Honk if You Think the Florida Swing is Dead

Out with the oranges and in with the guacamoles.  Say bye-bye to the Florida Swing and hello to the Tex-Mex Swing.

No one saw it coming.  While everyone gabbed about the decline of the West Coast Swing, the Florida Swing seemed as solid as ever.

2016 changed everything.

Just two years ago, the Florida Swing was King Kong strong.  Jack, WGC Doral, Arnie.  And, thanks to Jordan Spieth winning in a stunning playoff, the lowly Valspar gained an unmistakable nouveau cachet.

However, in 2016, Florida lost both Arnold Palmer and the WGC Doral.  Eyes are now wide open.  What’s left?  Jack’s second-string event, a week of crickets and tumbleweeds, a one-trick-pony Spieth-less Valspar, and a kingless throne.

When Ben Hogan called St. Peter for a tee time, the Colonial Invitational quickly became a week off for many top players.  When Byron Nelson joined his fellow caddie at Pearly Gates National, the Byron Nelson Classic suffered the same fate.  The Houston Open now outshines both DFW events (Rory has played only Houston of the three), and certainly the WGC Match Play in Austin is the crown jewel of Texas golf.

Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan once wrote, “The times they are a-changin’.”  Truth is, the times are always a-changing.  The West Coast Swing fell into decay.  It was hurt by a number of developments: the FedEx Cup and the now-uber-hyped team events extended the ipso facto season (that being the only season that really matters) well into the fall; the wrap-around fall events stole the “start of season” tag; big-name PGA Tour winners regularly skipped the Tournament of Champions; the Pebble Beach Pro-Am became an open golf-hipster joke; the removal of the Match Play in Arizona was a body blow; the Bob Hope event dwindled to nothing before our eyes.

But, as stated above, times are always changing.  And now the West Coast Swing is coming back.  The Phoenix Open held its own during the down-cycle, carved out its own niche, and continues to grow.  The L.A. Open has become a Can’t Miss tournament for more and more top American players.  Pebble Beach, with a guarantee of Jordan Spieth every year, has regained some glitter.  (As well, no one questions Justin Timblerlake’s “A-list Celebrity” status — not to mention his golfing skills — which deflects the assault of b-list jokes from the c-list golf media.)

The times are always changing, but that doesn’t negate the fact that some things never change.  It’s popular in certain circles to point out life is not a zero-sum game.  While that’s true in a simplistic way in some very specific cases, at heart, it’s a shallow political talking point.  Life has winners and losers, and losers with cable TV and air conditioning are no happier about things than were losers reading pulp magazines in sweltering heat.  [Tell your wife she has luxuries of which the wealthiest people in the 12th century could not have dreamed.  Does she no longer want a new car like the one the Joneses just bought?]

The FedEx Cup, as artificial and clumsy as it might be, stole thunder from the West Coast Swing.  And, now, the Mexico City-Austin-Houston trio of tournaments is stealing from Florida.  The West Coast Swing is coming back, but it took years and has been aided by declining interest in the FedEx Cup “playoffs.”  (I still maintain this is the last year of the FedEx Cup.)  Florida’s decline has just begun.  Date the start to when Tim Finchem “punished” candidate President Donald Trump by destroying the WGC Doral.  Whatever date golf historians decide upon, the decline has begun, is steep, and will continue.

Here’s a fun way to think of it.  The Florida Swing now has one more tournament than the Hawaii Swing.  Is Jack’s second-string event more compelling than the Tournament of Champions?

The Florida Swing is dead.  Long live the Tex-Mex Swing!

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2 Responses to Honk if You Think the Florida Swing is Dead

  1. ThreeWiggleExpert says:

    While I don’t entirely agree with the tours motivation for moving away from Trump and Doral, I am somewhat thrilled with the result as it moves another WGC event out of the US and to an international venue. I say that because it always seemed strange to call it a “World” golf championship and yet, 3 of the 4 were on US soil.

    I also agree with the fate of Arnie’s event following that of Lord Byron. Many pro’s played The Byron Nelson, I assume to honor the legend, until he passed. Then it stopped being a big time event. Seems Arnie’s event may go down that same path.

    • lannyh says:

      That “world” thing has never bothered me much. We have the World Series in baseball. NFL Super Bowl rings say World Champions. It’s marketing. Golf already has tournaments all over the world. If one of those wishes to become prominent, it can do so organically. Like the Waste Management/Phoenix Open. Pick out a niche and perfect it. Or go the route of the UAE events: money, money, money. Less pristine, but very effective.

      Also, about Mexico, it’s a world event — that just happens to be in a U.S. time zone. Can’t alienate those television viewers, i.e., television advertisers. I’m not opposed to “big events” all over the world, but there can be an element of square peg/round hole leading to a tail-wagging-the-dog situation. (Surely there is another cliche I can work in…) As well, we already HAVE “big events” all over the world. It’s up to India to make the Indian Open as big as the U.S. Open, or British Open, or Australian Open, or…

      I think you are right about the Byron Nelson, in that players always made a point of greeting Mr. Nelson after rounds. But as with most things, there are multiple factors:

      1. Tiger Woods regularly played the Byron Nelson, as Byron Nelson was one of the first pro events to grant entry to Woods when a young amateur. However, after Woods’s made-cut streak ended there, he didn’t return. (Check me on that; I think that’s accurate, but he might have returned once more. I don’t think so, but I could be wrong.) This was during the Tiger Only media frenzy, so it automatically became a second-tier event.

      2. The Byron Nelson used to draw a lot of top European players, but a big Euro Tour event (the BMW Championship?) was either created or moved into a scheduling conflict with the Byron Nelson, so many of the Euros stopped playing the Nelson.

      3. Assorted other factors. The heat; competition from other factors; the decline of the Colonial meant the Texas Bonus million-dollar prize had less appeal; the courses; the two-course format, etc. (By the way, the event moves to a new venue in a year or two.)

      A similar perfect storm seems to be building in Florida.

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