Why FedExCup Playoffs Still Need 2 or 3 More Changes

Kathy BissellCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2012

Rory McIlroy won the last two FedExCup Playoff events
Rory McIlroy won the last two FedExCup Playoff eventsWarren Little/Getty Images

The FedExCup Playoffs are getting more popular, particularly this season with exciting finishes, big names and two popular champions in the first three events: Nick Watney, in a mini-comeback at the Barclays and Rory McIlroy with back-to-back victories at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships.  When Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are in contention, as they have been the last two weeks, that draws even more attention. 

In addition, looking two weeks out, any player in the top five who wins the Tour Championship should automatically win the FedExCup because of the points distribution.  That means Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson or Brandt Snedeker could win the FedExCup and the $10 million first place prize.  It doesn’t mean they will win it. But with a victory, they are probably a lock to win it.  That will be an exciting way to conclude the regular season.

But there could be a couple improvements in the Playoffs, and one has to do with scheduling, which is the number one issue standing in the way of making the Playoffs super compelling.

There needs to be more time between the PGA Championship and the start of the Playoffs.   Rather than having only one week between those two, the schedule needs to have two weeks between them.  Right now we have 10 pounds of golf in a five pound bag and it leads to other complications.

Yes, that means the Playoffs would start on Labor Day weekend.  And yes, Deutsche Bank has traditionally held that slot, and they are traditionally the second event.  So let them keep the date but make them the first event, and start the Playoffs in Boston on Labor Day weekend.  Then go to the New York market and then to Chicago or St. Louis or wherever the BMW is played next.   

What this does is lessen the chance for players like Jason Dufner and Sergio Garcia to skip any Playoff events.  Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els have all skipped a Playoff event in the past.  The reasons they had were varied.  However, because there’s a lot of money at stake, golfers want to be fresh enough to have a good chance to win it all in Atlanta. 

In addition to the current schedule from the British Open through the Playoffs, 24 players each season want to be rested enough to compete in the Playoffs and then go on to be successful at the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, where they don’t get paid.

Two weeks gives the top players a chance to take a breath, and it also gives the bubble players two weeks to slog it out to have a chance to get into the Playoffs or to improve their seeding points in the Playoffs.  That’s their option.

Giving those who want a break two weeks off could also be the catalyst for making a once a season rule for the Playoffs.  Instead of just calling them Playoffs, actually make them Playoffs: Everybody HAS to play in all Playoff events if they qualify and enter the first one.  If they don’t enter the first one, they have four weeks off.  Because Tour players are independent contractors, there’s always push back for things like this, but they don’t have to start if they don’t want to play all four. They are not compelled to participate, but if they start, they should go until they are eliminated or fall over from being over-golfed.  

It’s Playoffs, not sort of kind of Playoffs. You have to start and keep going until you play yourself in or out.  That makes them more compelling than ever before, particularly with the end of season being the Tour Championship starting in 2013.  

“Starting next year, everything will come to an end in Atlanta,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem rightly pointed out during the Sunday telecast. “It’s going to play into making these Playoffs bigger.”

He’s right about that, but still, if players are allowed to skip events, and the events skipped would be one of the first three, those skipping would be top ranked, top points players. Nobody skips Atlanta these days because the guaranteed money for playing four rounds in Atlanta—more than $300,000—is something that is attention-getting.

Now to those pesky points. While they are troublesome and unwieldy because nobody—viewers, players, television announcers—knows where golfers stand from moment to moment due to the complicated computations, they are less troublesome than the idea that players can skip events and still be in contention or win. 

An easier idea would be to throw out the points for the Tour Championship and just use the place of finish.  If a player comes into the Tour Championship in 10th place, he would have to finish in X place to win the FedExCup.  And so forth.

However, the scenarios are more complicated than that.  So we could be shown the what ifs during the final two rounds, such as for the 10th place player in points coming in to the Tour Championship to win, he would have to finish in X place and players one through nine in points would all have to finish Z place or worse.  That’s easy to understand.   

Some of that is done, at least for media types. Realistically, a fan just needs to have that list for half of the field.  That’s 15 what ifs.  Then, once guys start finishing, you can cross off the players who can’t win it any more and focus on those who still can.  

If points are kept for the final event, golfers and officials can continue to not know what they have to do and be confused all they want without driving the fans crazy with ridiculous computations.  Give the rest of us a cheat sheet with what a guy has to do, where he has to finish. No one wants to sit around with a calculator or a number cruncher watching golf, and right now, that’s what it’s come to. 

Finally, since this squishes the Playoffs into their own month, then the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup could be scheduled after another week break, giving everybody ample time to take a breath and psyche up for the appropriate team competition. 

So the golf season goes one week later.  So what.  After the recent BMW, wouldn’t most golf fans like to see the Tour Championship start this week instead of waiting ten days?  Rory just won the last two tournaments, and so now we are taking a cooling off period before the next Rory-Tiger-Phil matchup?  On what planet does that make any sense at all?   If there was ever a season to retool the schedule, this one is it.  With the new 2013 season definitely ending with the Tour Championship, it makes more sense than ever.