PGA Tour courses can go from Who's Who to Who's That?

PGA Tour courses can go from Who’s Who to Who’s That?

HONOLULU (AP) — Activity at the Waialae driving range used to be predictable. Instead of standing behind the players to watch their shots, the most common move was to stand to the side and discreetly try to look at the front of the golf bag to see whose name it was.

Such was the case this year at the Sony Open, even though it was the 11th tournament of the last PGA Tour season.

It marked the first time the tour had gone from a grand event (Sentry Tournament of Champions with a purse of $15 million) to a regular event (Sony Open with $7.9 million).

And he could get his first glimpse of the future of the PGA Tour.

While 19 of the 38 players who ended up in Kapalua made the 22-minute flight from Maui to Honolulu, none made the top 10 in the world rankings. All four players in the top 20 (Jordan Spieth, Tom Kim, Billy Horschel and Sungjae Im) missed the cut.

This is what the PGA Tour could look like in the future. His response to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf threat is a program that brings together the biggest names as often as possible. There is no telling what that does to the rest of the tournaments on the schedule.

There is a lot of work to be done before 2024. Along with when the tournaments will be played, this could be a big shake-up, the key decisions being the size of the course, whether there will be a 36-hole cut, and access for the lesser names playing big golf. .

The Hawaii tour was an easy target for the worst case scenario.

One tournament only had winners from the previous year’s PGA Tour and anyone who made it to the Tour Championship at East Lake. The field consisted of 39 players, with two Irish golfers (Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry) jumping. Three of the top four players before the last day had won three of the last five majors.

The other had 144 players—the rounds didn’t end on Thursday and Friday due to darkness—and several of them have yet to make their mark on the game.

It was a “Who’s who” in Kapalua and a “Who’s that?” in Waialae.

For those who could have watched in the small window of time between the NFL wild card games on Saturday night, they would have seen a leaderboard in which nine of the top 15 had never won on the PGA Tour, and only two of that group (Chris Kirk and Si Woo Kim) had won more than once.

Oddly enough, both tournaments were convincing and featured comebacks.

Jon Rahm won at Kapalua despite trailing two-time Grand Slam champion Collin Morikawa by six shots over the back nine, shooting 63 on the final day.

Kim made up for his deficit of three shots over three holes (he missed a 4-foot birdie on the par-3 fourth) against Hayden Buckley, and then the final 30 minutes were some good theater. Buckley made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th to take the lead. Kim heard the cheers 200 yards away, thought it was a birdie or bust, and chipped in from 30 feet from behind the 17th green to tie it.

On the par-5 18, Kim shot a 5-iron from the fairway bunker running to the front of the green for a two-putt birdie from 40 feet for a 64. Buckley couldn’t get up and down from a short hard point and the right of the green.

Kim was 21 when he won The Players Championship in 2017 against the strongest and deepest field in golf. This one didn’t feel any easier.

“It doesn’t matter what course it is, it’s very hard to win on the PGA Tour,” Kim said after winning his fourth Tour title. “He still has a lot of good players, big name or not. Still all the players are really good here.”

The American Express is in the California desert this week, and no one will talk about the perception of a two-course system because it has five of the seven best players in the world. That includes Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Patrick Cantlay, both of whom will have a shot at world No. 1.

For players who don’t get a little extra under the table (the unofficial term is “cocktail party,” not appearance money), some habits are hard to come by. The desert has always been a good place to start the year. It’s usually the closest thing golf is to an indoor sport because of the weather.

Torrey Pines will have its share of stars, as will Pebble Beach, until the PGA Tour closes out the West Coast Swing with elevated events in Phoenix and Los Angeles.

At the Sony Open, Matt Kuchar was as guilty as anyone for not knowing some of the players, even after playing three times in the fall against the courses when the stars were away.

“I feel like I get at least across the West Coast before I feel familiar with the right names and the right faces,” Kuchar said. “It’s exciting to see the new crop each year and try to figure out who of the guys is going to be here to stay and who of the guys might not stay on top of the tour.”

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