The PGA Tour season kicks off in Hawaii and with it comes many questions to be answered by the time the season concludes - somewhat more abruptly this time - with the Tour Championship in September.
The first question could be why so few of the top-ranked golfers are in Hawaii to kick off the year? Missing from the field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions are Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els. That group, if you're keeping score, includes players 1-4 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
This is nothing new, of course. Even the guaranteed purse can't entice these guys to break their winter vacation for a week in paradise. To be fair, it's a longer season than any other sport and involves more travel than any other. Players take the breaks when they can get them.
There are other more pressing, looming issues for the game and its fans, all of which will play out in 2013. Herewith, a look at five of them:
ANCHORED PUTTERS: Right now, this is technically still just a proposed ban, but it's likely to be adopted when the rules-making bodies gather to adjust things. How will this affect the professional players, some who have made a living with the long wands for decades? The PGA Tour has yet to make a ruling and it's said to be considering all options. That could mean adopting it earlier than the 2016 time frame for the rest of the world or ignoring the rule. Some players have hinted at a possible lawsuit and that might lead to a third option: a grandfather clause that could see players currently using them allowed to continue. Clearly, there are no easy answers to this one.
A NEW SEASON: It's not just the start of a new season, it's a new season all together, in that the year will end with the Tour Championship and the 2013-14 season start with the Frys.Com Open in October. That compressed year means more players trying to get into fewer events. The result will be a squeeze on the newcomers who arrived this year via the Web.com Tour and the Q-School. Many used to cash in on the Fall Series but no more. Making money early before the first reshuffle will be vital for those with limited status. Otherwise they may find themselves on the sidelines hoping for starts.
CANADIANS: There are five Canucks on the PGA Tour this year. Graham DeLaet and David Hearn, both of whom earned more than $1 million last year and could easily notch victories in 2013; rookie Brad Fritsch (see above); Stephen Ames who turns 49 in April and is closing in on Champions Tour status; and Mike Weir, who went 0 for 14 last year in cuts and will cash in one of his career money list exemptions to play a full schedule. He'll arrive in Augusta this year a decade after his greatest win, hoping to rekindle some momentum. All have intriguing stories that will play out over the season.
EQUIPMENT CHANGES: It's been like a game of musical chairs since the calendar flipped to 2013, with players moving from one equipment company to another. Rory McIlroy will be with Nike, as will Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley. Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink are now with TaylorMade. Gary Woodland has Callaway clubs in his bag. You almost need a program to keep track. Not every change goes smoothly and a watchful eye will be out to see if new clubs mean an adjustment period.
R&A AND WOMEN: With Augusta National GC admitting its first women members, the focus is now on the R&A as well as Muirfield, site of this year's British Open. Neither outfit allows women as members and you can be sure the temperature is already rising under both groups – but especially the former – to get with the times. The British tabloids should have a field day come July when the third major of the season gets underway.