And then there was golf. In the end.
There was only one round of rounds at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, but with all that has happened up to that point, it feels like a big accomplishment.
First there was the challenge of actually filling the field as a larger than usual number of players withdrew from the event before it started and the alternatives list dried up. Originally planned for 132 players, the three-year-old PGA Tour stop only had 126 participants on Thursday. The problem seemed to be due in part to the fact that the previous week’s tournament was in Japan (it’s a long way to play a second straight week) and it comes in the middle of autumn when many players are looking for time out. There were also Bermuda’s strict COVID-19 protocols, which both require a negative test within four days of travel and must be fully vaccinated for the traveler – or be in quarantine for 14 days. It creates hurdles that some players simply prefer to avoid.
Then there were the travel problems some came to the island with. Defending champion Brian Gay was banned from boarding his flight on Monday as his Charlotte, NC plane was rated “too heavy” given the number of golf bags it carried. To make matters worse, most airlines only offer a handful of daily flights to Bermuda. This meant that some players were delayed by a whole day in their arrival (more on that later).
Wednesday brought another wrinkle: The Pro-Am was canceled and the Port Royal Golf Club had to be closed until late in the day due to “persistently bad weather and dangerous gusts of wind”.
For real? Crazy wind? On an island in the middle of the Atlantic? Who saw this coming?
Thursday was more like it. With Mother Nature’s fan on “high”, the morning wave fought its way while running on the course – and that doesn’t even explain the additional “joy” of encountering occasional rain streaks from the side. The game was temporarily interrupted when the gusts got through. When things resumed, golfers were still pretending to be “scared to death” at 18-inch putts.
During the day, however, at least the sun came out a bit and the players who tee off in the afternoon took a little break with the wind easing … easy. It was nowhere near “quiet,” but the scoring average fell below 73 (on the par-71 layout) after hitting 74.19 in the morning – only three of the day’s best 24 rounds were early.
At sunset there were still only 34 players under par, a far cry from what happened in Vegas for two weeks earlier this month. According to Data Golf’s predictive model, there is a nearly two-in-three chance that the cut will be two or three above par. Three-over would be the highest 36-hole average in two of the past three seasons.
Here are three more takeaways from Day 1.
“Well, oddly enough, it’s been the longest time I haven’t hit a ball before a tournament,” said Gay, 49, Wednesday afternoon. “It’s been a couple of days so I’ll try to shake off some rust and see to get out there tomorrow morning to start.”
Gay had done a WD at the Shriners Children’s Open a few weeks ago and had only been able to train at home until this week. But the day before he left, Orlando had bad weather and because of travel problems it took him two days to get to Bermuda. Neither did any training. (The five-time Tour winner said that when he was stuck in Charlotte on Monday he was looking for a driving range to hit balls, but that the logistics were too difficult to pull through.)
As it turned out, Gay in Port Royal could have used a little more practice time. His Thursday 75th left him in a tie at 89th place, 10 shots on the lead held by Brandon Hagy and Chad Ramey when play was suspended due to darkness. The defending champions will have a lot to do to make the cut, let alone keep their crown.
Speaking of Hagy, we’ll have what he’s got. On a day when only 34 players were below average, he cracked the code and pocketed a six under 65 for a share of the lead.
Port Royal is the shortest course on tour, and in the first two seasons two of the shortest hitters on the tour won there. Gay cut just 286.6 yards from the tee in the season he won. And when Brendon Todd took the title in 2019, his average for the season was just 282.7 yards. Conversely, there is Hagy, who measures an average of 320.9 yards. With this course, perhaps more than any other on the program, distance plays a much lesser role. With the nasty winds and narrow fairways, most players hit all of the same places anyway. But Hagy made full use of his distance on Thursday and filled his scorecard with nine birdies.
After turning pro in 2014, Hagy earned his PGA Tour status in 2017 but struggled through injury to keep his card. It hasn’t been exactly hot lately as it finished T-58, T-56, and T-54 in its last three launches this fall. That’s not to say he’s a total stranger to the top of the leaderboard, with three top 10 finishes last season including a solo runner-up at The Honda Classic.
Hagy only has two career starts in majors. Both the US Open 2015 and the PGA Championship 2021 ended prematurely with missed cuts. But a win this week in Bermuda would earn him an invitation to the Masters next April, where hopefully there’s a little less wind.
Opportunities in this game are abundant. But they are also relative. The best players in the world don’t worry about rankings, qualifying for tournaments or holding their cards.
At the other end of that spectrum, however, are the journeyman who compete for FedEx Cup points and prize money every week to keep their dreams alive.
That end of the spectrum includes David Skinns.
The 39-year-old is starting the fall season for the third time after a 2020/21 season at the Korn Ferry Tour, where he won once and recorded five more top 10 finishes, good to finally earn his PGA Tour card . Now in Bermuda, Skinns is two strokes off the lead in a now full event and has a hole left in his opening round when play resumes on Friday morning.
He’s a bit older and more widely traveled than most of his fellow rookies, but Skinns doesn’t shy away from his chance.
And he shouldn’t. What does he have to lose?