For some PGA Tour players, the cancellation of the Players Championship after one round was a minor travel inconvenience, one easily resolved with a call to the pilot or a short road trip home down the coast to Jupiter, Florida. It was a little more troublesome for one player with a rented Ford Expedition, a two-year-old passenger and a home in Irvine, Calif.
Brendan Steele was in a hotel room with his wife, Anastassia, and their daughter Victoria when he received a text from the Tour that Thursday night saying the Players was being called. The couple scrambled to book flights home to California, and by Friday morning they were on I-95 to Orlando airport bound for Los Angeles. After 15 minutes on the road, doubts crept it.
Schedules are sacrosanct in golf. Each season rotates around the immovable cornerstones of the calendar — springtime in Augusta, summer amid wintry weather on a British links — and each week is identified not by its dates but by its PGA Tour stop. Valspar last, Match Play this, Valero next. There are schedules within schedules, the roll call of tee times that lines up the action and the broadcast listings that bring it all home.
The abandonment of the Players Championship began (at least) 11 desolate weeks without Tour play, severed our tethers to the schedule, and left both fans and players adrift.
It’s doubtful Cicero had the PGA Tour’s pace of play policy in mind when he wrote “The more laws, the less justice,” but his pithy philosophy is no less applicable. The Tour’s code runs four pages and is a masterclass in authoring rules designed to be unenforceable.
Consider the particulars. Players are permitted 40-50 seconds to play their shots depending on the order of play in a group, but exceeding that limit doesn’t incur a bad time. For a group to be officially considered out of position they not only have to exceed the allotted time to play a shot but also reach a hole that is open and free of play. Only then does a group go on the clock. The punishment for that bad time is, well, nothing. A second bad time earns a one-stroke penalty, the third gets two. A DQ only comes at four. The fines levied are so meager as to be meaningless.
The most imbecilic mind on Tour would struggle to parse the policy but not to manipulate it.
It’s unsurprising how often the social media firing squad takes aim at Ian Poulter, given how much ammunition he provides them. After all, nothing raises the hackles of Have-Nots quite like Have-Yachts exhibiting pride in the trappings of their success, and Poulter isn’t bashful about showing off his Ferrari collection or private jet.
He’s thin-skinned, prone to engaging Twitter warriors. There’s the braggadocio, too. A decade ago he famously declared that someday it would be just “me and Tiger” at the top, and you know he probably believed the same thing way back when he won his first event, the Open de Cote d’Ivoire on the European Challenge Tour.
Like his eponymous, now-defunct fashion line, he is loud and brash.
By lunchtime Friday at the Players Championship, the normally fearsome TPC Sawgrass was looking almost toothless, with the scoring average hovering around 71 and the cut likely to fall under par for only the third time in the last 20 years.
The low scoring has surprised a lot of veterans who have endured tougher times at this Pete Dye brute, not least two-time winner Tiger Woods.
“It’s in perfect shape, it’s just playing really short. It’s so hot out here, the ball’s flying. We’re probably playing close to a club less than we normally do,” he said after a second round 71. “The cut right now is under par, which is unheard of around here.”
The course may be playing relatively easy for the best, but how about for the rest?
Two themes surface when you mention Jodie Mudd to guys who played the PGA Tour back then.
“Jodie used to have a gorgeous golf swing. He made the game look so simple.”
“I’m not sure anyone was really close to him.”
“Funny how you remember things about someone. He had a huge forward press as he started his swing. Then he just flushed it.”
“He was a quiet man.”
This week is when Mudd makes his annual appearance on Tour, albeit only as a ghostly figure on Players Championship highlight reels. It’s been 28 years since he won and almost that long since he walked away from the game.