PGA Season Preview: 2019-2020 Swing Season
The shortest offseason in sports is already halfway over, and the fall swing is nearly upon us. Picking up just three weeks after the Tour Championship, the swing season starts September 12 with A Military Tribute at The Greenbriar. The swing is a combination of fringe PGA players trying to stay relevant, young guns looking to make a splash, and studs cherry-picking a few events (or satisfying participation requirements and sponsorship obligations).
The PGA Tour goes global in the fall, hopping around the United States before trekking to Asia for events in South Korea, Japan, and China. Like the 2018-2019 "regular season," the schedule has some notable changes this year. Traditional PGA stops at The Greenbrier and Golf Club of Houston were casualties of the revamped schedule and are now part of the Swing, while a former alternate field event in the Sanderson Farms Championship gets main billing for the first time.
Last year, the swing season produced some strong performances that indicated success once the main events began -- Matt Kuchar's victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic presaged a terrific season and helped him build a large enough cushion in the FedEx Cup Standings that he was able to finish inside the top 30 and qualify for the Tour Championship despite a missed cut and T52 finish in the first two legs of the Playoffs. A win in the swing is worth as much as one in California or Florida once the regular season rolls around.
The swing is not without drama either, as Kuchar's controversial caddie-stiff set the tone for his 2019 heel turn.
We don't know how many -- if any -- events the top players in the world will play, but you can bet most will tee it up at least a couple times to stay fresh and in form rather than just lay off for a few months. The President's Cup is in December as well, so the best golfers will certainly want to keep their games in good shape in the lead up.
Throughout the swing season, you can find course primers, daily fantasy helpers, and betting guides for each and every event here on numberFire. For now, let's take a look ahead at some players to watch and events that we should circle on the calendar.
Players to Watch - Studs
Brooks Koepka - Koepka maintains a hold on the World No. 1 ranking, and in a small sample, he has been elite in the swing season over the past few years. In the falls of 2016, 2017, and 2018, Koekpa has played just five swing season events. His finishing position in those events: 1st at THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES and 16th at the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2018, T2 at the WGC-HSBC in 2017, and 2nd at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and T40 at the WGC-HSBC in 2016.
Patrick Cantlay - Cantlay has crushed each of his five swing events the last two years and finished no worse than T17 in any event. He won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in 2017 and was the runner up in 2018. His elite ball-striking can sustain him even on a beast like Sheshan International (host of the WGC-HSBC Champions), and he's finished T7 and T15 the last two years there.
Tony Finau - Finau lost in a playoff last year at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and he was T11 the year prior. He has six finishes of T16 or better in eight swing events over the past two years. According to stats on Fantasy National Golf Club, Finau has the most total strokes gained over the past two years on courses in this year's swing season. He showed great finishing form to end the 2018-2019 season with a seventh place finish at the TOUR Championship and a fourth at the BMW Championship.
Bryson DeChambeau - Last year, DeChambeau won his only event of the swing season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. The year before, he had strong finishes in each swing event he played -- T14 at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, T7 at the Shriners, and T17 at the Safeway Open.
Players to Watch - Young Guns
Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland, and Collin Morikawa - These three recently-turned professionals have made an incredible impact early in their careers. Wolff and Morikawa picked up wins within their first few professional starts, and Hovland was the low amateur at both the Masters and the U.S. Open before turning pro and finishing inside the top 20 in four of his five starts. All three have their Tour cards for the 2019-2020 season, and aside from the random big name making an appearance, don't be surprised to see these names toward the top of the betting markets and daily fantasy player pools.
Sungjae Im - Despite the supernova threesome listed above, Im has a legitimate chance at Rookie of the Year. The Tour's ironman played a staggering 35 events in the 2018-2019 season, more than any other golfer. Im cashed plenty of checks by making 26 cuts, and he blasted through any perceived rookie wall by finishing eight of the last nine events that had a cut and qualifying for the Tour Championship. He led the Tour with 60 rounds in the 60s over the course of the season; only two others were within 10 of his mark. He posted a T4 at the Safeway Open and a T15 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in last year's swing.
Houston Open - In another life, the Shell Open at GC of Houston was the lead-in event to The Masters and drew top players by catering to those hoping to prep for Augusta National. The course trimmed its rough down low and pristinely manicured its bentgrass greens. Now relegated to the swing, it will be almost 18 months since the last time GC of Houston hosted a PGA event. Stepping out of the shadow of Augusta should allow the course to develop its own unique character and challenges. The Houston Open will be the last stateside event before the Tour heads to Asia for THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES.
The ZOZO Championship - The PGA Tour makes its debut in Japan with this new event finding a spot on the swing season calendar. With a purse of $9.75 million and $1.75 million to the winner, you can bet the stars will find their way east this October. In fact, a certain 15-time major winner who just had an arthroscopic procedure on his knee expects to be in attendance. Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club is the host, and while a new event and new venue create more unknown variables than usual for bettors and DFS players, there is no denying the excitement around this event and the 78-man field.
WGC-HSBC Champions - The only swing field we know will be loaded, Sheshan International hosts this World Golf Championship event with Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, and defending champion Xander Schauffele among the notables already committed. Sheshan routinely ranks as one of the most difficult courses on Tour, and it was the third-hardest course in 2018-2019 in average scoring relative to par at 1.256 strokes over. The only two harder courses last year were Bethpage Black (PGA Championship) and Pebble Beach (U.S. Open). This is a world class event with a world class field.