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While the PGA Tour sits idle for an indefinite period of time, the path to the tour has been shut down as well.
Davis Riley, the former University of Alabama standout, sits third on the Korn Ferry Tour money list, close enough to securing a PGA Tour card (the top 25 money winners in the regular season move up) to think about what next year might be. But now he’s left to hang out at home in Hattiesburg, Miss., without an official restart date.
J.T. Griffin sits 20th on the Korn Ferry list, the best start of his worldly career and currently inside the number to advance to the PGA Tour, understanding a big – or not so big – chunk of the season remains to be played. When he’s not working on his game he’s playing music again, which always has been a go-to outlet for him.
Ben Kohles, who won his first two starts on what then was the Web.com Tour in 2012 before struggling to retain that form, has a pair of top-three finishes this season and is comfortably inside the top 25, but as with everyone else his momentum may not carry over whenever the Korn Ferry Tour restarts.
All three are in position to think realistically about being on the PGA Tour next season. But that’s all they can do at the moment – think about it.
“I’m fortunate I played well early, not that there is ever a bad time to play well,” said Riley, who won the Panama Championship in early February. “I’m in a good spot.
“There are endless questions. Are they going to stick with a condensed season or add weeks? Everybody is playing the waiting game at this point and you want to be ready when we go back.”
Only six events have been played on the developmental tour’s schedule this year and events have been canceled or postponed through the latter part of May. Given the spread and impact of the coronavirus, the prospect of returning to competition in late May seems increasingly unlikely though the tour has not changed its timeline yet.
The Korn Ferry Tour is not stuffed with big-money events like the PGA Tour. What it offers is access to the big tour and that access comes through performance.
If three months or more of the schedule is lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would the tour reconfigure the Korn Ferry Tour? Could two years (2020 and 2021) be rolled into one big season? Would fewer than 25 players move up this year if the schedule is significantly shortened?
“It’s one of those things, we just have to wait and see,” Kohles said.
Kohles lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., five minutes from PGA Tour headquarters and the TPC Stadium Course. He’s still able to work out and play golf but he’s not optimistic the tour will resume in late May.
“Commissioner (Jay) Monahan told us that as of right now, if we go back at the end of May, they’re looking at replacing the one off week on the schedule with one of the events that was cancelled (or postponed),” Kohles said. “They’re going to do all they can to get as many events in as they can.
“How many does it take to be a full season? I have no idea. There is definitely a lot of uncertainty.”
“Almost every golfer, Tiger (Woods) included, goes through spurts like that. It could be a couple of weeks or a couple of years. Golf is funny like that. I’ve found my way back.” – Ben Kohles
Kohles’ story is one of perseverance. When he won twice in 2012 and was fresh out of the University of Virginia, he wasn’t fully ready for what came next. Kohles didn’t start playing tournament golf until he was 15, leaving him lacking the experience most players had.
In his one full season on the PGA Tour, Kohles made one top-10 in 25 starts, lost his card and has been fighting to get back since.
“You lose (confidence) a little bit,” said Kohles, who now works with swing coach Justin Parsons. “I’m pretty confident about any kind of competitive game. Some mechanics got off in my second, third year as a professional. That takes a toll. I had driver issues, hitting it short and crooked. That’s not good for your score.
“Almost every golfer, Tiger (Woods) included, goes through spurts like that. It could be a couple of weeks or a couple of years. Golf is funny like that. I’ve found my way back.”
Griffin has been trying to get a foothold on the Korn Ferry Tour for parts of eight years, playing mini-tours and international circuits for the most part. Now that he’s off to his best start on the Korn Ferry Tour, he’s at home in Atlanta, resting, giving a few online golf lessons (you can find them on Instagram at jtgolflessons) and getting back into music.
“I just don’t feel very motivated knowing we’re at least two months out,” he said.
Griffin’s challenge, he said, has been learning to be better to himself on the course. It’s been a process but he’s taught himself to ease up. Bad shots happen. As his Georgia Tech golf coach Bruce Heppler suggested years ago, if Griffin’s caddie talked to him the way Griffin talks to himself, he’d have fired him.
“I’ve been too results-oriented, kind of playing with handcuffs on,” he said.
Griffin plays the piano and guitar and gets together with a friend when he can. Though social distancing prevents it at the moment, Griffin has performed at open mic nights and he’s played at some funerals.
“Funerals are kind of my jam,” Griffin said. “My sister passed away when she was young and I don’t know if they’re inspiring songs or sad songs but I’ve played those at some funerals.”
For Riley, who left Alabama midway through his senior season and turned pro last January, there is a golf course bordering his backyard and a makeshift gym in his garage. He already has won once this season and figures to be on the PGA Tour this time next year.
Until then, Riley appreciates the position in which he finds himself, knowing others who didn’t start as well are dealing with more immediate pressure.
“I feel I’ve made some great strides since I turned pro,” Riley said. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence. When I’m playing well, I feel like I can compete with the best. This is just the beginning.”
More changes to golf’s elastic 2020 schedule have been made and even more are likely to come in the days and weeks ahead. On the heels of the Olympic Games being postponed until 2021, organizers of the Evian Championship announced Friday that the LPGA major championship will move to Aug. 6-9 from its previously scheduled dates in July.
This will place the Evian Championship the week before the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, which is currently scheduled the week before the AIG Women’s British Open. So, at least from a logistical standpoint, this move worked out well for organizers at Evian. The final round of Evian Championship previously had been scheduled on the same day as the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo games. Now, players can travel from France to Scotland with relative ease.
“This 2020 schedule shift is yet another example of (Evian Championship organizers) supporting our players and our tours during a very difficult time around the world.” – Mike Whan
“We greatly appreciate the willingness of Franck Riboud, Jacques Bungert and the team at the Evian Championship to move dates and align with our European swing. This adjustment makes for easier travel for players and assists us as we look to reschedule previously postponed events during a crowded summer and fall time frame,” said LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. “Like all our corporate partners, the team at the Evian Championship has always taken great steps to elevate the stage for our athletes. This 2020 schedule shift is yet another example of them supporting our players and our tours during a very difficult time around the world.”
Meanwhile, the New York Post reported Thursday night that the U.S. Open, scheduled for June 18-21, will also be postponed but will still be contested at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., as planned. While the USGA had no official comment as of Friday morning, New York has been the state most severely affected by the coronavirus, and the town of New Rochelle, which is four miles from Winged Foot, was the first in the nation to be placed on lockdown.
Should the postponement be made official, it would be the fifth major golf championship to be postponed, following the Masters and PGA Championship for the men and the ANA Inspiration and Evian Championship for the women. It would also follow a whirlwind of rumors about the USGA possibly moving the U.S. Open to another location. Pinehurst and other notable venues had been mentioned in golf circles as potential sites. But given the uncertainty regarding how long the current COVID-19 pandemic will continue, the idea of conducting qualifying events around the country for a mid-June date seemed wildly optimistic at best and insensitive to the plight of the world at worst.
As has been noted on numerous occasions, the last time the U.S. Open and Masters were cancelled was 1945, the final year of World War II. The PGA Championship has been played every year in the last century except 1943. In context, the PGA contested its championship in 1944 and 1945 during the height of Operation Overlord and a month before the bombing of Hiroshima.
Also on Friday morning, Augusta National announced that it has rescheduled the 2020 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals for April 4, 2021, and that all the 2020 qualifiers will be invited to compete next year.
While nothing has been made official, speculation has been that the Masters will be moved to October while the PGA of America has stated its hope of moving the PGA Championship, which was to be played in May at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, to a summer date.
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Amid the empty grocery store shelves and darkened restaurants, I found something surprisingly full this week.
The tee sheet at my club in Charlotte, N.C.
That could change at any moment and it probably has at different spots around the country but in the first full week since the world effectively paused, playing golf continued.
It’s different but so is everything else.
At Cedarwood Country Club where I am a member, the clubhouse is closed except one entry to bathrooms. The pro shop has been relocated to a tent behind the first tee. If you need a sleeve of balls or some tees, a member of the staff will bring them to you.
There are no more bunker rakes, but a member of the maintenance staff is making regular tours of the course to make sure the bunkers are in proper shape. Not surprisingly, the bunkers are in better shape than when we do it ourselves.
Flagsticks are being left in place with the admonishment not to touch them. Truth be told, many of us probably never get the ball in the hole anyway so there’s no need t…
Given everything else that is happening in the world, the PGA Tour’s announcement late Tuesday that it is cancelling every event on its schedule through mid-May isn’t a shock nor was the announcement the PGA Championship, scheduled for May 14-17, has been postponed.
Still, the impact is enormous. Nearly a quarter of the tour season will have been lost if and when play resumes in late May.
It also leads to the inevitable question – will there be more cancellations this year?
The RBC Heritage, the Zurich Classic, the Wells Fargo Championship, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the PGA Championship won’t be played this year, leaving the next potential starting point for professional golf in the U.S. to be the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in late May.
What was setting up to be an exceptional tour season now has an uncertain future. A two-month pause could be extended.
The difficulty of the moment was evident on the face of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan when he made the initial announcement of tournament cancellations…
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | Last Sunday after finishing the Arnold Palmer Invitational before the leaders had teed off, Brooks Koepka – who had gone 81-71 on the windblown weekend – was asked by a PGA Tour official if he had a moment to talk with a few reporters.
When Koepka said yes, the official asked him to step up on a podium and behind a microphone.
“Haven’t done this in a while,” Koepka said with a half a smile, half a smirk on his face.
Was the difference in Saturday and Sunday as big as the 10-shot swing suggested?
“Same old #*$#,” said Koepka, who surrendered his 47-week grip on the No. 1 spot in the world ranking to Rory McIlroy last month.
Not long afterward, Koepka was on a plane to Las Vegas where he spent part of Monday with teacher Butch Harmon, having requested an audience with the game’s most respected teacher. Koepka said he did it with the blessing of his own coach, Claude Harmon III, Butch’s son, as well as short-game guru Pete Cowen.
Two months into 2020, Koepka flew west seeking clarity and he …