HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

August 20, 2007

PGA needs to tweak new playoff system

By Jesse Menden

Unlike just about every other sport, the PGA Tour ends its season with a whimper, rather than a bang.

But PGA officials are hoping to end with the bang using the newly created FedEx Cup that will act like a playoffs for all of the individual golfers that earned points throughout the season.

The process for earning those points during the season is somewhat complicated.

Certain events like majors are given more points than regular tour events, and where you finish in those events determines the amount of points you will earn towards the season standings.

When it comes to the actually four-event playoff, the point system becomes even harder to understand. After using a scientific calculator, abacus, and a whole pack of No. 2 pencils, I think I have figured it out enough to briefly explain it.

Like in NASCAR, the total points are reset before the playoffs to bunch the players together. In each of the four playoff events (The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship, BMW Championship, and Tour Championship), 50,000 points are up for grabs. In the first three events, the points are more evenly distributed, but in the last event it is more top heavy, and the gap between first and second is larger.

After each of the first three events, golfers are eliminated, so the field shrinks each week.

Needless to say, the PGA should offer a course on this subject at Qualifying School.

At the end, $10 million is given to the winner and the rest of the purse is given to those that finished after that.

I have taken all of this time to figure the FedEx Cup out and write it down, but does anybody really care?

Was anybody really thinking to themselves that Tiger Woods has extended his lead in the FedEx Cup standings when he tapped in that last putt to win the PGA Championship? I doubt it.

And even before a single round of the playoffs has been played, the FedEx Cup, which begins this weekend, has already taken a hit. Late last week, Woods announced he would not play in the inaugural event. So even before a single stroke has been recorded in the first-ever playoffs, the credibility of it has already been put on thin ice.

The question that surrounds this whole new idea is why take a sport where the standings and week-to-week individual play never mattered and suddenly try to make it important?

When perusing the golf web sites, we might look at the occasional money list, but never points standings. It just doesn’t matter. And now, I guess, we are supposed to follow them. I really don’t think that is going to happen.

If the PGA really wants a playoff system, I have a few suggestions that might help.

First, they need to offer more money. Sure, $10 million is more than I will ever make in my life time (even if I live to be 300 years old), but it isn’t quite serious enough for these guys. If nothing else, make the purse more top-heavy. With more money comes the better golfers on a more regular basis.

Second, they need to make the regular season more important. The PGA can keep the same points system, but shrink the field that qualifies for the playoffs. Make the field the top 50 golfers rather than top 144. It will be more attention-grabbing to see the top 50 field play each other rather than a dozen good players watered down by 100 others.

Third, they need to put the four events on some of the top courses. I have nothing against the Westchester Golf Club in New York, or the Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Illinois, but they aren’t known as elite courses. Put the playoffs on the best courses to challenge the field, which would create more drama.

Finally, the PGA needs to make it a real playoff. Under the current system, players are cut from each week, but it isn’t dramatic enough. One of the reasons why the NFL playoffs get such good ratings is because the single-elimination system creates a lot of drama.

My idea is to cut those 50 golfers that qualified for the playoffs by 10 or so each week. That will leave just a handful for the final event. Not only will that create extra drama for the final weekend of the season (which will now go out with a big bang), but it will also put extra attention on those first three events. If Woods has a bad round, he is out. It puts a lot more pressure on the golfers.

If the PGA makes those changes I might watch, but until then, you can find me out on the course.