The PGA Tour has awarded the FedEx Cup seven times, most recently on Sunday to Henrik Stenson, whose dual victory in the Tour Championship and the season-long points race netted him a combined $11.44 million payday.
And, like after each previous year, the PGA Tour will examine what they can do to make their version of playoffs better. Seemingly each year, I've gone through the same exercise, trying in vain to propose some changes that would make the playoffs more dramatic, compelling or less tiresome. Year after year, the PGA Tour doesn't listen. In fact, in the last four years, they've done nothing to change the structure of the competition following a playoff postmortem.
This year, however, commissioner Tim Finchem tipped that the PGA Tour might get out the slide rule and change how points are distributed in the four playoff events so as to cut down on the volatility of player movement.
Let me stop you right there, Mr. Finchem, because that's a great -- and planned -- segue into my futile annual attempt to improve the playoffs.
(After all, if you don't like the notion of contrived golf playoffs, you're stuck with them until FedEx bails out, and, even then, someone else will come along to pony up the big bucks to sponsor it. And, besides, having four really good golf tournaments just as football season begins and the Major League Baseball playoffs start is a pretty nice thing to have on the sporting calendar. So it would be in our collective interests to make this thing work. )
1. Reduce the number of playoff events from four to three
After Jim Furyk's 59, the "You suck!" heckler and Zach Johnson's dramatic Monday at the BMW Championship, all of that playoff momentum went down the sewer drain with the Chicago rainwater. Why? Because the Tour took a break before the playoff finale at the Tour Championship.
A week passed by, and the 30 players vying for the FedEx Cup (at least mathematically speaking) showed up to Atlanta...absolutely worn out. Tiger Woods said he was "out of gas," not said flippantly or casually. It was done with a purpose: to say that these playoffs drag on too long.
A top-tier player -- you know, the kind likely to get to the Tour Championship outdoor cash booth -- will play six events in eight weeks to conclude the newly structured PGA Tour calendar. There's the PGA Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a likely week off at the Wyndham Championship, then four playoff events. That's a lot of golf, and the great fields the PGA Tour has in late August and early September come at the expense of those earlier in the year. Repeatedly, players talk about needing time off because of what lays ahead of them in the flurry to finish the year.
By the time they get to East Lake, they are spent. So let's cut it out altogether. The playoffs should be three events, any of three of the current four. Obviously one tournament is kicked off the playoff roster, and the PGA Tour is not going to surrender an $8 million event, so convert one of them into a World Golf Championships event since that Tournament of Hope in South Africa never became anything.[latest-portfolio-items number="6"][/latest-portfolio-items]
2. Lower the number of players that qualify for the playoffs
Having 125 players earn their way into the playoffs is ridiculous. It always has been. But by removing one leg of the playoffs, the time would be right to tighten up the starting field, too.
The playoffs should begin with 100 players. The top 75 in FedEx Cup points through the PGA Championship should automatically qualify. Then the final 25 spots should come from a sudden-death playoff tournament, the Wyndham Championship. Anyone can play, but anyone outside of the top 75 will be vying for their playoff lives. Be among the 25 highest finishers not already in the playoffs, and you're in.
The first playoff event would cut from 100 to 70, then 70 to 40. Yes, 40.
Meanwhile, anyone that didn't qualify for the playoffs would be on their way to the Web.com Tour Finals.
3. Take a bulldozer to the Tour Championship
East Lake is golf's version of narcolepsy. At any time, a player could fall asleep (or Dufner, Keegan Bradley) from boredom. The front nine isn't horrible, but the back nine is incredibly monotonous. It's bad in person, and it's worse on TV. Though the 17th hole is compelling -- in part, because of Bill Haas' heroic watery bunker shot in 2011 -- ending a golf course on a long par 3 is like ending a NASCAR race under caution. Someone could crash under a yellow flag, but it would almost have to be on purpose. (Sorry, NASCAR fans.)
Move the Tour Championship around to other venues. More than any of the playoff events, the Tour Championship needs to move. Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker have all advanced to the Tour Championship in all seven years of the FedEx Cup. All three have been legitimately close to winning the FedEx Cup once. Consistent players like those three should not be doomed to fail on a course that typically does not suit them enough to win.
A West Coast primetime finish is all the rage. Why not go to Harding Park one year? That way, the BMW Championship can remain in the Central and Mountain time zones. There are plenty of great fall venues that would capture the spirit of the playoff finish, and the rota would give the Tour Championship a major feel.
The field should also be expanded by 10 players, to 40. Getting to the playoff finale should be an achievement, but 30 is too small of a field size for the galleries in person and TV audience at home. A general rule of thumb for 99 percent of golf tournaments is that there should be enough players in it to have a shotgun start and there be a group on every hole.
(In a perfect world, the FedEx Cup would ultimately be decided by match play. There'd be an 18-hole shootout to eliminate the field to 16, followed by four rounds of match play to be contested over the final three days of the tournament. But, match play means volatility and unpredictability, which is precisely what the PGA Tour actuaries are trying to reduce even more, so turning up the craziness to 11 is not in the cards.)
4. No more music videos, under any circumstance
Or, if you insist on field-sourcing some rhymes, do a complementary behind-the-scenes piece in the style of VH1's "Behind the Music" series.