Majors most important, but playoffs pack excitement

By Rex HoggardAugust 26, 2015, 7:38 pm

EDISON, N.J. – The problem has always seemed to be an issue of semantics.

In a blatant attempt to draft off of the success enjoyed by other sports, the PGA Tour billed its four-event FedEx Cup as a “playoff,” which initially felt like a mixed metaphor, considering professional golf has always revolved around the four major championships.

Where other sports are defined by a postseason that begets championships, truly great seasons in golf are forged from April to August. That hasn’t changed.

“I put winning the FedEx Cup below a major championship. I don't think anybody holds it to the same level necessarily as far as players,” said Jordan Spieth, who enters the playoffs this week No. 1 on the season-long point list. “I don't know exactly where I put it. It's something that obviously everybody wants to win, there's no doubt about it.”

What has changed in the eight years since the Tour began the postseason experiment, however, is how closely these final four events resemble an actual playoff.

After a series of nip/tucks to the point structure and playoff format with varying degrees of success, the Tour introduced a dramatic points reset the week before the Tour Championship in 2009.

The resulting impact has been a simple and entirely familiar truth – win the Tour Championship and win the FedEx Cup.

The last five FedEx Cup champions have all completed their seasons with a victory at East Lake and while there are all number of scenarios that could shatter that status quo this season, history suggests that’s not likely.

It is the simplest of outcomes right along the lines of the famous Al Davis speech, “Just win, baby.”

Although often clouded by math, the playoffs follow the time-honored script so revered in other sports. The last team to win, whether it’s the Super Bowl or World Series, is the champion.

“You can have an OK season and all of a sudden you play good at the right time and be a FedEx Cup champion,” said Hunter Mahan. “It does feel like a late-season push here. You can kind of forget where you have been and you can really be right here because you know good play right now means a lot. It means a lot more than maybe a couple months ago when you were just kind of playing maybe preparing for a major.”

For the Tour, the challenge has been walking the fine line between rewarding season-long performance and maintaining, however contrived, a sense of postseason urgency that is such a big part of other sports.

While the reset was prompted by Vijay Singh’s postseason performance in 2008, when he won the first two playoff stops and arrived at East Lake needing to only finish 72 holes to collect the silver trophy, it manufactured some volatility with a new format that pays off regular-season play but allows for dramatic momentum swings.

Last year Billy Horschel began the playoffs 69th in the FedEx Cup ranking, finished second at the Deutsche Bank Championship and won the BMW Championship and Tour Championship to collect the $10 million payday. It’s worth pointing out that before the postseason, BillyHo had just two top-10 finishes in what was otherwise a forgettable season.

“I think they have got it tweaked just right,” said Davis Love III, who made an 11th-hour charge into the playoffs with his victory last week at the Wyndham Championship.

“It's exciting. The huge jump I made last week, the possibility, like Billy Horschel last year of coming from the middle of the pack all the way to the winner, it's very, very exciting.”

That’s not to say golf’s version of a postseason fits perfectly into the preconceived notion of a playoff, starting with essentially 100 percent participation (125 players) at this week’s Barclays.

The concept of the “bye” week has also been stretched in golf, with Nos. 9 (Rory McIlroy) and 31 (Sergio Garcia) taking a pass for this week’s Barclays.

“We have seen that with Tiger [Woods in 2007] or Jim Furyk [2010] accidentally; that you don't have to play all four,” Love said. “It puts you at a disadvantage, but you have to play really well in the other three.”

Just as it is in other sports, success in the postseason is all about timing. Victories in January and September are not created equal, which is how the FedEx Cup postseason has evolved into a playoff, or at least as close as golf may ever get to one.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.