The new PGA Tour season that began last weekend was business as usual.
You know, what with Jimmy Walker No. 1 on the money list. Vijay Singh leading the tour in greens hit in regulation. Fred Funk — the diminutive Champions Tour dinosaur — No. 1 in driving accuracy. Cue the '80s flashbacks to big hair and Foghorn Leghorn. What was jolly old Fred doing in the Frys.com Open? Other than driving it straighter than rope, as usual, I don't know.
What else? Charles Howell III ranks first in the Tour's scrambling statistic. You didn't see that one coming. Walker leads in strokes gained putting — gee, you think that was the key to his victory? And make a note, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who was pretty darned impressive when we got a good look at him in the Presidents Cup, leads the Tour in proximity to the hole with approach shots. This guy is good. I like him to make a big splash, maybe a major one, in 2014.
So we weren't quite ready for a new season to start. The Reset Button caught us off-guard. But those stats I rolled out do give me a small sense of excitement. It's a new season, if not yet a new calendar year, and it's going to be full of differences. That's a good thing.
It's far too early for any of these stats to matter but it's not too early to look at some of them and marvel. Take the Ryder Cup team… (please, says the ghost of Henny Youngman). Would you believe Jim Furyk, who didn't make the Presidents Cup squad, is No. 3 on the Ryder Cup list? And Walker is No. 4? Tiger Woods, despite those five wins in 2013, ranks only fifth. Most interesting is who's not currently in position to qualify for the team on points. Matt Kuchar is barely in at ninth.
On the outside is Steve Stricker at 10th; Dustin Johnson (a.k.a. Mr. Paulina Gretzky) at 11th; and Phil's little buddy, Keegan Bradley, at 19th. Bill Haas is 27th, 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson is 34th, Bubba Watson is 37th and Boy Wonder Jordan Spieth is a distant 72nd.
Plenty of golf left. The 2014 season is so early that it's not even 2014 yet. The schedule, like some of those Funky stats, will take some getting used to.
The Van Cynical Mailbag:
Vans, What Philly area golf course will get a big-time event in the near future and what event will it be? #twoforone -Kevin Currie via Twitter
Next up will be the Shivas Irons Invitational at Philadelphia Cricket Club in early November. I'm the defending champ — I think. If that's not quite as big-time as you had in mind, I'm not sure I've got a definitive answer. I could see the U.S. Amateur returning to Merion — but probably not another U.S. Open — or Aronimink could score a Women's Open or a FedEx Cup event when it's not the backup site for the AT&T National. I'm hardly an expert on Philly, other than knowing that at least one retired U.S. Airways official told me never to change planes there unless I had to (on account of the baggage handlers there). It's such a great golf city that it's hard to believe there isn't an annual PGA Tour stop.
Van Cynical, How can the PGA Tour reward guys who play more events? Can you get an entry bonus for a FedEx Cup event? -Bruce Ford via Twitter
Interesting idea, Fordham. What if the first round of the so-called playoffs invited the top 120 point-getters PLUS the two players with the most tournament appearances who aren't already qualified? It's sort of like giving a ribbon to the kid with perfect attendance. Somehow, I don't think that's going to motivate Phil or Tiger to tee it up more often. But quantity should be rewarded. Any carrot to get Tour players to play more often is a good one. I like it.
Van Sickle, What one thing would you change about the Presidents Cup? -Douglas S. via email
Well, I've written this many times but my suggestion is that it should be the qualifier for the Ryder Cup. The Prez Cup winner advances to play the Ryder Cup versus the defending Ryder Cup champ. It's a win-win because then the whole world would finally be included, substantially ratcheting up interest and global TV rights revenues, plus the Prez Cup would gain do-or-die importance. In addition, any Americans bitching about having to play a team event every year for no monetary gain would have a new incentive — win a Ryder Cup, you get to skip the next Prez Cup.
I once ran this whole Ryder-Prez scenario past Tim Finchem in an informal setting and he stunned me by answering, "We wouldn't be opposed to that." There's just one glitch. The PGA of America and the PGA Tour will share money, TV time and control only on the day after the sun freezes over and donkeys travel in time. And not a day sooner.
Van Cynical, It's never too early for Ryder Cup talk. Who ya got in 2014? And who misses an important putt for Uncle Sam? -Chad Rucker via Twitter
Love your enthusiasm, Chadley, but actually, it is too early for Ryder Cup talk. And I already violated that rule earlier in this column. Also, based on the last Ryder Cup, who won't miss an important putt for Uncle Sam?
Vans, Is the Hyundai Tournament of Champions a full-field event? How many players? Do you think they need to change this? -MDA via Twitter
Last year, the T of C had a massive field of 30 players. Not including Tiger or Phil. It's a winners-only event although there has been talk of inviting members of the Presidents Cup team. Thirty players in a field barely qualifies as a tournament in my book. Why not invite tournament winners back for the next three years? The event would be more exciting with 60 or 70 players.
Vans, We've got a lot of ash trees on my home course that are dead due to the ash borer infestation and will have to be cut down. Any suggestions? -Rick V. via email
After you take those trees out, make sure you completely fill in the areas where their former roots were. Otherwise, your course will be rampant with ash holes.