Each of those players, all ranked in the top 10 in the world, live in northern Palm Beach County, all within a 10-20 minute drive to Honda’s home, PGA National. It’s an event they could play sleeping in their own beds, enjoying home-cooked meals and providing a nice boost for their local tournament.
Yet, none of those elite golfers who have relocated to our area to take advantage of our weather, world-class golf courses, restaurants – and most importantly, tax breaks – feel the need to give back one week of their time.
One week to the community that has given them everything they need to help them succeed at the highest level by playing in their hometown PGA tournament.
Thomas, No. 7 in the World Golf Rankings, has not entered Honda since 2019. McIlroy, No. 5, has now skipped four in a row. Johnson, No. 9, hasn’t played since 2015. Cantlay, No. 3, has never teed it up at Honda.
The tournament, which starts Thursday at PGA National, is played on the Champion Course, which was ranked the third toughest on Tour last season. Just sayin.’
Honda has dealt with underwhelming fields in recent years, partly due to where it falls on the PGA Tour schedule and partly because of a handful of the greatest golfers in the world who live in our community shun the tournament.
The tournament received a bump by moving to the start of the Florida Swing this year with a field that includes six in the top 25 players in the World Golf Rankings and 11 of the top 50 (plus Nos. 51 and 52).
“There are so many good players out here that the Honda will produce its own stars,” said Jack Nicklaus, whose Nicklaus Children’s Health Care foundation is the primary beneficiary of the Honda Classic.
“Guys will play well at the Honda and they’ll keep coming back, pretty soon they’ll be your lifeblood of the PGA Tour.”
Nicklaus, as well as Honda officials, are careful not to publicly criticize the premier golfers who could roll out of bed and be at the course in less time than it takes to play the Bear Trap. Heck, McIlroy lives so close he could walk there in less time than it takes him to play nine holes.
The schedule is packed this time of year. This year, Honda is stuck between two invitationals — the Genesis hosted by Tiger Woods and the Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill — and two weeks before The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Still, many others, including fan favorites Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland, along with other locals in the top 50 like Genesis champion Joaquin Niemann, Shane Lowry and Matthew Wolff manage to fit the event into their schedule.
“It’s a lot,” Thomas said. “There’s probably four or five tournaments I would love to play that are just not in a good part of the schedule. That’s just the way that it is.
“Unfortunately you just got to take off sometimes and if I played that, it would be a lot of golf in a row and I really don’t need to be hating golf in the middle of February.”
Thomas played the last two weeks, the Phoenix Open and Genesis. Prior, he played twice since the first week of December. And he likely is not playing in the Palmer the week after Honda. He hasn’t played Bay Hill since 2015.
He will have played 16 rounds of competitive golf in a span of 94 days prior to The Players.
McIlroy is using Honda week as his break between playing Genesis and the Palmer Invitational. He’ll then be in The Players field.
Thomas and McIlroy both have had success on the Champion Course. JT won Honda in 2018 and was third two years prior. Rory, ranked No. 5, was the champion in 2012 and runner-up in 2014.
Johnson attempted to play Honda three times. He missed the cut twice and finished 46th. He is a combined 27-over par in his eight rounds.
So the man who has spent 135 weeks atop the World Golf Rankings has surrendered, given up trying to play the challenging course. His last attempt was when he missed the cut in 2015. After missing the cut last week at Genesis, Johnson has played two rounds of competitive golf since Feb. 6. And if he skips the Palmer, something he has done since 2011, he will have played two rounds of competitive golf in 31 days entering The Players.
Three years ago, during Honda week, Johnson traveled farther for an appearance for Swiss watchmaker Hublot held on Palm Beach than he would have if his schedule called for a trip to PGA National that day.
Hawking Hublots pays more than missing the cut.
Cantlay, the Long Beach native, recently expressed his love for “California golf.” He has played the last three weeks and four out of the last five. He likely will take a two week break.
From 2014 to 2018, Honda attracted on the average about half of the top 20 golfers in the world at the time and more than half ranked in the top 10. This is the second straight year the field is lacking a player currently ranked in the top 10.
Two schedule changes impacted the Honda field. The World Golf Championships event at Doral was moved to Mexico in 2016 and in 2019, The Players Championship was moved back to March from May.
The last four years, while competing with two invitationals, a WGC event and The Players, Honda received commitments from 19 players in the top 20 and four in the top 10, combined.
The tournament with the longest running sponsor on Tour has been squeezed by these events, making it easy for many to take off this week.
Honda was moved up by three weeks this year, to the start of the Florida Swing – it followed a WCG event at The Concession, Bay Hill and The Players last year – and it helped.
But still, nothing like the fields we saw in the early to mid 2010s.
“The Honda sits in a tough place,” Nicklaus said. “They come off a series of pretty good tournaments, and particularly coming off Riviera. The guys like Riviera, it’s a nice golf course, it’s fun to play. Then they got to travel across the country and they tee it up at the Honda.
“A lot are going to go to Bay Hill because of their respect for Arnold. They play TPC following that. They can’t play all those weeks. I understand that. I couldn’t play all those weeks.”
Golfers can’t play every week. That’s understood. But the bigger names who are now routinely snubbing their hometown tournament could easily find a way to fit Honda into their schedules.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Honda Classic: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson among those snubbing event