It's been three years now since the PGA Tour revamped its season end with the "PGA Playoffs for the Fedex Cup".
Most commentators focus on how the points are distributed and how to best tweak the requirements for winning the Cup during the last tournament. While that's always an interesting discussion, in this article, I'll try to assess the bigger picture.
Here's a look at the good and the bad, along with some conclusions.
1) It provides a much better structure and more satisfying conclusion to the season. Previously, there was a long void between the PGA Championship in early August and the Tour Championship in November.
It's much better to "end" the season and package the non-marquee Fall tournaments as the "Fall Finish".
2) The placement of the three initial playoff tournaments on a permanent basis in the Boston, New York and Chicago areas will do much in the long term to popularize the sport in these major population centers.
In terms of national popularity, golf at times struggles with the same problems as college football, in that many of its marquee events occur in out of the way places like Augusta.
3) It was a good idea to keep the Tour Championship at East Lake for the finale. The Tour Championship has only been around for the last twenty years, but it's good they continued its budding tradition.
Maintaining the Bobby Jones connection with East Lake was also a good decision. (Of, course having a solid sponsor like Coca-Cola, which is headquartered in Atlanta, probably made the choice pretty easy.)
4) Moving the Tour Championship/finale to the middle of September is perfect. Everyone is back from summer vacation and accustomed to getting in front of their TV sets on the weekend to watch football.
At the same time, the football season is still young and golf has a better chance of drawing a few more eyeballs, especially with marquee events where all the big stars are guaranteed to show up.
1) I am really against the use of the term "playoffs" to describe the final four tournaments. The tournaments don't feel anything like the kinds of playoffs we are used to in other sports. Even worse, they don't produce what playoffs are meant to produce: an undisputed season champion.
Again, golf is at times analogous to college football in that golf's national champion is also "mythical". By default, the title belongs to the golfer who wins the Player of the Year award, which is voted on by the players.
They will continue to vote for whomever wins the most majors, no matter who wins the Fedex Cup. That's never going to change.
In their attempt to compete with the NFL, the PGA Tour has tried to make itself seem more like football. But golf is not football and never will be. Quite to the contrary, golf is completely non-violent and gentlemanly - the opposite of football.
2) The nomenclature itself is awkward and confusing. What's happening the final week, "The Fedex Cup", "The Tour Championship", or "The PGA Tour Playoffs"? They would improve the whole system if they stopped hyping the events as "playoffs". Then it would mirror the NASCAR setup, which people at least understand.
3) The Tour Championship has always pitted the top thirty from the money list against each other. Under the current format, the money list becomes irrelevant. Every year a number of players from the top of the money list get left out of East Lake. I don't like this.
In exchange for very little benefit i.e. the "playoff drama" of whether Anthony Kim finishes 70th or not at the Barclays, the Tour Championship is no longer contested between the thirty players who really had the most consistent seasons.
This year they kicked out a lot of really good players who were inside or near the top thirty in the money list—Camillo Villegas, Anthony Kim and Paul Casey for example—and replaced them with players who just got hot for a couple of tournaments—guys like Mark Leishman and Kevin Na, who ended up +13 and +14 at East Lake.
I think they should expand the final tournament to include anyone who made the top 30 of the money list.
Overall, I consider the Fedex cup a modest success. They've cleaned up the end of the season and created a series of high profile events in key markets. However, by marketing the tournaments as "playoffs", they've hyped and degraded the sport a little bit.
Considering the money involved and the exemptions given, the Cup probably ranks in terms of importance and prestige with the Players Championship.
This is quite an accomplishment, even more so because over time, it has a better chance than the Players of ascending to the status of legitimate fifth major.
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