The Fall Series: The Beginning of the End

Thursday morning, bright and early — 7AM to be exact — the “Last Chance Stretch” begins. The next four tournaments, known formally as the Fall Series, offer the players on the PGA Tour the chance to enhance their careers…or figure out what they need to do to get better.

This is their chance to get into the top 50 players in the world so that they are automatically exempt into all the big tournaments, the four majors and the four World Golf Championships.

It’s also the chance for players who have had a tough year to play a little better to get a cushion above the 125th spot on the Money List. Or to climb up into the top 125 players on the Money List (top 150 still gets you conditional status).

The reason this is such a nerve wracking time for players on the edge is because if you’re not playing well, very often you have no idea why.

Golf is such a cunning mistress because while you may know that you need to hit more fairways, you haven’t quite been able to figure out what’s wrong with your driver. Most of the time you hit it long and high and straight, but when you’re searching, more often than not you’re at a loss to explain what was different about the ones deep in the weeds.

Same thing with the irons into the green. You can get yourself within striking distance of the green, but it’s not quite coming off the face solidly, you’re not hitting it pin high and your manipulated efforts to “fix” it has many of them too far off line.

So you practice more. A lot more. And maybe even start to “find some stuff.” But while you’re so assiduously working on your full swing — it’s the part you really have to work on — you don’t get to practice your short game as much as you need to. It’s easy to give it short shrift because it’s such a little swing requiring little physical effort.

If you were any good at all with it, you can almost chip and pitch as good as you can walk. But it’s not the technique that makes the difference so much, it’s the artistry you get from having “feel.” But to have feel, you have to hit as many short game shots as you do full swings. That’s an exaggeration, but in the right direction.

And once you let your short game atrophy, it begins to infect your putting because you got used to being able to get it within three feet with your short game. But now it’s ten feet and off line. You don’t even get to see the break you’re going to have on the putt.

It’s insidious the way this works. It’s the reason that the top players are always working on their games, always keeping the feel going, spending quality time with their coaches.

But if you haven’t been doing that or things aren’t working out for you, that is a very debilitating way to be approaching the last four tournaments of the year. It puts you in a position of distrust…a position of doubt…and it just sucks the assertiveness out of your approach to the way you play.

So here are those last four tournaments:

  1. Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open, TPC Summelin, Las Vegas, Nevada.
  2. Frys.com Open, CordeValle Golf Club, San Martin, California (just south of San Jose)
  3. The McGladrey Classic, Seaside Course, Sea Island, Georgia (60 miles north of Jacksonville, 60 miles south of Savannah)
  4. Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Open, Magnolia Golf Course and Palm Golf Course, Lake Buena Vista, Florida (in Disney World and still known as “Disney”)

The “JT Shriners” is a good tournament because with all of the Playoffs tournaments and the Ryder Cup, a lot of guys haven’t seen any action in too long. For those that missed the Playoffs altogether, they haven’t played in eight weeks. It’s almost like having been sidelined by an injury. Way too long.

It’s also a good tournament for guys trying to improve their position because because all of the top players just played themselves to a frazzle; none of the Ryder Cup players on either team are playing except for Captain Davis Love III, who was a non-player, of course.

The defending champion is Kevin Na who lives in Las Vegas as do other big names like Nick Watney, Charley Hoffman, Ryan Moore and Scott Piercy. On the one hand, it’s almost like cheating. On the other, there’s a lot more personal stuff to handle when you’re playing at home.

In addition to them, you have names like Jason Day, Robert Garrigus, Scott Stallings, Kyle Stanley, Johnson Wagner, Vijay Singh and rookie, John Huh.

And another guy I’ll be watching is Patrick Reed, who is on an impressive streak of one of the hardest things to do on the PGA Tour, Monday qualify. There may be some sponsors exemptions in these numbers — it’s hard to tell — but he got into three tournaments last year and ten so far this year. That is some tough playing.

So while the stars may be gone, there are plenty of reasons to watch these guys. Because of less daylight this time of year, there are only 132 in the field…and any one of them could win it.

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