The greatest thing about the West Coast swing of the PGA Tour is its courses.
Major championship venues like Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines and Riviera are joined by compelling courses like TPC Scottsdale and the Stadium Course at PGA West to provide true challenges to the best players in the world. Oh, and the weather is pretty good on the West Coast this time of year, too.
As the PGA Tour begins its seven-event West Coast swing into Hawaii, Arizona and California this week, here are a few of the storylines to watch:
The Pebble Beach problem
Because the NFL changed its schedule and the PGA Tour in turn adjusted its schedule, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am finds itself in the enviable position of being played in the open week before the Super Bowl. But a big problem rests halfway around the world, as the PIF Saudi International is being played that same week. Plenty of big names asked for waivers from the PGA Tour to play in the Saudi event, and names like Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson (both past winners at Pebble Beach), Patrick Reed and Tony Finau have committed to the Saudi event. That clearly hurts the caliber of the field of the Pebble Beach tournament, one of the more popular television events on tour because of the golf courses and the celebrities involved. The PGA Tour has added some requirements on players who take the waiver about future play, but the 2022 Pebble Beach tournament could look a little thin.
Big names get started
Even with Pebble Beach hurting for some top players — there will certainly be enough names to keep people interested in golf on the Monterey Peninsula — other big names will start their 2022 campaigns on the West Coast. Phil Mickelson is playing the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time in 21 years and The American Express in the first three weeks of the season. All four major championship winners are playing in the Tournament of Champions this week, and players like Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas have already committed to multiple tournaments on the West Coast, with Torrey Pines and Riviera as drawing cards for the best players. It doesn’t seem that long ago when only those two tournaments attracted the best of the best on the West Coast, but things, including the purses, have certainly changed.
The pandemic protocols
Only two of the events on the West Coast swing, the Sony Open in Hawaii and The American Express in La Quinta, are requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID test for people to attend their tournaments. But as COVID cases continue to rise and with other tournaments in California like the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, the Pebble Beach event and the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles, you have to know the PGA Tour and the individual tournaments are spending as much time tracking the COVID numbers and talking to state and county health officials as they are worrying about their fields. The West Coast swing didn’t have fans at tournaments in California last winter, and the tour and those tournaments would like to get back to something close to normal for 2021.
Tiger Woods hasn’t played any official PGA Tour events in more than a year, and even when he was playing golf before his car accident, he wasn’t playing much golf on the West Coast swing. He’d play the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and his own Genesis Invitational at Rivera Country Club. Even that is more golf than we will see from Woods on the West Coast swing this year, with even Woods’ favorite winning course of all time, Torrey Pines, seemingly out of reach as he continues to work to recover from the injury of the accidents. He will certainly serve as host of the Genesis event, but he won’t tee it up.
The new rules
Two new rules will impact play on the PGA Tour, and the West Coast swing will be the first chance for most of the players on the tour to put those rules into place. The first is the limitation on the length of the drivers to just 46 inches. That may mean nothing to the recreational player, but on a tour when 340 yards seems to be the goal off the tee for many players, the length of the driver could hurt distance. The second change may be more impactful for players, with the tour modifying the rules on greens books. Packed with information in the past on every blade of grass and slope on a green, the PGA Tour saw the books as too much of an advantage for players as well as an anchor for the speed of play. The new rules allow greens books, but only those approved by the tournament committee and only with information gathered on the course at the tournament. Will that speed up play? Well, it couldn’t make players any slower, that’s for sure.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: West Coast swing features top players, top courses and a Pebble Beach problem