2018-2019 PGA Tour Season Preview: Is it Time to Make History?

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The 2018-2019 PGA Tour season might be the year for a monumental change in the game of golf. There is both the prospect of Tiger Woods’ breaking the all-time wins record and a forecasted shift in the talent on the leaderboards to come. Beyond the interest in Woods’ performance and the possible success from younger competitors Rory McIlroy and Tony Finau, the PGA Tour has noted structural changes to the 2018-2019 schedule.

The PGA Tour announced that the 2018-2019 season will feature 46 events. The season began last week at the Safeway Open in Napa, California, and will culminate with the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August of 2019. The PGA Tour has gradually announced shifts in the 2018-2019 schedule over the past 12 months, of which three are most notable.

First, two new tournaments have been added to the schedule. Spanning from June 24-30 in 2019, the PGA Tour will host its first event in the city of Detroit: the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The following week, TPC Twin Cities will host a tournament that was previously a PGA Tour Champions Event.

Arguably the biggest change in next season’s line up of tournaments is the transition in the timing of the PGA Championship. This event routinely features some of the tour’s top players because of its status as a major championship — of the 46  yearly tournaments, only four events are considered to be major championships. The tournament’s nickname, “Glory’s Last Shot,” will no longer be fitting for the event because it will not be the last major event in the calendar year. This news was announced in the summer of 2017 by the Chief Executive Officer of the PGA of America, Pete Bevacqua, who shared in a press release that “the PGA of America’s key objectives were to promote the best interests of our signature spectator Championship. Our analysis began in 2013 and included an extensive list of factors, including having to shift the date every four years to accommodate the Olympic Games. In the end, we determined that playing the PGA Championship the week prior to Memorial Day in May,” served the best interest of the PGA’s goals for the event. In 2019, the renowned Bethpage Black golf course on Long Island, New York will host this major championship for the first time since 1949.

Lastly, the Puerto Rico Open returns to the schedule following its cancellation this year due to the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Forbes noted in a recent publication that the community of Puerto Rico is seeking to “embark on a campaign to encourage visitors.” And, as of late September, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello shared in an interview that the PGA tournament will contribute to rebuilding the island after the damages from Hurricane Maria.

As much as logistical changes impact the season, anticipation centered around Tiger Woods and younger players Rory McIlroy and Tony Finau also stands as one of the biggest things to look forward to.

Rory McIlroy’s history of solid play and potential for improvement suggests a major breakthrough in his performance. With 14 PGA Tour victories since 2010, McIlroy has proved that his game has the potential to dominate PGA Tour fields. Despite past wins at major golf events such as the 2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship, and 2014 PGA Championship, he has recently failed to emulate the success he once achieved at recent major events. However, his improvements towards the end of 2018 suggests a comeback for McIlroy this year. In his last six tournaments of 2018, he finished within the top-12 in all but one.

Despite his recent successes, McIlroy has failed to secure important victories over the past two seasons. Perhaps at the core of his struggle to reclaim his past triumphs is his wedge play, which he willingly acknowledges is the primary aspect of his game that needs improvement. Contributors at Golf Digest and Golf Channel noted that the widely publicised “shank” wedge shot from McIlroy in the 2018 PGA Championship in August is most telling of this shortcoming in his game.

When asked about the unfortunate mis-hit after the event, McIlroy confirmed that his wedge play is at the center of his focus for improvement. In an August 2018 interview, McIlroy expressed that his trouble from shorter distances stems from his ability to hit far drives off of the tee. McIlroy’s incredible “hand speed, body speed, and rotation” can pose a challenge when he needs to rely on accuracy compared to length for his short game. Although he led the PGA Tour in 2017-2018 in driving distance with an average of nearly 320 yards, he ranked 129th on tour in approaches from 50-75 yards from the green. Moreover, his final round scoring average last year of 70.00 also contributed to his lack of major success in 2018. It will be interesting to see if McIlroy can improve his wedge game and final round tournament scores this season.

Nevertheless, despite the prospect of McIlroy’s future performances, most fans will  arguably have their attention focused on Tiger Woods as the season progresses. It has been several weeks since Tiger Woods secured his 80th professional golf tournament victory at the Tour Championship in late September. It is hard to believe that Woods was able to secure a top-20 spot in the world golf rankings at the end of the 2018 season, considering that, last summer he shared concerns that he might not be able to play in tournaments at all going forward. Evidently, his physical and personal setbacks did not prove to be a problem, as he rose the ranks of the PGA Tour this past season.

One main question that remains for fans will be whether Woods can display a continuation of success that he exemplified by his victory at the year ending Tour Championship in September. After reaching 80 professional victories last season, I am forecasting that 2019 will be the season that Woods breaks Sam Snead’s record of 82 career PGA Tour victories.

Perhaps attracting less mainstream media attention compared to both Woods and McIlroy is Salt Lake City native Tony Finau. Though he has only won one professional golf event — the 2016 Puerto Rico Open — his nine top-10 and two second place finishes in 2018 suggest that a victory is on the horizon.

Finau was one of the lone bright spots on the American team that lost the Ryder Cup this year. While in Paris for this match play event, Finau notably beat Tommy Fleetwood, one of Europe’s strongest players. After his victory, Finau shared that he “played incredible golf today … I was controlling the ball nicely and I made some putts … I’m just really pleased with my performance [Sunday] and throughout the week.” In addition to his stellar Ryder Cup performance, Finau finished in the top-10 at the first three major tournaments of the season and posted top-15 finishes in all four of the FedEx Cup Playoff events.

Overall, it is safe to say that many will continue to keenly follow Woods throughout this year to see if he can make history. The talent from younger players such as Tony Finau and Rory McIlroy, coupled with the anticipation of continued success for Woods might attract a more diverse group of younger fans to the PGA Tour in 2018-2019. The forecasted performance of these players, along with notable changes to the tournament schedule for the year suggest that a great season is in store for golf fans.

Christopher Gaeta

Christopher Gaeta '22 is from Central New Jersey. He is a member of the golf team and is looking forward to contributing to the Sports section of The Phoenix.

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