reasons Hossler is not officially considered a rookie), and Peter Uihlein make their mark on Tour like Schauffele and the rest of the 2016-17 class?
  5.     Is this the year Tiger Woods makes his comeback (he recently posted a video of himself taking full swings)? Will he ever win again on Tour? Or are his glory days behind him?

I also have a few early predictions for the 2017-18 season Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year:

Player of the Year: Rory McIlroy. After a down year full of injury and personal milestones (he married Erica Stoll in April), Rory will be able to focus all of his attention on golf this season and will reestablish himself as one of the world’s top players.

Rookie of the Year: Peter Uihlein. A former U.S. Amateur (the most prestigious amateur event in the world) and European Tour winner, expect the established 28-year-old to take the Tour by storm and win at least one event.

However these questions and predictions are resolved throughout the season, the 2017-2018 PGA Tour season is bound to be exciting. The Tour is as deep and as strong as ever and no tournament will have an out and out favorite. Be prepared for competitive tournaments, battles between the world’s best, and plenty of first-time winners.

One tournament that will provide a lot of excitement is the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club outside of St. Louis. Bellerive has only hosted one tournament since 1992 (in 2008), so only a handful of players have seen the course before. Because the course is a relatively unknown quantity, expect experienced players and rookies alike to be competitive in the tournament that features the strongest field in golf.   

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