How the FedEx Cup Can Be Improved Without Touching the Point System
It seems as if every golf fan on the face of the planet has some form of objection to the current FedEx Cup point system.
Maybe the point system is too volatile during the playoffs.
Maybe the point system is not volatile enough during the playoffs.
Maybe the point system is simply too difficult to understand without a master’s degree in advanced mathematics from MIT.
Golf fans may question how it is possible that the winner of the Tour Championship might not be the winner of the FedEx Cup. Wouldn't that be like the Baltimore Ravens winning the Super Bowl but not being handed the Lombardi Trophy or crowned the Super Bowl champion for the year?
Is the FedEx Cup a season-long race, a playoff or both?
How come winners of strong-fielded events often get the same number of points as winners of weak-fielded events? For example, is winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial or the Farmers Insurance Open the same as winning the John Deere Classic or Travelers Championship?
Golf fans and analysts could spend weeks debating what is wrong with the current FedEx Cup format and how it can be improved.
And while one could certainly write a thesis about how the FedEx Cup point system could be modified to make for a better overall product, one modification that could drastically improve the FedEx Cup playoffs without even touching the point system, and it has to do with the tournament venues.
First and foremost, the difficulty of the FedEx Cup playoff venues must be addressed.
In 2012, the combined winning score of the four FedEx Cup playoff events was 60 under par.
This year, the combined winning score of the four FedEx Cup playoff events was 62 under par.
The winning score has been 20 under par or lower at three out of the past four Deutsche Bank Championships.
A winning score of 20 under par is extremely low at any PGA Tour event, let alone at an event that is meant to make up one of the four prestigious "playoff" events on the PGA Tour.
Heck, the winning score at the Travelers Championship, which is typically known as a four-day shootout, has been 20 under par or lower just twice in the past decade.
The PGA Tour and its sponsors are throwing $67 million at these guys for a four-tournament series, so why not make them work a bit for this incredibly lucrative prize?
Why not bring a major championship feel to each of the four playoff events, where par is a good score and every aspect of a player's game is challenged at each stop throughout the playoffs.
Sure, golf fans (or at least casual golf fans) often enjoy an old-fashioned shootout, but if the tour truly wants to turn the FedEx Cup playoffs into a prestigious series of events that will last beyond 2017—let alone hold any kind of historical significance 20 or 30 years down the line—it must make the road to the FedEx Cup title a lot more challenging in terms of the venues it chooses.
The other thing the PGA Tour should consider with regard to course selection is providing a consistent product year in and year out.
That would mean visiting the same courses each and every year in order to allow some history to build around these venues.
One of the main reasons the Masters is typically the most popular major championship among golf fans is because it is held at the same course—Augusta National—each and every year.
Most golf fans could describe every single hole at Augusta National in vivid detail, regardless of whether they have ever seen the course in person. Fans could also tell you the history of every hole on the course (Gene Sarazen's "Shot Heard Round the World" on the 15th, Tiger Woods' chip-in on the 16th, Jack Nicklaus' putt on the 17th, Sandy Lyle's bunker shot on the 18th, Bubba Watson's wedge shot from the trees on the 10th, Fred Couples' ball refusing to roll back into the water on the 12th, etc.).
This familiarity with Augusta National did not develop overnight. By visiting Augusta National year after year, traditions began to form and the historical significance of the event began to grow. But none of this would have happened if the Masters had been held at different venues every year.
Moving events around each year, as the PGA Tour has done with the Barclays and BMW Championship, eliminates the chance of any history developing around these FedEx Cup venues.
Can anyone describe the 18th hole at Ridgewood Country Club?
Now, can anyone describe the 18th hole at Augusta National?
The PGA Tour is also missing out on a fantastic opportunity by not visiting the West Coast during the FedEx Cup playoffs, particularly for the Tour Championship.
The television ratings for the 2012 U.S. Open held at The Olympic Club in San Francisco were up 29 percent from the previous year, despite the typical television draws—Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, etc.—being out of contention.
Sunday television ratings then dropped by seven percent for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion despite Phil Mickelson's lead going into the final round.
Three out of the four highest-rated U.S. Opens over the past decade have taken place at West Coast venues (2000, 2008 and 2012). Of course, Woods being in contention can have a dramatic impact on television ratings, which is why the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage in New York had a higher television rating than most of the West Coast opens.
However, Woods was not in contention in 2012, and the ratings were still up by 29 percent from the previous year and then dropped by seven percent the following year despite Michelson leading at Merion. This would suggest that although Woods being in contention can certainly have an impact on ratings, the West Coast venues and prime-time golf also have a significant impact on the television ratings.
What if the PGA Tour moved the Tour Championship to the West Coast and finished the event in prime time on a Wednesday night?
The PGA Tour cannot compete with the NFL; that is a given. A preseason NFL game in a small market such as Kansas City will get a much larger television audience than the final round of the Tour Championship. So why even try to compete with the NFL during Week 3 of its regular season when there are other options available?
Why not move the Tour Championship to a West Coast venue such as Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach or The Olympic Club and have the event begin on a Sunday and conclude on a Wednesday?
Based on the scheduling of the FedEx Cup playoffs, this could be done prior to the start of network television's fall schedule and would allow the final two FedEx Cup rounds to be televised in prime time on national television.
This strategy would also allow the PGA Tour to avoid any competition from other major sporting events, most notably the NFL.
In addition, West Coast venues tend to provide a more scenic backdrop for the drama to unfold, which is at least part of the reason people tune in to watch golf tournaments.
Here is hypothetical image for you: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson battling it out for the FedEx Cup title on the back nine at Pebble Beach during prime time on a Wednesday night. Outside of the Masters, could anything possibly provide a better viewing experience for golf fans than that?
1) All FedEx Cup events should visit the same venues each year. Whether it is Bethpage Black or Liberty National for the Barclays or Cog Hill or Crooked Stick for the BMW Championship, keep the venues consistent year after year.
2) Remove TPC Boston from the FedEx Cup schedule. TPC Boston can still be given a regular-season PGA Tour event, but this course should not be one of the four FedEx Cup venues each year.
3) Keep East Lake within the FedEx Cup series, as it is a fantastic historical golf course, but bring the third event and not the final Tour Championship event to East Lake.
4) Move the Tour Championship to the West Coast and have it begin on a Sunday and conclude in prime time on a Wednesday night. Yes, golf will still be competing with the NFL on Sunday and Monday, but it will not be competing with the NFL during the final two rounds, which can be televised in prime time.
The FedEx Cup will most likely never rival the major championships, and there are certainly a number of adjustments the PGA Tour can make to the format and point system. But the FedEx Cup is meant to be all about excitement—bringing the top players in the world together for a four-tournament series worth $10 million—and the PGA Tour could significantly boost the excitement factor by doing nothing more than adjusting the venues and some of the scheduling, which would be far easier than changing the entire FedEx Cup format yet again.
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