Golf’s short-lived offseason is almost fully upon us. When will the world’s best golfers be back in action?
Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Whether it was Rory McIlroy’s tear in the FedEx Cup to help salvage a major-less 2016, the thrilling Ryder Cup at Hazeltine or Hideki Matsuyama’s two-month romp through Australasia, there’s no doubt that this year’s post-major season was an all-timer.
Sadly, all must good things must come to an end. Unless you’re the type that can get the juices flowing by tuning into the Franklin Templeton Shootout (God, bless you), than the completion of last week’s Hero World Challenge/Tiger Woods Jamboree ushers in as close to a true offseason as one can have in the 365-day-a-year world golf circuit.
I’m intrigued to see how the pairing of Bryson DeChambeau and Lexi Thompson plays out down in Orlando this weekend and the Hong Kong Open has a few good names (Rose, Reed, etc.) but for all intents and purposes I’m ready for Kapalua to get here any day now. Good thing that day is coming in just a month on Jan. 5.
Golf is an interesting sport in a lot of ways, one being an individual sport with each golfer free to play just about whenever or wherever he or she wants. Some are packing it in until as long as February or March, while others are only taking a few weeks off because they have no other choice. Perhaps Matsuyama will look to find a mini tour event to enter just to keep the good times rolling.
There are golfers who are pretty clear to the media what their offseason plans are or at least have developed a consistent schedule for fans to make educated guesses of where they’ll be next. Others are a little bit coy, waiting to feel out their schedule by the shape of their game and status on tour. Many just plain don’t know where they’ll be any further than a week in advance .
With all that in mind, I’ll give it my best effort to map out the offseasons for the world’s top 10 (and a couple of other notable names) based on what we know and/or have seen in the past.
The Australian is arguably the most talented out there when healthy, but Day is a ticking time bomb for some sort of ailment, drawing the ire of some critics. It should come as no surprise then that he’s used to a little R&R. This year he’s been sidelined since the TOUR Championship to rehab his back, missing a beloved Australia swing that also included the World Cup of Golf this year.
“The prognosis for a successful return to playing next season is not an issue…,” a statement from Day read. From my expert research, I haven’t seen Day mention a specific return date, but he’s competed in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, held on Jan. 5-8 this year, multiple times in the past, including the past two years. Thanks to three PGA Tour wins in ’15-’16, he’s eligible again and could choose to ease back into things at a no-cut, low-stress event in Hawaii.
If we know anything about Rory McIlroy, it’s that he’s a big game hunter. He still wins a boatload of non-major tournaments, including two in the 2016 FedEx Cup Playoffs, but his juices truly aren’t flowing until April. The 27-year-old is a few weeks into an off period expected to last well into January or February.
Last year McIlroy got started at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the UAE. He, along with Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler, among others, are all committed to compete this year for the Jan. 19 event.
If last year is a further indicator of what’s to come, he could be back in the UAE two weeks later for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Riviera was the site of his PGA Tour start in 2016 and looks like the favorite again. He isn’t a regular at Phoenix or Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines would require a trip to the USA in between stints in the UAE.
In terms of the top five, Dustin Johnson falls in the middle of the pack with 23 events played in 2016. Almost all of them attract the top fields and such will be the case whether he opts for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Jan. 5 or if he takes a year off from that event to rest for Abu Dhabi a couple weeks later.
Either way, his sojourn to the Middle East will likely be short lived. If not for a return to the Farmers Insurance Open on Jan. 26, the pull of Monterey County should have him back in the continental US no later than Feb. 9 for the Pebble Beach AT&T Pro-Am, a tournament he’s won twice and placed second another.
It’s already spoiled that Stenson will be back in action on Jan. 19 in Abu Dhabi (heck of a field, huh?). Until then, the Swede is going to kick back and enjoy every minute of it.
“One round away from Christmas break,” Stenson said on Saturday at the Hero World Challenge. “So try to finish off in good style and enjoy that break, because I’ve had a great year and I’m looking forward to some time off.”
Like a giddy schoolboy ready to put down the books for a few weeks, Stenson was also quick with the jokes like always.
“All those trophies are dragging me down, really, and it’s hard to swim with all those on your back,” he said with a laugh. “No, it’s been a great year and I’m just going to take that time off to enjoy it and recharge for next year.”
All in all, it was a relatively light year for the traditional workhorse. Stenson teed it up 22 times worldwide in 2016, down from 25 last year, 31 in 2013 and his fewest since 2002. When he was on the course, though, he was almost always there for all four days in what was a career year.
In the past two years he opted to start with the UAE swing and came back west for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, slated for March 2-5 in 2017. For the man with a machine-like swing, I expect his elite status will allow him to continue to achieve such consistency in his schedule.
Unofficially one of the best ever world No. 5’s that I can remember, Spieth can help himself to separate from the logjam at the top by picking up some world ranking points at a comfortable spot.
The defending TOC champion is expected to be back at Kapalua in a month’s time, though he has stated as a whole he aims for a lighter 2017. He won’t be joining the cool kids in Abu Dhabi, and early on it could mean the ousting of one or more 2016 stops at Pebble Beach, Riviera or the Valspar.
Spieth, now 23, understands he won’t be young forever. Even if it means he can’t extend his tentacles everywhere, I think fans can stomach it if it means an overall uptick in his performance and wellbeing.
Matsuyama is currently the highest-ranked golfer without a major, but he’ll be able to continue to build his schedule as if he had several. Exempt into every big tournament, the young Japanese star can choose to be more picky after 25 events in 2016.
Since Oct. 16 he’s been as busy as anyone, playing five times. Some rest could do him good, but the workhorse could very well be back within a month at the TOC courtesy of his win last February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
If he sits it out, the Farmers Insurance Open was his 2016 debut.
To paraphrase Chance the Rapper, as a golf writer does, “blessings keep falling in Alex Noren’s lap.” Less than two years ago, the Swede was on the periphery of the game ranked No. 654 in the world and with back issues, all at the age of 32, no less.
Something clicked since then and thanks to a scorching second half of 2016, he has a newfound freedom to fully select his schedule. For this, predicting where he will go next might be tougher than the more established players on this list.
He didn’t use a heavy schedule (22 events in 2016) to make his ascent and could keep it light. Last year the European Tour member started at the popular spot of Abu Dhabi. He didn’t come to the States until the US Open in 2016, but he’ll be eligible for all of the WGCs and shouldn’t have trouble getting exemptions if he wishes to play more on the PGA Tour.
Tiger earned his first competitive paycheck last week since August 2015. Barring an unforeseen setback, we shouldn’t have to wait as long for his next showing. Ineligible for the TOC and never one fond of the Sony Open, it’s looking like late January will be the landing spot for his return to traditional tournament play.
Most would surmise he’ll next be at the FIO on Jan. 25 where he’s won seven times. Unless he picks up a win early on, he’ll have some work to do to qualify for the WGCs, a usual staple of his schedule. It’ll be interesting to monitor if he picks up new or sparsely played events to stay sharp.
Phil took a little time for Wine Country back in October for the Safeway Open, but otherwise Lefty’s laid low during the recent “silly season,” if you will. The family man will likely make it a three-month break until the California swing begins.
He’s usually one of the bigger names to play at the CareerBuilder Challenge and could be back when it comes to PGA West on Jan. 19. From there, it could be full speed ahead as the native Californian usually makes time for three or four of the five Sunshine State stops.