And then there was golf. Finally.
Only one round has been completed at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship but given all that’s happened to get to this point, it feels like a major 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 began, and the alternate list dried up. Originally slated for 132 players, the three-year-old PGA Tour stop had only 126 competing come Thursday. The issue, in part, seemed due to the fact the previous week’s tournament was in Japan (it’s a long way to go to play for a second straight week) and comes smack in the middle of the fall, when many players are seeking downtime. There was also Bermuda’s strict COVID-19 protocols, which require both a negative test within four days of travel and for the traveler be fully vaccinated—or have quarantined for 14 days. It makes for hurdles that some player simply preferred to avoid.
Then there were the travel issues some faced getting to the island. On Monday, defending champion Brian Gay wasn’t allowed to board his flight because his plane from Charlotte, N.C., was deemed “too heavy” given the number of golf bags it was carrying. Complicating things further is that most airlines have just a handful of flights per day to Bermuda. That meant some players’ arrivals were delayed by a full day (more on that later).
Wednesday brought another wrinkle: The Pro-Am was canceled and Port Royal Golf Club had to be closed until late in the day due to “continuing inclement weather and dangerous wind gusts.”
Really? Crazy wind? On an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Who saw that coming?
Thursday was more of the same. With Mother Nature’s fan on “high,” the morning wave struggled just walking on the course—and that doesn’t even account for the extra “delight” of facing occasional bands of sideways rain. Play was briefly suspended at times as the squalls came through. When things resumed, golfers still professed to being “scared to death” over 18-inch putts.
As the day went on, however, the sun at least came out a bit and players teeing off in the afternoon got a bit of a break with the wind dying down some. It wasn’t exactly “calm,” by any stretch, but the scoring average dropped under 73 (on the par-71 layout) after being 74.19 in the morning—only three of the top 24 rounds on the day occurred early.
By sunset, there were still only 34 players under par, a far cry from what happened for two weeks in Vegas earlier this month. According to Data Golf’s predictive model, there is nearly a two-in-three chance the cut will be two or three over par. Three-over would match the highest 36-hole cut in two of the last three seasons.
Here are three more takeaways from Day 1.
“Well, oddly enough, it’s the longest I’ve gone without hitting a ball before a tournament,” Gay, 49, said Wednesday afternoon. “Been quite a few days, so I’m going to try to shake a little rust and see, go out tomorrow morning to start.”
Coming off a WD at the Shriners Children’s Open a few weeks ago, Gay had only really been able to practice at home leading up to this week. But there was bad weather in Orlando the day before he left home and with the travel issues, it took two days to get to Bermuda, neither of which included any practice. (The five-time tour winner said that when he was stuck in Charlotte on Monday he explored finding a driving range to hit balls, but that the logistics were too tricky to pull off.)
As it turns out, Gay could have used a bit more practice time at Port Royal. His Thursday 75 left him in a tie for 89th, 10 shots off the lead held by Brandon Hagy’s lead when play was suspended for darkness. The defending champ will have work to do to make the cut, let alone keep his crown.
Speaking of Hagy, we’ll have what he’s having. On a day where just 34 players were under par, he cracked the code, carding a six-under 65 for a one-stroke lead.
Port Royal is the shortest course on tour, and the first two seasons, two of the shortest hitters on tour won there. Gay averaged just 286.6 yards off the tee for the season the year he won. And when Brendon Todd claimed the title in 2019, his season driving average was only 282.7 yards. Conversely, there’s Hagy, who averages 320.9 yards. At this course, perhaps more than any other on the schedule, distance is much less of a factor. With the nasty winds and tight fairways, most of the players are all hitting to the same spots anyway. But Hagy took full advantage of his distance Thursday, filling up his scorecard with nine birdies.
After turning pro in 2014, Hagy earned his PGA Tour status in 2017, but has had to battle through injuries to keep his card since. He hasn’t exactly been hot, as of late, posting T-58, T-56 and T-54 finishes in his last three starts this fall. That’s not to say he’s a complete stranger to the top of the leader board, though, with three top-10s last season, including a solo second at The Honda Classic.
Hagy only has two career starts in majors. Both the 2015 U.S. Open and 2021 PGA Championship ended early with missed cuts. But a win this week in Bermuda would earn him a Masters invite next April, where hopefully, there’s a little less wind.
Opportunities in this game are aplenty. But they’re also relative. The best players in the world are not concerned about finishing positions, qualifying for tournaments or keeping their cards.
Yet on the other end of that spectrum are the journeymen who fight every week for FedEx Cup points and prize money to keep their dreams alive.
That end of the spectrum includes David Skinns.
The 39-year-old is making his third start of the fall season after a 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour season that saw him win once and record five other top-10 finishes, good to earn him his PGA Tour card at long last. Now, in Bermuda, in what has become a full-field event, Skinns is two shots off the lead with one hole in his opening round left when play resumes Friday morning.
He’s a bit older and more well-traveled than most of his fellow rookies, but Skinns is not shying away from his opportunity.
And he shouldn’t. What has he got to lose?