Even here in April, in the wake of a Masters overflowing with compelling storylines, Jeff Sanchez’s mind wanders toward October – and the burgeoning possibilities for his tournament, the Frys.com Open.
Maybe you didn’t notice the news, tucked beneath the emergence of 14-year-old Guan Tianlang from China … and 50-somethings Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer lingering in contention … and Tiger Woods’ controversial two-stroke penalty … and Adam Scott outdueling Angel Cabrera in the gathering darkness of Masters Sunday.
On the eve of this year’s tournament, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne made a smart, sensible, long-anticipated move. He announced that winners of PGA Tour events in October and November, tournaments previously known as the Fall Series, now will land a spot in The Masters.
Or put another way: The trip from San Martin to Augusta just became a whole lot quicker.
Sanchez is the tournament director of the Frys, a Tour event yearning for acceptance. It’s daunting to carve out space on the Northern California sports landscape, especially in the thick of football season, and the Frys has struggled to find its footing in three years at CordeValle, in the picturesque foothills south of San Jose.
This stamp of approval from Augusta will help. It was nice when the Frys became the season-opening tournament on the Tour’s reshaped 2013-14 schedule, and even nicer when the event learned it can offer full FedEx Cup points.
Those were preludes, though, to what Payne made official on April 10. Augusta National and The Masters carry special cachet in golf, and that’s what Sanchez and tournament president Duke Butler now can sell.
Come play in our tournament.
Win and you’re going to Augusta.
“Billy Payne put it best when he recognized the joy a PGA Tour player expresses when he wins an event and qualifies to play at The Masters,” Sanchez said. “For us, it’s not just an increase in stature – it’s also a validation of our place on the Tour schedule.”
That place once seemed like a hallway closet. The Tour shoved the Frys and a handful of other tournaments into October and November, after the Tour Championship. They were in no man’s land, essentially in between seasons. They didn’t offer full FedEx Cup points, so it was easy – logical, really – for Augusta National not to grant winners a spot in The Masters.
Tiger Woods helped the cause in 2011, when he came to CordeValle as part of his return from knee and Achilles tendon injuries. Woods created plenty of buzz, but then he tied for 30th and moved along. The Frys returned to no man’s land, attracting only two top-50 players (Ernie Els and Nicolas Colsaerts) for last year’s tournament.
This should change, given Payne’s announcement and a shrewd move by Tour officials last year. They quietly struck a deal to assure that some of the game’s biggest names will come to Northern California in the years ahead.
The 2012 Frys was held the same week as the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final. All eight players who went to Turkey last October – including Woods – now must play in the Frys at least once over the next three years. That’s the Tour’s payback for allowing those players to chase huge money (including appearance fees) in Turkey.
This is part of the routine, behind-thescenes maneuvering in golf. If a PGA Tour member wants to play in a competing event, such as bolting for Turkey during a tournament in San Martin, he must obtain permission from Tour officials. It’s usually granted, sometimes with a return favor down the road.
So, the eight players obligated to play in the Frys in 2013, ’14 or ’15: Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Charl Schwartzel. Four of those players were in the top 10 in last week’s world ranking. All eight players were in the top 22.
There’s no word yet on when exactly these players will surface in San Martin. In some ways, it would help the tournament if Woods returned one year and McIlroy showed up another time. They are the world’s top two golfers, with the name recognition and credentials to elevate an event instantly.
“We think it would be great to have both Tiger and Rory in the same year,” Sanchez said. “There seems to be a lot of synergy between them, and we know they have a great friendship. It would be a truly special event to have both of them come play together.”
No matter what Woods and McIlroy do, Sanchez is optimistic about luring a stronger field this October. The Frys sits in a unique spot on the calendar (Oct. 10-13), as the opener for the new, wraparound, 2013-14 schedule. It also sits on the heels of an uncommonly quiet three-week stretch for all but the most elite players.
The Tour Championship ends on Sept. 22, completing a busy playoff season. Then the Tour takes a week off and plays the Presidents Cup in Dublin, Ohio.
So while it might be difficult to entice players such as Woods, no doubt tempted to take a break from the grind, Sanchez expects others to seriously consider the Frys. The lure of Ryder Cup points is another bonus.
“Not many players will be competing those three weeks,” Sanchez said, referring to the Tour Championship, dark week and Presidents Cup. “Given that, coupled with these additional incentives, they’re going to think about playing with us.”