Last year’s Tour Championship provided plenty of drama, with Rory McIlroy‘s playoff victory giving him not only the victory at East Lake but also the overall FedEx Cup title.
So how could the PGA Tour possibly improve upon that? Our panel of golf experts tosses out a few ideas about how to spice things up a bit at the season finale.
ESPN.com senior golf analyst Michael Collins: This has been going on now for a bunch of years, and the tour has done a few “tweaks” to the FedEx Cup point system. While the point system could still use a minor adjustment to make sure someone who hasn’t won a tournament can’t win the $10 million, now we’re gonna “fix” the Tour Championship itself.
You know what you do to fix the Tour Championship? Nothing. The only people who seem to think it’s broken is us [the media]. The Tour Championship is not the the Super Bowl. It’s not the World Series or the NBA Finals. It never will be. The continuous attempts to “remake” it are only making it more gimmicky.
Let’s say we finish the tournament on a Saturday late in September. What does that change? Are you getting more or new eyeballs? Let’s say we have a shootout on Sunday between four guys playing for the big prize. Are sports fans switching over from a football game to watch? Nope.
Sometimes it’s okay to accept what you are — a fun little end-of-the-season money giveaway for 30 guys, with a couple dudes at the top playing for a big prize. I’m sorry that golf, like NASCAR, has its megaevent early in the season — the Masters and the Daytona 500 — and the PGA Tour doesn’t own the Masters, so they feel shut out of the big eyeballs prize.
I’ll be the first to admit it stinks, because golf gave me a way into everything I’m a part of now. That being said, sometimes you have to take a hard look in the mirror and swallow a bitter self-awareness pill. For me, it’s being a skinny supermodel. For the PGA Tour and the Tour Championship, it’s being a main draw in sports after football season starts.
Here’s an even better idea: Let’s stop trying to “fix” the Tour Championship and instead figure out a way to make sure the fans who are invested in golf this time of year stay invested this time of year.
ESPN.com senior golf writer Bob Harig: If nothing else, get rid of the points.
By the time the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup standings make it to East Lake for the Tour Championship, the season-long points race should be scrapped, along with all the computer permutations that exist throughout the last tournament of the season.
The winner of the Tour Championship should win the FedEx Cup, which means eliminating the mind-numbing points projections we are about to be subjected to all weekend.
For all of the FedEx positives, it remains difficult to keep from chiding a system that can be frustrating to understand for even the most devoted golf fans. And that is with the knowledge that the PGA Tour has gotten off easy, with each of the past seven winners of the Tour Championship also winning the FedEx Cup.
Of course, making it simple in Atlanta would require other changes, ones that put more emphasis on the previous playoff events, perhaps a separate bonus for the points leader through the BMW Championship and subsequent payouts.
FedEx, which has signed on for another 10 years, is said to be putting more money in the pot. Why not offer a hefty bonus to the player who leads the points standings following the BMW, with another big bonus awaiting the winner in Atlanta?
That makes leading the points race through the BMW — hardly important now — a big deal.
Then everyone who makes it to Atlanta not only is assured of a spot in the first three majors of the following year, but they’re all involved in a shootout for the FedEx Cup title with all the players starting out with a chance to win $10 million — or whatever bonus amount is decided.
When Bill Haas won the Tour Championship in 2011, he had no idea he was also winning the FedEx Cup. That’s rare, but it seems counterproductive. Coming down the stretch, you should know what’s at stake. That is easy to figure out in winning the tournament — far more difficult if you have to wait for points to update.
Let’s get rid of the points and give every player who makes it to the Tour Championship an equal shot at the big prize.
ESPN.com senior golf writer Jason Sobel: Many of the current issues with the FedEx Cup playoffs will ostensibly be fixed — or at least altered — for the 2018-19 season, so it’s difficult to heap too much criticism on the concept right now. In theory, the playoffs will contract from four events to three and will end on or before Labor Day, affording both players and fans a quick respite as the football season gets underway.
There’s another issue which could be alleviated, though, and from what I’m hearing, it’s a definite possibility moving forward. The Tour Championship would be played from Wednesday to Saturday, with the playoff winner receiving the $10 million first-place prize. One day later, though, a true “playoff” would be scheduled, with the top half-dozen or so competing in a winner-take-all for a similar payout.
Since its inception in 2006, the issue with the playoffs is that the PGA Tour is trying too hard to serve multiple masters. It wants to offer a reasonable finale that crowns a deserving champion for players, yet it simultaneously wants to provide a frenetic finish with considerable variability for the fans.
In this proposed scenario, the PGA Tour would effectively be taking both paths of this choose-your-own adventure. And it’s an idea that is becoming more realistic than idealistic.
“This isn’t going to be a surprise to you,” commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday. “We’ve considered virtually every single circumstance that’s available to us, and that is one possibility.”
Think of the possibilities. Jordan Spieth could capture the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup titles, then claim the shootout, too — an embarrassment of riches in the most literal sense. Or the entire thing could be split among superstars, with the likes of Rory McIlroy winning the tournament, Dustin Johnson winning the FedEx Cup and Justin Thomas taking the shootout.
When the PGA Tour implemented the FedEx Cup, the main goal was to provide a bang at the end of a season that too often faded away with a whimper. It has accomplished that to an extent, but now there’s room for a bigger bang, for a way of connecting both the players’ needs and the fans’ requests.
There will be plenty of changes to the schedule coming in 2019, but this would provide the icing on a year-long cake that currently leaves us still hungry.