Another PGA Tour season is almost done; after 11 months, a global pandemic, a cancellation of the Open Championship and moving every major around, we’re at the FedEx Cup Tour Championship.
The format last year that’s being carried over this year is that Dustin Johnson starts the tournament with a 10 shot lead over the guy who finishes 30th. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shake my head and pretend that this isn’t really the case. Of all of the hair-brained ideas to come from professional golf, this might be the dumbest. Why is it that sports I love do the stupidest things on the earth (looking at you, Superleague and your “sure we’ll take free pizzas from a horrible chain as payment for sponsorship” galaxy brain idea)?
To put it as mildly as I can, this goes against everything sports are supposed to be about. What next- give Usain Bolt a 10-meter head start because he’s the defending 100 meter champion? Give the team with the best regular season a 7-point lead to start the Super Bowl? The team with the most regular season points gets a 1-goal lead to start in every game of the Stanley Cup Final? I mean, what the actual hell are we talking about? What’s wrong with you people?
Don’t worry; your faithful scribe has a solution that would treat the FedEx Cup Tour Championship like a real championship; one that balances rewarding regular season performance and require a player to lift their game. Reward regular season performance, and have a final one-day winner take all conclusion that a casual fan can understand. Like any championship, the hard work is getting to that final. So we’re going to start with the final round being it’s own entity. Like the Super Bowl. Simple enough?
The top 30 getting into the Tour Championship is a good number; there isn’t any need to play around with that. I even like finishing on Labor Day weekend with the finale on Monday (when people are off work; ideally the Tour can push so that they ‘own’ Labor Day). Ideally the Tour would look to have the final round on the West Coast for an east coast prime-time finish every other year (non-Ryder Cup years). Courses on the West Coast? Riviera is the obvious choice, but if Chambers Bay is in better shape that’s a second option. I get using East Lake for Ryder Cup years (especially when the US has to fly to Europe as this will cut down on travel time). While we’re at it, the Chicago area should have a permanent slot on the Tour.
The question becomes this- how do you reward season-long excellence while maintaining the integrity of the competition? The same way other sports do it; by seeding and providing other advantages that maintain the integrity of the competition.
My Modest Proposal
So with that being said, let me explain how a five-round (Thursday-Monday) championship would work in a way that would provide a satisfying finale, reward year-round performance and give you a simple, easy-to-identify champion. You start with the top 30 playing three rounds of stroke play; the top 16 get into the fourth round (if there’s a tie for 16th you have a playoff), and then you have one day of match play with the 16 going down to 8 with that final round being a one-and-done entity of itself. In other words, getting to a championship and having one day to win or lose with everyone starting the final round at 0.
Under my Tour Championship Final proposal, the top seed gets the following advantages as a reward for his season-long excellence and being the top seed.
- He gets to pick his tee time for the first three rounds and who he plays with. Maybe he likes to go out early. Maybe he wants an early-late-late (he gets to pick). Maybe he wants to take advantage of potential weather or play with someone he’s comfortable with. Call it home field advantage. He has to declare the day before each round so he can pick and choose and give himself the optimal time and opponent. Not a bad reward.
- He’s guaranteed to get into the semi-final Sunday round of 16 so even if his game goes to pot during the first three qualifying rounds, he has that second chance (other playoff formats allow the top seeds a ‘double elimination’ of sorts). There’s your tangible reward for regular season excellence; a second chance. Those are two big carrots that don’t turn the competition into a farce but provide a tangible reward for that year-long excellence.
The round of sixteen are seeded based on their first three rounds (your top seed going in would be seeded based on his performance, but if he otherwise didn’t qualify he’d be seeded 16th). Eight matches of match play. Winners go to the Final. Losers are done. Sudden death playoffs if tied after 18 holes. It’s something of a different strategy from stroke play, but designed to force players to think differently for one day.
The eight players who win their matches go to the Championship/Grand Final. One round for everything. Four twosomes; playing partners and order are drawn at random out of a hat. Everything resets for the Championship or Grand Final round. One round. One day. Low score (stroke play) is your Tour/FedEx Cup champion. Tie? Sudden-death playoff. You now have a true Championship Final. What you did before to get there matters not; it’s the player who’s the best on the day who wins. Much like the Super Bowl, Final Four championship, and NBA/NHL/MLB Game 7’s. It’s not what you did before, it’s what you do on the day. Nobody starts the day having to sit on a lead or trying to come from behind. One round. Low score wins. Much like other sports, you had to battle to get into the playoffs and continue to advance. You finished in the top 15/16 of the field after three rounds and beat someone in a match play environment to get to the Championship Final.
The average sports fan couldn’t explain the FedEx Cup, nor could most golf fans. The average sports fan can easily understand “one round, winner take all” events. You’ve competed all year, and everything you did goes out the window. No head start, no being able to play conservatively to protect a lead. Under my proposal, winning the FedEx Cup Championship Final would also earn the winner a 10-year exemption (up from five), a lifetime exemption to the Players Championship, and a guaranteed spot in next year’s playoffs (the first round only). These are all PGA Tour-controlled entities so you’re not having to ask the USGA or PGA of America to get involved.
Having eight players provides NBC or CBS plenty of coverage options so you aren’t just focused on one group and reduces the likelihood of not having any name players. Oh, and no commercials for the last 90 minutes.
Hopefully the Tour decides to adopt this format and give fans a real Championship.