PGA Tour FedEx Cup playoffs value hype over legitimate golf


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If you’re a golf fan, you’ve been bombarded for weeks with TV ads for the PGA Tour playoffs — or, as the tour would prefer you call them, the “FedEx Cup playoffs.”

There’s an ad that refers to the playoffs as the “ultimate” moment on the PGA Tour. There’s another one that says, “History will be made.”


Since “ultimate” technically means final, it’s not inaccurate to use that word to describe the three tournaments that will conclude Aug. 28 in Atlanta. The clear implication, however, is that ultimate in this context means greatest.

As for the story? Like I said: Oh, please.

History is made in golf at all four major championships, not in the insanely lucrative but ultimately (pun intended) unhistorical playoffs – or, for that matter, the hugely lucrative and overhyped Players Championship.

For the record, I As the playoffs – at least as individual tournaments. In 2006, after Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson made it clear they had no interest in playing in the Tour Championship in November, commissioner Tim Finchem had a brilliant idea: he convinced FedEx to pay for a playoff of four tournaments and moved the Tour Championship to September.

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Money talks – even for very wealthy athletes. Instead of returning home after the four majors and waiting for pre-holiday exhibitions with guaranteed upfront money, players showed up for the playoffs. The first winner in 2007 was Woods. He refused to kiss the “FedEx Cup” trophy, but he showed up to play, and that was really all that mattered.

There was, however, a problem with the system at the time, and although the tour was tweaked and tweaked, it was never successful. In fact, for all the money and all the hype, the playoffs are basically a rip-off. Not on the players, who cash colossal checks the first two weeks and monstrous checks the third week, but on the public.

It starts with the point system, which is designed to make the regular season playoffs and weekly tournaments seem more important than they are and the majors less important.

The tour is not in charge of the majors. Augusta National Golf Club, the US Golf Association, the Royal and Ancient and the PGA of America control them and have separate TV offerings. That’s why a victory in a weekly PGA Tour event is worth 500 FedEx Cup points and a victory in a major tournament is only worth 600.

Ask a player the value of earning a major over a weekly event. They will tell you that it is at least five times greater. Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee told me several years ago that winning a regular tournament was probably worth around $3 million over a career and a major was probably worth over $30 million.

Let’s be careful and say that a major is five times more important. This means that winning a major tournament should be worth 2,500 points, not 600. The tour also gives 550 to the winner of a number of events, including The Players and the three superstar tournaments: the Tiger Woods at Riviera; the Jack Nicklaus event, the Memorial; and the late Arnold Palmer tournament at Bay Hill.

This weekend’s tournament in Memphis gives the winner 2,000 points, as does next week’s event in Delaware. In other words, depending on the tour, a win in the first two playoff events is worth more than three times as much as a win in a major tournament.

There’s a lot of money at stake here: $15 million in each of the first two weeks and $44.75 million split among the top ten finishers at the Tour Championship, with the winner taking home $18 million.

You might point out that this doesn’t sound so crazy compared to the guarantees that the Saudi-funded start-up LIV Golf Series pays, but it’s still a plot silver.

The tour has responded to LIV in two ways: suspending players who have taken Saudi petrodollars and running, and increasing its payouts to eye-popping levels. This year, there will be a $50 million Player Impact program fund that will be split among 10 players to – wait for it – be popular on social media.

Additionally, prize money is increasing across the board. The Players Championship purse will be $25 million next year thanks to new touring television deals.

But like with LIV, all that money can’t make tournaments bigger than they are or as big as the promoters want them to be. LIV is a bunch of 54-hole exhibitions played for Monopoly money. PGA Tour playoff events are more legitimate – 72-hole events in which golfers must earn their place.

Moreover, individual tournaments can be as exciting as any non-major tournament. Last year’s playoff at Caves Valley between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau – won on the sixth hole by Cantlay – was wonderful theater. Ditto for Sunday’s tournament, won on the third hole of the playoffs by Will Zalatoris.

In many ways, the playoffs did what Finchem hoped: to keep the top guys playing and fans interested in watching after the majors ended. This was not the case before. Players were only interested in the silly season when they received money in advance.

The playoffs changed that. And yet that wasn’t enough for the tour, which insists its TV partners act as if a major championship is still decided, especially among the players, when in reality there’s only so much money. stakes.

FedEx has spent a lot of money since 2007 on the playoffs and the tour. Corporate sponsorship is at the heart of everything the tour does. Washington – the nation’s capital – does not have an annual tour. Why? Because there are no corporate sponsors willing to fund a tournament here.

The tour has changed playoff systems more often than most people change their socks. When Vijay Singh won the FedEx Cup the week before the Tour Championship in year 2, the tour changed the system. When Bill Haas stepped onto the victory platform after winning the Tour Championship in 2011 and asked Finchem, “Who won the FedEx Cup?” and Finchem replied shyly, “You did it”, it was time for another change.

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Three years ago, the Tour adopted what is essentially a member-guest format. The points leader starts the Tour Championship at 10 under par, and everyone else starts behind him, up to 30th place.

Last year, Cantlay started at 10 under and shot 269 for the week in Atlanta. Three players played better than him, but Cantlay’s lead made him the winner. It’s kind of like a team that wins the Super Bowl despite being outclassed because they started with a 14-0 lead.

How do you arrange all of this? First, give the majors the importance they deserve. An easy fix, but the tour is loath to do it.

Another easy fix: if you want to call them playoffs, make them real playoffs. After the end of the regular season, start everyone from zero. Next year, only 70 players will make the playoffs, with 50 qualifying for the second tournament and 30 for the Tour Championship. The tour – and the TV stations – live in fear that a star won’t make it to Atlanta. Rory McIlroy missed the cut last week in Memphis. NBC doesn’t want him out for the next two weeks.

The only player really generating ratings is Tiger Woods, and his days of making the playoffs are over. So make it a real competition with everyone subject to elimination.

History will still be unwritten, but at least we will have a true champion when all is said and done. It’s been 16 years. It’s time to settle this once and for all.