Column: PGA to May the critical piece in golf's new schedule

FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2017 file photo PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan speaks as Peter Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America, listens during a news conference at the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., to announce the PGA Championship moving to May. Cooperation between the two groups was pivotal in the PGA Tour revamping its schedule. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The timing for a revamped PGA Tour schedule could not have been more appropriate.

This is the 50-year anniversary of the PGA Tour breaking away from the PGA of America, leading to years of disharmony. Well, as much as this genteel game allows. And yet all these years later, it took a strong relationship between the two organizations for American-based golf to get the schedule it wanted.

Next season's schedule was released Tuesday, and there were lots of moving parts, most of them already known.

The FedEx Cup playoffs have been reduced from four events to three, with the opening event alternating between the New York area and Boston. The season will end at the Tour Championship on Aug. 25, allowing the richest payoff in golf — expect that $10 million FedEx Cup prize to increase significantly next year — to be awarded before fans shift their interest to college football and the NFL.

Minnesota replaces Houston. Golf returns to Detroit and leaves Washington. Florida will have four straight tournaments in March for the first time since 2006.

None of this works, however, without the PGA Championship moving from August to May.

"Without the commitment and great partnership with FedEx, and the great partnership with the PGA of America, we're not where we are today," PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday.

Monahan's main concern was his biggest corporate partner, FedEx, which in 2007 ponied up $35 million in bonus money for a year-end bonanza aimed at giving the PGA Tour a more defined finish to its season. It was critical to establish continuity and heritage for the tour to renew its deal, and that meant creating more value — more attention — for the FedEx Cup.

That was tough to do in late September in Atlanta. Even with Jordan Spieth capping off a great year, Rory McIlroy holing out a shot from the fairway, Bill Haas splashing out of a lake to make par in a playoff, golf had to compete with America's most popular sport. And it was a losing battle.

"We wanted to finish before football and other sports," Monahan said, "and own August."

The PGA Championship moving to May allows that to happen.

Monahan speaks of the "cadence" to the new schedule, though nothing really changes. Golf still has a big event every month, only it now starts in March with The Players Championship instead of April with the Masters. The PGA is in May, the U.S. Open is in June, the British Open is in July, the FedEx Cup in August.

The finished product doesn't seem all that complicated now, though it required cooperation from just about everyone.

"Everybody, including us, had to give along the way," Monahan said. "You do that if you think the end result is worthwhile. We never wavered on that front."

Still to be determined is how this works out.

For next season, 46 tournaments will be crammed into 41 weeks. There will be even more golf in the 2019-20 season when Houston and Greenbrier are in the fall, with plans for an official event in Japan, and perhaps one other domestic event.

That's also an Olympic year, and the tour is considering an off week during the men's competition.

The strongest competition might be found outside the ropes as tournaments try to persuade the most appealing players not to take time off during their events.

Tournament officials at the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship already are nervous about whether Tiger Woods will return, mainly because those two tournaments fall into a seven-week stretch that includes the Genesis Open at Riviera (run by the Tiger Woods Foundation), Bay Hill (where he has won eight times), The Players Championship and two World Golf Championships, assuming Woods is eligible.

Fast forward to the end of the season. While the top 125 players still qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, one fewer playoff event means only the top 70 — instead of the top 100 — advance to the second round before the top 30 make it to the Tour Championship.

"We have a stronger conclusion to our season. By having a stronger conclusion, it's making every event that much more important," Monahan said. "Depending on where you are, a lot less people will be comfortable with their position because they have one fewer at-bat."

Monahan is banking on players competing more, keeping the PGA Tour relevant right up until the end.

Right before kickoff.

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