Planet Golf — 06 November 2020 by Candace Oehler
Rookies Head Up Strong Field

PHOENIX – It’s the same …. only different. It’s still the Charles Schwab Cup Championship tournament being contested at Phoenix Country Club Nov. 6-8, but this year, the Cup is missing. The PGA TOUR Champions event historically ends the season, crowns not only a tournament winner, but awards the season-long points champion with the coveted Cup. Due to COVID-19, and the cancellation of 14 tournaments, the event has been reconfigured, and reimagined.

Now a three-day, 54-hole event, it features a full-field of 81 golfers, instead of the top 36 on the PGA TOUR Champions money list. It is still the final tournament of the calendar year, but the 2020-2021 season will wrap around and once again culminate at Phoenix Country Club next November, where the Charles Schwab Cup will be awarded.

The field is truly star-studded, frankly, more exciting than the limited 36-player field. It includes rookies Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, both two-time winners this season. They are joined by fellow members of the strong rooking class of 2020-2021: Robert Karlsson, Brett Quigley, Shane Bertsch, and Mike Weir.

Fred Couples, Retief Goosen, Tom Lehman, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, Kenny Perry, and Vijay Singh are all here. Five-time Charles Schwab Cup Champion Bernhard Langer, who has eight top-10s, and three runner-up finishes in 12 starts at the tournament, is here looking for his first Schwab Cup tournament win.

Among the field are 24 players with a PGA TOUR Champions major victory; 23 with a PGA TOUR major. So, yes, definitely an outstanding field.

There are even eight(!) Masters winners – Bernhard Langer (1985, 1993), Larry Mize (1987), Sandy Lyle (1988), Fred Couples (1992), Jose Maria Olazabal (1994, 1999), Mark O’Meara (1998), Vijay Singh (1999), and Mike Weir (2003).

Next week’s Masters was a hot topic of conversation:

Jim Furyk – It’s going to be in great shape. But I imagine they had to overseed that golf course very early to get the growth, to get the grass the way the wanted to, which would mean they’d have to water pretty heavily to do so. Can the golf course dry out for a month, is it going to play firm and fast like we all want to see Augusta, or is it going to be a little slower, a little longer, maybe even favor the bomber. They can always control the firmness of the greens, but it’s the fairways and the roll of the drives that is difficult to control, so we’ll see.

Ernie Els – My rookie year was my first and my best time there.  I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Augusta National. The members and the club and the facility are unbelievable, but the golf course itself, it didn’t quite go my way.  I played with some great champions there in the past.  My first time playing the tournament I played with Ben Crenshaw, and he was kind of a master of Augusta, and he showed me around the tournament and the golf course. I shot a 67, which is still one of the best rounds I played there. Ben was a good mentor for me around there.

It’s all about the weather report next week for those guys.  If it’s wet and cold and rainy, the long hitters are really going to benefit.  Tell me the weather report and I’ll give you my predictions.

Fred Couples –I’ve been watching the weather, it seems to be warm which will help a little bit.  I’m there to make the cut.  I didn’t make the cut last year, and I played 13 and 15 horrifically, and then the second round I shot 70, and if I wasn’t choking to make the cut I probably could have shot 67 or 68.

I think I’m playing well enough to make the cut. But it’s so tough to play there four days and play every hole well. My days of really, really competing there are to make the cut.  Sad to say, but it is what it is.

Re Tiger – I talk to him every day. We’re playing Monday (with Justin Thomas).  You know, he’s wound up. He’s a funny guy. I think he’ll be just fine.  He loves the place, he can play there at any given time.  It just depends on how he feels, and I can relate to that.  But when I don’t feel well, I can still slap it around.  But when you’re the greatest player to ever play it kind of wears on you a little bit.  But he’ll get used to it, and if he’s feeling healthy he’ll be one of the 10 or 15 guys to beat.

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About Author

Candace Oehler’s deep dive into sports media began several decades ago when she won a trip from Seattle to Mariners spring training in Arizona. Noting that non-English-speaking Latino ball players received little, if any, media coverage, she fluently/en español became a pioneer in Spanish sports media, and eventually became known affectionately throughout the Latino MLB community as “La Veterana.” Candace has written for team publications and; hosted her own radio show on several Spanish-language stations; served as producer/reporter/engineer for the Mariners’ inaugural season of Spanish radio broadcasts; and has been a reporter for MLB Network Radio the past 10 years. She was invited to Venezuela by future Hall-of-Fame shortstop Omar Vizquel to cover rebuilding efforts and accomplishments of his charitable foundation following the devastating 1999 mudslides; worked in Puerto Rico for former Major Leaguers Joey Cora and Carlos Baerga managing fundraising events; and was the only female in the raucous locker room when the hometown favorite Licey Tigers won the 2004 Caribbean World Series in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Candace was introduced to the game of golf in 1992 by members of Seattle’s historic Fir State Golf Club, who had approached her to manage their (then) little fundraising tournament hosted by a shy, gangly 15-year old Tiger Woods. Candace co-managed the annual event for nearly 20 years, working with hosts that included Ken Griffey, Sr., Birdie Griffey, Mike Cameron, Nate McMillan, Warren Moon, and Dale Ellis. She became secretary of the club and the Fir State Junior Golf Foundation, and got totally, completely hooked on golf, learning to play on a set of Redbirds given to her by the club (apparently they considered her mother’s Patty Bergs a bit antiquated). She has since traded up to another set of Redbirds and a much more user-friendly golf environment in Arizona. And, once a prolonged stint on the DL is over, she can’t wait to get back on the course and continue lowering her current 21-handicap to ….?

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