The PLAYERS: Moving Day is Coming
Posted by: mike May 10th, 2017
By Gary Van Sickle
Not Moving Day, the cliché phrase used by hack golf writers to describe a golf tournament’s third round. I mean Moving Day as in the day The Players Championship moves from its dud May date back to its original slot in late March two weeks before the Masters.
There has been so much discussion of the possible move lately that I’m starting to believe it’s a done deal. Coupled with the growing suggestion that the PGA Championship may move to May or even February, it would make sense as a way to end the golf season in August instead of September. I have zero proof that Moving Day will happen. But if all the talk about The Players wasn’t true, new tour commissioner Jay Monahan would publicly have shot down those move rumors by now and he hasn’t done it. I think a new plan is in the works.
Should The Players go back to March? The TPC Sawgrass course had to be overseeded to be played that time of year. It went without overseeding once it moved to May. The overseeding generally made the course play softer and easier but maybe that was also because March is a wild weather month in North Florida. I remember a lot of rain and cold wind. I remember the year Fred Funk won in a Monday finish so delayed that it barely finished before sunset on Monday and almost spilled over into Tuesday.
The weather in May has been better, yes. It has also been less interesting. It has been hotter and more humid, enough to maybe dampen the gallery’s enthusiasm for walking the course under a blazing spring sun.
So The Players was like an appetizer before the main meal, the Masters two weeks later. So what? That made the media members more involved, even if they were working on Masters preview pieces, and engaged the top players, too.
It was also sharing TV screens with the NCAA basketball tournament, the time of year when you’re nobody if you’re not in the office bracket pool. Fred Couples was a staple on the couch in the players locker room after his round watching basketball. A few times, I followed him up there to get some additional comments and he gladly obliged in between talking back to the screen after one of CBS hoops analyst Billy Packer’s comments.
It was easy to see why The Players might have had an inferiority complex in those days. May just hasn’t worked out. There has been just about zero buzz about the tournament in May and that’s despite some damned exciting finishes the last few years. The talk about the course playing firmer and faster and being in better condition in May just hasn’t panned out. I haven’t heard anybody, experts or otherwise, fervently argue for the May date.
“I know the weather in May is more consistent but you’re really at the mercy of not overseeding and what kind of winter you have,” said former Players champion Justin Leonard, now a Golf Channel analyst. A couple of years ago, we weren’t allowed on four of the greens during practice rounds because they were in such disrepair because of weather and maybe a chemical application mistake. I didn’t feel like it competed with the Masters at all. I just felt the course and the conditions were more predictable and consistent year-in and year-out.”
David Duval, another former Players champ who also is a Golf Channel analyst, says he’s been pushing for the move back to March for a couple of years. “I don’t believe the golf course has quite lived up to how they wanted it since the move to May,” Duval said. “It’s been a bit of a struggle. The course should be presented in a better manner. The weather is always hit and miss in Florida. I hope it does go back.”
Forget the NCAA tournament and the Masters. In March, The Players was the grand finale of what was once a seamless five-week Florida swing with stops at the Honda Classic, Doral, Innisbrook and Bay Hill leading to Sawgrass.
“I always liked that The Players was the end of the Florida Swing,” NBC analyst Johnny Miller said. “It sort of was the cherry on top. The nice thing about March was that you got those north winds occasionally and all of a sudden 17 and 18 become monster holes. The 17th has been just a little flip wedge for these guys but if a north wind comes sweeping through there, what a finish that is. The weather makes it a tougher challenge.”
The whole point of the Pete Dye design is that it’s feast-or-famine golf. Good shots are rewarded and bad shots are penalized to the extreme. Watching the world’s best players try to navigate a tough course that’s laden with water hazards was part of the fun. It was like a NASCAR race where a lot of times, the crashes were the most exciting part. Who didn’t like to see the ball count rise at the par-3 17th hole on a windy day when dozens of balls splashed?
It was March Sadness for the pros who hit those errant shots but for the rest of us, it was golf’s version of March Madness and it was fun. The event in May feels like one big boring, corporate outing. Bring back the madness, PGA Tour. I vote for March.
Gary Van Sickle has written about golf since 1980, the last 20 years for Sports Illustrated, and for Golf World magazine and The Milwaukee Journal before that.
He played in two U.S. Senior Amateur championships, was once paired with Larry Mize and Tom Purtzer in U.S. Open sectional qualifying, has made seven holes-in-one and is not going to give you strokes. He lives in Pittsburgh.