The next three tournaments on the PGA Tour could be collectively among the most exciting of the 2018-19 calendar.
The Memorial Golf Tournament started Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio under the auspices of the great Jack Nicklaus.
For a current generation of golf fans, most of the premier players will be participating. Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B XS) is back for the first time since his disappointing outing in the PGA Championship. Tiger is shooting for his sixth victory in the tournament and first since 2012.
He opened with a solid two-under par, which at least puts him into a position to make the cut on Friday, which was not the case at the PGA Championship.
The defending champion is Bryson DeChambeau (Bridgestone Tour B X), who had a breakout season last year, beginning with this win. He is two-over par after the opening round.
The field also includes Jordan Spieth (Titleist Pro V1x), who registered a six-under par score in the opening round. I said a couple weeks ago he is rounding into form and he finished tied for third in the PGA Championship. While I predicted he would win last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, he finished tied for 8th, but he continues to show signs he has rediscovered his game.
Also in the Memorial field are: Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x), Justin Rose (TaylorMade TP5), Phil Mickelson (Callaway Chrome Soft X) and Hideki Matsuyama (TaylorMade TP5) among the more notable names. Ryan Moore (Titleist Pro V1) led the field after the opening round with a seven-under par 65.
Two players noticeably missing from the field are Brooks Koepka (Titleist Pro V1x) and Dustin Johnson (TaylorMade TP5x). Both are bypassing this tournament to play in next RBC Canadian Open at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Hamilton is about a one-hour drive southwest of downtown Toronto.
Koepka and Johnson are RBC ambassadors and have played in the tournament before, but Koepka’s appearance this year is huge because he’s the pre-eminent player on the tour. Johnson is the defending tournament champion.
Both players are using this as a tuneup for the U.S. Open the following week at Pebble Beach in California. Because the PGA shuffled its 2018-19 schedule, the Canadian Open found itself on the calendar the week before the U.S. Open as opposed to the week after the Open.
There are some other notable tour players who will be announced as additions to the Canadian Open field on Friday.
“It is a tremendous field, maybe one of the best that the RBC Canadian Open has ever had, certainly one of the best we’ve had in some time,” tournament director Bryan Crawford told me. “Those things alone are huge, huge draws for the event. The RBC Canadian Open is 115 years old. It’s been around a long time, the third-oldest event on the PGA Tour.”
This is Crawford’s first full year as the tournament director. A onetime player in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts, Crawford has worked in various other sports industries. He is not a golfer per se, though Titleist supplied him with clubs and he uses Titleist Pro V1 balls.
“Part of my hiring was about potentially bringing in a non-golf guy to work with all the really experienced golf people that we have involved and try to help reinvigorate the tournament,” he said. “All of that momentum was kind of headed in the right direction well before I arrived. RBC is as committed as any partner is on tour to the event and its success Everybody was committed to the same kind of vision and (it was just a case of) needing to kind of harness all of that and point everyone in the same direction and make sure everybody was rowing the same way.”
The tournament will feature a concert series headlined by Florida Georgia Line as part of the RBCxMusic concert series.
“It’s really about elevating the event and returning it to a top-flight event on the tour and a top-five sport-entertainment event in Canada that we think it should be and making sure it is firmly embedded there,” Crawford said. “The objective was to raise the profile of the event to attract a new demographic to the Canadian Open that might not have realized that golf is a really cool sporting event and entertainment experience. They are going to come here and enjoy the event and then see a concert on top of that. They get to do it in a really different type of venue. It’s pretty special. This isn’t something that Canadians have seen before. There’s a few events on tour that do it. We will probably have done it the biggest of any of them after this is over.”
With the Toronto Raptors playing in the NBA Finals for the first time, Canada will be on the sports map this month in a way it has never been before.