There has been a lot of talk during the FedEx Cup playoffs about players having golf fatigue. Perhaps more importantly, golf fans have it as well.
When it comes to the Fedex Cup, I understand what the PGA Tour is trying to do, but I just don’t think there is a way to do it. Let’s put aside the questions of why they want to do it and whether or not it is a good idea. (To me, the natural golf season is January through August, with the first three months of that being a spring training of sorts.) Let’s put those aside, and consider if there is even a way to accomplish what the PGA Tour wants.
The Tour wanted to extend the season in a compelling “must watch” way. The four majors have long been the focus of the golf year, but Finchem desired a way to make more money. Traditionally, the fall was a dead period for golf so was a good time to try something new.
There are obvious problems with that, however:
- Football. Nothing marks the transition to autumn (and a new school year, a new beginning, new resolutions) like the start of the football season.
- People play less. Golf is a spring and summer sport. Even though autumn can be one of the nicer times of the year to play, most people are ready to put their clubs away for the winter. Humans like to look ahead, and, because of that, it’s more appealing to play in 50 degrees in the spring than in 60 degrees in the fall. In the spring, we are improving our game so we’ll be ready to break 80 come summer (we dream). In the autumn, we improve our game so we can… store our clubs for the winter, then start all over again in the spring.
- The majors are over. People are ready to put golf away until the Masters next April. Humans like variety, and it’s nice to swap Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler for Notre Dame, Alabama, and Oregon, or the Packers and the Broncos.
- There’s also golf overkill. We have the British Open, WGC Firestone, and the PGA Championship all in a four-week period. That’s the grand finale of the golf year. The FedEx Cup is akin to the NFL having “Do-Over Playoffs” immediately following the Super Bowl.
You could try another time of the year, but that’s problematic, too. If you had the playoffs early in the year, some of the players who did well in “qualifying” the prior year might be off form after the long holiday break.
Moving the “playoffs” to January and February would help revive the West Coast tournaments, which have been cannibalized by, among other things, the FedEx Cup’s prolonged season. Of course, eliminating the FedEx Cup altogether would do the same.
Anyway, I don’t think there is a true solution. Golf is a sport more like horse racing or tennis than baseball or football. You don’t need a playoff. Every golfer has his chance every week against every other golfer. In the Super Bowl, it’s common for teams to meet that have not yet played each other that season. With golf, you end up cramming a bunch of events into a too-short time frame just to get it over with — the nature of playoffs being such that you can’t really spread them out. (Although European football does that with things like the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup. Then again, golf playoffs are not true playoffs with head-to-head win-or-go-home matches.)
A golf playoff makes about as much sense as a football tournament. The FedEx Cup has been a gimmick from the start, and this year’s edition made that clear with Dustin Johnson qualifying for the final 30 without playing in a single “playoff” tournament. Finchem wanted to have a “big, important tournament” where he could almost guarantee a “name” would win, and that distorts everything.
Another huge problem with the FedEx Cup is that there is no true excitement surrounding the first three. They feature the top players on the PGA Tour, so the field is strong, but they do lack many of the top foreign players who play all of the majors. As well, the excitement of elimination only surrounds players at the margin, who, even if they last another week, are likely to be eliminated the following week. In a true playoff, the scoreboard is reset each week. If you barely make the playoffs in the NFL, that’s fine; other than playing an extra wildcard game, you have the same chance as any other qualifier.
Bottom line, I think the PGA Tour is trying to force a square peg into a round hole, both in the scheduling and the format. If they really want a playoff, they need to roll out a win-or-go-home matchplay format. Or, alternatively, take the top 90, 70, or 30 players each week with no regard for what they did in the past. (However, Finchem’s overriding concern was to fix it so the “names” always made Atlanta, so you can toss those ideas in the rubbish bin.) The playoffs should also be cut down to one or two weeks, even if a couple of sponsors are left holding the bag.
Finchem tried to steal the thunder of the Race to Dubai, and failed miserably.