This is the 11th season for the FedEx Cup concept, and in pretty much every one of those years, at least one person (sometimes me) has done a thinkpiece about how they could make the FedEx Cup a better, more compelling playoff idea. The PGA Tour hasn’t really listened. There have been three iterations, more or less, of the playoff points system: too little in 2007, way too many in 2008 and a reasonable amount since 2009. The Tour seems pretty happy with the champions the concept has produced. Tiger Woods has won twice, and McIlroy, Spieth and Stenson are all players who did it at the peak of their powers.
The problem with the FedEx Cup hasn’t been the champions themselves. Bill Haas made it dramatic and entertaining from the No. 25 spot. The problem has always been that the FedEx Cup playoffs aren’t really playoffs. America created modern sports playoffs, and so, as an American, I demand to see playoffs like that in golf. I want cruel eliminations of better players in short series. I want unfathomable pressure placed on each and every shot, not a system that allows the best regular-season performers to coast into the finale. I want them to culminate in a single, easily understood moment that both validates all the attention I paid to golf all season while making the winner so obvious that my pea brain can get it without a spreadsheet.
In other words, I want the regular season to mean something. I want the playoffs to have true consequences at each step. And I want match play.
There have been others who have proposed concepts similar to the one I’ll lay out here. Some say play all 16 rounds of the FedEx Cup playoffs, aggregate the scores and have the winner get the $10 million. Some say have the first 12 rounds play to a top 16 or 32 and then have a match-play Tour Championship. But, after 11 years, I think I have an idea I really, genuinely like more than the existing FedEx Cup system which, really, isn’t bad.
Here it is.
The PGA Tour regular season means something for playoff seeding under the current system, but there’s not a dramatic advantage toward winning the FedEx Cup by finishing in the top, say, 20 in the regular season. You’re likely to get to East Lake in that position, but a cataclysmic series of playoff events could mean you’re on the outside after three tournaments. I don’t like that. So, I want to reward regular season play in two ways. I want the top 16 players in FedEx Cup regular season points to automatically qualify for East Lake and the Tour Championship. No questions asked, just a pat on the back and we’ll see you in Atlanta. This way, the best regular-season performers get both a reward for their toil since October and a chance to rest (if they want) in the playoffs, which will probably become a three-event series sooner than later.
Then, we’re going to have two playoff events before the Tour Championship, and only the top 72 players in regular season FedEx Cup points get in them. The top 125 can still keep their cards, but there should be a huge financial opportunity for making the playoffs that the lesser performers shouldn’t get. At the current $8.75 million purse per playoff tournament, that is a $14.725 million windfall for a player who manages to skate in the playoffs, win all three playoff events and the $10 million FedEx Cup prize. Want pressure to end the regular season? There ya have it, on top of what’s already happening at the Wyndham Championship each August.
Now, the playoff events as currently constructed have meaning unto themselves, with their own purses and a points weighting such that the victory guarantees a spot in the Tour Championship, as it should. However, winning should matter as much as possible in golf’s playoffs. So, under my plan, only the winner of each of the first two playoff events will get an automatic slot into the Tour Championship. With the top 16 regular-season performers, we’re now up to 18 players. And if one of those top 16 players takes one of those two playoff events, then no one else can claim that ticket to the finale. At the conclusion, then, of both playoff events, the 14 (up to 16) players with the lowest combined score over the eight rounds then advances to the Tour Championship.
Once we get to Atlanta, the playoffs get a whole lot simpler. There are 32 players, with the top 16 regular-season performers slotted, in order, No. 1 seed through No. 16 seed. The two playoff event winners get seeds No. 17 and No. 18, with the player who had the largest margin of victory getting the better seed. Then the remaining 14 seeds are filled, in order, based on combined score from the first two playoff events.
We play a 32-man match-play bracket from there, with 18-hole matches all the way until we get a winner and hand them $10 million.
Are you with me?