When Honda ends its 42-year run as a title sponsor on the PGA Tour this week, not a single top 10 player in the world will be competing at one of the tour’s most iconic venues.
That’s largely because the Honda Classic is wedged between the Genesis Invitational, one of the new “elevated” events this year, and the Players Championship.
The “Florida Swing” will kick off at PGA National on Thursday with noted tour grinder Sungjae Im as the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 18. He also earned his first tour title at the event three years ago.
Florida native Billy Horschel is right behind Im at No. 19. Horschel will play five consecutive weeks after refusing to drop South Florida’s lone remaining tour event from his schedule.
“I’m sort of disappointed in the PGA Tour in the sense that — I’m not going to say they didn’t prioritize the Honda Classic, they prioritize every sponsor that we have,” Horschel said Wednesday. “It’s always tough when you’ve got 47 different sponsors on the PGA Tour and you have ‘X’ amount of partners on the PGA Tour to always please every one of them.
“But when I was out on tour early in my career, this was a hot event. You had top 20, all top 20 players in the world playing here. This was an event to play at.
“Then eventually over the years it’s sort of been relegated to not as strong of a field anymore, due to reasons — scheduling being the biggest thing, where the tournament fell.”
Honda announced last year that it would be ending its run as the title sponsor of the event. A new sponsor has not been finalized, but Horschel said he has been promised by the tour that the event will remain on the schedule at PGA National.
Horschel is one of dozens of tour pros who live in South Florida, and he believes it’s important the tour figures out a solution to the event’s problem — most pressing being its place on the schedule.
“You’ve got 30 to 40 PGA Tour pros that live within a couple miles of this place, and I think you’ve only got a handful of them playing this week, and that’s disappointing. It really is,” he said.
“The Tour needs to understand that, that when you have 40 guys here that could stay in their bed, hop in their car and drive 10, 15 minutes to a tournament, they need to make sure that they’re putting this in the right spot so they get all those top players playing here on a regular basis.”
This week’s field features only three of the top 20 players in the world, with No. 20 Shane Lowry being the third after finishing second at PGA National last year. He was unable to hold the Sunday lead as Sepp Straka charged from five shots behind to become the first Austrian to win on tour.
Straka did so in dramatic fashion, battling his way through a sudden downpour on the 72nd hole.
He will begin his title defense ranked No. 31 — the fourth-highest in this week’s field. And who knows if the likes of Im, Lowry and Straka would even be playing if not for their recent success at the event.
Horschel, never one to be shy about sharing his opinions, has been in the tour’s ear about the importance of fixing what he believes ails the event.
“We used to have two tournaments down in South Florida, here and at Doral. Now we only have one,” he said. “We’re not going to lose this one. I’ve been told that we’re going to stay here.
“Now we’ve just got to find who that sponsor is going to be for the future, and at the same time, we need to make sure that the date itself is in a better spot.
“They’ve guaranteed me that we’re going to be here, and I’m excited about that.”
–Field Level Media
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