The FedEx Cup Playoffs are boring – we want knockout drama
Here are two oddities for you to consider:
1. None of golf’s genuine blue riband events are run by a professional tour.
The European Tour and the PGA Tour in America for 40-odd weeks a year strive to give us the best events sponsorship dollars can buy. Yet when it comes to the events that sell themselves they step aside. Augusta National coins it in at the Masters. The US Open is the USGA’s licence to print money. The Open? An R&A cash cow. And the PGA Championship has the PGA of America laughing all the way to bank.
2. For the very best golfers, nothing really matters apart from the majors.
In this era where sports stars are accused daily of greedily chasing wealth, you cannot say the same for the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy of being anything other than devoted to their major record. It is their legacy. That is to their credit but it presents the tours with a problem.
So how does the PGA Tour make them care about at least one of their events?
They tried really hard to make the Players a major – same venue every year, brilliant field and a nice clear spot in the schedule – but I’m not convinced it’s worked. Some players swerve it, Sawgrass isn’t for everyone, and we all know they are really trying to peak for the Masters and the US Open.
So we end up with the FedEx Cup Playoffs, basically upgraded run-of-the-mill tour events.
Purely from a fan perspective, I can’t stand it. It feels about as authentic as pro-celebrity golf. We see exactly the same players getting richer for a month, knowing that they couldn’t care less about anything but money.
It is beyond dull, and it diminishes the real deal – when we do get it at the majors – of the world’s best properly going at it with everything on the line.
Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson toe-to-toe at Troon meant something, while Spieth and Justin Thomas at the Dell Technologies Championship was a cute story – they are friends, apparently – but really it is just two rich kids going through the motions to get a bit richer.
Give me the same two players down the stretch at Augusta in April and I am interested.
So, and this is a common suggestion in this blog, why don’t they make it matchplay?
Keep the three qualifying events if you really must, then at the Tour Championship have a 36-hole cut and let the top 16 sort it all out in straight knockout.
The players would hate it – too random, too short. How can our whole season be decided on one 18-hole game, they will scream.
That is one reason as fans we will love it. We will love watching them suffer, we will love the idea of a $10 million game. Who wouldn’t?
It is an oddity of professional golf that it runs away from matchplay, presumably largely on player, broadcaster, and administrator say so, when there is so much evidence that it is result sport that turns on fans.
The Ryder Cup, Super League Grand Finals, T20 Finals Weekend – we want head-to-head action. We understand winning and losing, we do not have the patience for complex points systems.
It is random, the best team or player does not always win and that is why it has us on the edge of our seats, maddens us when our team suffers, and, perhaps most importantly, keeps us coming back for more.
When Manchester United won the Champions League in 1999 with the last kick of a knockout match, no one bemoaned the result. No, we heard Alex Ferguson say “Football, bloody hell!” and watched repeats of the goals for almost two decades. In golf terms, it was the same when Europe won at Medinah.
Now, Americans love a playoff. They love a season-long battle for supremacy to be decided by a couple of mega-bucks events – just look at the NFL, NBA and MLB.
Golfers, though, are not so whimsical. As golfers, we prefer our results to be of the traditional variety. We like our diet of 72-hole strokeplay.
The idea that the whole season can be turned upside down on such a small number of results does not suit golf fans, while the fact it takes so long does not suit sports fans. And that is a problem.
What do you do about that? Throw cash at the problem. The money on offer for winning the FedEx Cup Playoffs is bonkers, but it will make the players care, it will make the very best try to peak for the events the PGA Tour want you to believe are the real crown jewels.
Apart from it doesn’t.
There will be 30 players at the finale. How many of those are bothered about winning the Tour Championship for either the prestige or the cash?
Definitely not Spieth, McIlroy, Thomas, Stenson or Mickelson, or Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen or Adam Scott. They are all set up financially and have won at least one major.
A small handful of the world’s top 30 want to win the Tour Championship because the prestige of the event would boost their CV and for that reason alone. Compare that to any major and you quickly understand the player apathy.
Spieth would rather win one more major than 10 FedEx Cup Playoffs and $100 million.
And McIlroy said after the Dell Technologies Championship that he is “just kind of going through the motions waiting for the season to finish”. I don’t care how injured or out of form, he would not be saying that half way through a major.
Some players care. Players like Paul Casey, who said – and I’m paraphrasing – that players basically struggle to get up for it while he always seems to run into a bit of form.
Gracious as ever, and the kind of player the event deserves, one who never actually wins anything but who fills his wheelbarrow at any given opportunity.
Golf is screaming out for new formats. The PGA Tour is desperate to steal some end-of-season limelight. And the answer is staring them in the face.