Entering my first amateur tournament in EA Sports PGA Tour on PS5, I was feeling pretty confident. Admittedly, I didn’t think I would win the whole thing, but I expected to rank somewhere respectable and rake in some prize money. But things got off to an ominous start with a double bogey on the first hole and only got worse from there.
In the end, I finished 138th on the leaderboard.
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EA Sports PGA Tour is the video game publisher’s first return to the green since Rory McIlroy PGA Tour back in 2015, and it’s also one of the toughest sports games I’ve ever played. The game simulates the feel of golf with remarkable accuracy. Which means the immense frustration that comes when whiffling a starting drive or overshooting a simple putt is very much present. And yet, every failure only makes me want to play more.
Curiously, I’ve bounced off similarly mechanically-complex sports games in the past. However, EA Sports PGA Tour has captured my full attention. That's thanks to its unparalleled authenticity as well as its RPG-style progression mechanic. Nevertheless, the lack of a proper tutorial mode did make my first few hours a little bumpier than they perhaps needed to be.
The fundamentals of golf
When stepping up to the tee in EA Sports PGA Tour, it’s not just a matter of putting the right amount of power on your shot and aiming in the general direction of the hole, there is far more to consider if you want your ball to land in an advantageous spot.
For starters, you’ve obviously got to be conscious of which club you’re using. Then you need to account for the level of wind as well as the elevation of the green or fairway you’re aiming for. And you can’t forget to consider the surface conditions either. Plus, if factoring in all that wasn’t enough, the game also packs 20 individual shot types. You’ll need to know the difference between an explosive punch shot and a more considered flop shot if you want to make the cut at competitions.
It’s a lot to take in, and the margin for error is pretty small. Even if you opt for the arcade mode (which is ostensibly an easy setting), you’ll still need to carefully consider each swing otherwise your ball is going straight into the rough or a bunker.
During my first few hours with the game, it wasn’t uncommon for me to take a couple of minutes in between swings in order to account for everything — and I’d still mess up my shot most of the time.
Be prepared to fail, and fail often, when getting to grips with the fundamentals of EA Sports PGA Tour. But once things start to click, and you wrap your head around the game’s numerous systems, that’s where the real fun begins.
After a few hours, I have become a noticeably better player, and that learning curve is not only rewarding but it's a great incentive to keep playing in the hopes of improving further.
One of my most memorable moments so far was sinking a very tricky 63-yard putt that was crucial for keeping my score intact. In fact, I celebrated making this shot more than I cheered after defeating some of the toughest bosses in Elden Ring.
Now, I'm still a fairly shoddy golfer — I have yet to come even close to winning a tournament — but I’m nevertheless hooked all the same. This is a real testament to the satisfying gameplay loop that EA Sports PGA Tour offers. And it very closely mirrors the real sport of golf where you can flip between jubilation and utter despair from hole to hole.
Not the smoothest start
However, as much as I’m enjoying the learning curve of EA Sports PGA Tour, and it is certainly satisfying to become a better player through your own efforts, it’s hard to deny that the game does a poor job of getting players up to speed out of the gate.
My first hour with the game was a maddening experience filled with frustration, and mostly devoid of fun. That’s because bafflingly the game lacks a comprehensive tutorial. When you step onto the green for the first time, you’re briskly walked through the basics but after that, you’re pretty much on your own to figure stuff out. I was forced to stumble through menus and attempt to decipher the UI myself in a process of pure trial and error.
The closest thing to a tutorial is the challenge mode which includes a set of Coaching Academy missions, but these do little to actually teach you the basics and don’t offer anything but binary feedback. Good luck figuring out how to actually complete each objective because the game sure doesn’t give you that information.
As I said, it is rewarding to become a better player through regular play, but an initial nudge in the right direction would have been appreciated. The fact I felt forced to google the best use for various shot types at one point would suggest the game’s onboarding process needs some refinement.
Growing my golfer
EA Sports PGA Tour doesn’t just expect you to become a better golfer through practice alone. The game also packs RPG-like mechanics allowing you to upgrade your creator character over time.
This aspect is surprisingly compelling, and it takes some of the sting out of early failures. For example, in my first tournament, where I ranked in the triple digits, I still came away with a good chunk of XP and was able to use that to improve my golfer’s stats. This allowed me to enter my second tournament in a strong position — and in this one, I managed to rank in the top 75, just about.
Leveling up your character is the driving force behind the game’s career mode, and when coupled with my own growth as a player, it feels like I’m inching closer to actually winning a tournament after every play session. Although, I’m still a long way off from being able to claim the iconic green jacket at Augusta National.
Of course, if you’d rather just play with the world's top pros straight away, that is very much an option as well. You can immediately jump into the quick play mode and select from real-life golfers including Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Nelly Korda.
My verdict on EA Sports PGA Tour
EA Sports PGA Tour is one of the most enjoyable sports games I’ve played in a long time. The learning curve is seriously steep, and I wish it did a better job of helping the player through those frustrating early hours, but once you get your head in the game, and understand the basics, you might just find yourself hooked.
I’m yet to even touch upon the high production values that add the level of authenticity that EA Sports titles are known for. The commentary is particularly impressive, sometimes even giving you subtle hints about how to approach a shot. And with 28 real-life (and two fantasy) courses to pick from, avid watchers of the sport will love stepping out onto the links.
I’m far from a golfing aficionado (although I did recently enjoy Full Swing on Netflix) but, despite that, EA Sports PGA Tour has still managed to seriously impress me.
There’s no denying that even with several hours under my belt I still sort of suck at the game, but I’m determined to continue growing my golfer’s abilities and claim my first trophy. It just might take a while to get there.