First off- full marks to Henrik Stenson for winning both the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the European Tour Championship. To get hot like that when it counts, and be able to raise his game both in September and again in October-November is no small feat. From the system used, he won. Nonetheless, I keep wondering “is this the best system?” which led me, like many, to go have a few drinks and then go to my special thinkin’ place and work up a solution. It took me about 20 minutes. It’s fair, it’ll be easily understood by audiences, and it’s nothing silly at all.
To begin, I started by looking at playoffs in other sports. In the “big four” team sports in North America, a total of 54 teams out of 121 make the playoffs. That’s 43.9% or 44%. Less than half. In tennis, only the top 16 make the World Finals out of approximately 250 players on the circuit. In looking at the PGA Tour, factoring in past champions and current players, I came up with approximately 200 players (not counting Monday qualifiers). Half of that would be 100. However, in my system I’m all about helping certain events that don’t always get the best fields. So much like the Open Championship does, it’ll be the top 95 getting in, along with the top 5 players in the events immediately following majors (when they tend to suffer from depleted fields).
I’d use the first event and get down to the top 60. How do we do it? First- using what other leagues do, the top 10 players are automatically entered in the second week. It’s the first round bye. So from that, it’s rather simple- finish in the top 50 and you move on. In every other sport (including tennis) there’s no credit other than a first round bye or home game advantage for having a great midseason. A regular season is just that- this is the playoffs and it’s about winning when it counts.
The second event starts at 60 (top 50 from week 1 plus your top 10). Have to finish in the top 40 to move on to the 3rd event (so no more “I have a boo-boo…this course doesn’t suit my eye). If the top 10 guys can’t put it together here…too bad. You had 2 weeks to prepare. Much like the old Q-school days, if you can’t play then you’re out. The point of a playoff system is that you have to play your best golf at this point.
The third event is where I make things interesting. Instead of standard stroke play, the third event is a Stableford. The PGA Tour used to have a Stableford event. Under my system they do now. The top 16 move onto the PGA Tour Final or Tour Championship (same number as make the ATP/WTA Finals).
The fourth event is matchplay. Use the existing rankings that come out of the last event (see- there’s your reward for season-long excellence- a better seed in the final event). 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, and so on. No math formulas, just win and you move on. You end up with one match for the $10mm first prize (I’d throw in a lifetime exemption). The average sports fan won’t understand the whole points thing, but two guys playing one match for $10mm? A true Final.
For the players who make the playoffs, there should be an incentive- your Tour card is guaranteed for the next year (that’s your reward for making the playoffs). I’d also grant automatic exemptions into the following year’s majors for anyone making the top 16.
So that’s my modest proposal. A playoff system that the average fan can understand and one that does what a playoff should do- build interest and have a Final day that rewards your champion.