As we pause for Thanksgiving and all that comes with it (it’s OK to admit that you’ve been watching a few Hallmark Christmas movies to get into the spirit), the 2019-20 PGA Tour season has completed its final full-field event of this calendar year.
The Hero World Challenge and the Presidents Cup, along with a few lower-profile fun events, are still on the schedule but this is where the FedEx Cup calendar (it almost sounds normal now) gets as close to a true offseason as it ever does.
What did we learn from the fall portion?
The Asia swing is a thing: The three events this year – the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, the inaugural Zozo Championship and the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai – were won by Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, respectively.
If the (Asian) events seemed distant and obscure before, they have come into sharper focus now, giving the fall season a distinctive chapter.
While even the biggest fall events don’t get the fully stacked fields that the biggest tournaments do, the run through Asia has grown in stature and importance. If the events seemed distant and obscure before, they have come into sharper focus now, giving the fall season a distinctive chapter.
The Brendon Todd story is inspiring: He may have literally been one round away from getting into the pizza business a year ago and now he’s leading the FedEx Cup standings with two wins (nearly three) and a comeback story that has more feel-good qualities than a Tom Hanks movie.
Todd had every reason to give up his golf career. There’s not much future for pros who are afraid of where the ball might go next and Todd almost literally cringed on some full swings.
Whatever it is that keeps some people going, well, Todd found it and here he is, having climbed from outside the top 2,000 in the world ranking to inside the top 100.
Knees are nothing to mess with: Tiger, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson have each dealt with knee issues since the Tour Championship and Woods is the only one to come back successfully so far.
Koepka’s withdrawal from the U.S. Presidents Cup team last week underlined the seriousness of his condition. Koepka revealed in October that he had undergone stem cell treatment to deal with a patella tendon problem in his left knee and almost immediately after he proclaimed himself nearly fully mended, he slipped on wet pavement in Korea and now it’s unclear when he will play again.
Johnson’s knee procedure hasn’t drawn the attention that Woods’ and Koepka’s have, but it was significant enough that he was still coping with the post-surgery effects several weeks later. He’s planning to tee it up at the Hero World Challenge next week which is an encouraging sign.
As for Woods, he looked like a different player in winning the Zozo Championship and he said it was largely the result of fixing his left knee, which had bothered him for approximately a year.
It’s like jumper cables for some careers: Ask Joaquín Niemann, Sebastián Muñoz, Lanto Griffin and Tyler Duncan what winning in the fall means.
Each of them is in the Masters next year, they have their playing status guaranteed through the 2021-22 season and they’ve put themselves in position to cash in on the FedEx Cup money that will be doled out at the end of the season.
Part of the secret to succeeding on the PGA Tour is playing well at the right time. Niemann, Muñoz, Griffin and Duncan did it and now their career paths have changed.
Harris English hasn’t won yet but after losing his fully exempt PGA Tour status, he’s made the most of the fall schedule with four top-six finishes in six starts. English has already made sure that he won’t feel the stress next summer that he felt late last season, when his tour card was slipping away.
The Presidents Cup has some traction: As much as the PGA Tour wants this event to become another Ryder Cup, it hasn’t happened and it probably never will. However, this one has generated a bit more buzz with Tiger being the captain and the Koepka injury situation.
Playing in mid-December in Australia isn’t ideal for American audiences but it’s going to be on television in prime time here and with Woods adding himself to the playing roster, that will catch more eyeballs than it might otherwise.
What the Presidents Cup needs more than anything is another close match like the one four years ago in South Korea, not another blowout like so many previous Presidents Cup matches have been.
Is it too much to ask for a little drama?
Let’s hope not.
Top photo: John Greim, LightRocket via Getty Images
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