SAN MARTIN, Calif. — The chill of the morning air in California. Veteran players discreetly looking at golf bags on the practice range so they can put names to the faces they have never seen. Young players concerned about getting into enough tournaments. A parking lot filled with Mercedes-Benz courtesy cars.
Everything about the Frys.com Open looks and feels like a new season on the PGA Tour.
Except for the calendar.
Just 18 days after Henrik Stenson tapped in for par and collected the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus at East Lake, the new PGA Tour season gets underway at CordeValle. It’s the first time the tour starts its season in one calendar year and finishes it in another.
“I’m back to zero,” Stewart Cink said. “I like the fact I don’t have to be No. 76 anymore. I can hopefully establish something new.”
Cink was No. 76 in the FedEx Cup playoffs last month until he failed to advance to the next round after the Deutsche Bank Championship. He has been home for the last five weeks — his off-season — before packing his bags and heading to the airport. And to his surprise, it reminded him of heading off to Hawaii or California in winter, just like the old days on the PGA Tour.
“The last six or seven years, I went to fall tournaments and didn’t have that amped-up feel. I didn’t feel like I was in the heat of things,” Cink said. “I had my charity event, this and that. My mind was so elsewhere. I went to play just to play. You hit a lot of shots; you play a lot of holes. Coming here, I feel a little bit more of a hunger.”
Since the FedEx Cup began in 2007, the tour had a half-dozen events that were nothing more than playing opportunities for the restless or a time for others to make enough money to secure their cards for the following season. Winning didn’t come with an invitation to the Masters. It didn’t count toward the FedEx Cup. Now it does.
To avoid losing sponsorship of the fall tournaments (and some $25 million in prize money), the tour made them part of the FedEx Cup season.
“This new system has given these fall events greater credibility,” John Senden said.
As always, a golfer’s off-season is as long as he wants it to be.
Tiger Woods won the clinching match at the Presidents Cup on Sunday. He’s not expected to play another PGA Tour event until Torrey Pines in January. Adam Scott won’t return to the tour until Kapalua the first week of January. Phil Mickelson will be in Asia later this month for two tournaments now part of the official 2013-14 season.
And then there’s Marc Leishman.
Just three days ago, he holed a 15-foot par putt to win his singles match against Matt Kuchar in the Presidents Cup. He flew to California, got reacquainted with sunshine, and felt remarkably refreshed.
“I thought I would be stuffed,” Leishman said Wednesday morning before his pro-am round. “I got here and I’m feeling good. You want to try to get off to a good start.”
Geoff Ogilvy has never played a fall tournament in America since the FedEx Cup began. And he said he might not have come to CordeValle for the first time if he had played longer (he took part in only one FedEx Cup playoff event) or better (No. 104 in the standings).
He still wasn’t sure if this felt like a season opener the way it did at Kapalua or Palm Springs.
“It’s weird. It’s like a false front,” Ogilvy said. “I’m playing two (including next week in Las Vegas) and then going to Australia to play, so it’s like a teaser. But it’s a good chance to get a couple under your belt, and then come back and do the normal West Coast. Some guys might do five of these, get to the West Coast and won’t know what to do. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the West Coast.”
The Frys.com Open field is not terribly strong. It has only two players from the top 50 (Hideki Matsuyama and defending champion Jonas Blixt), three players from the Presidents Cup (Matsuyama, Leishman and Angel Cabrera) and two from the Tour Championship (Billy Horschel, Gary Woodland).
But it’s not so weak that the field is loaded with rookies who just got their card at the Web.com Tour Championship two weeks ago. At least 12 players who just earned PGA Tour cards did not have a tee time at CordeValle.
For the rookies, it had the feel of a big-time event. Rental cars have been replaced by courtesy cars.
“It’s nice out here on the PGA Tour,” Cink said with a smile.