Not so black and white

By Rex HoggardSeptember 3, 2011, 10:12 pm

NORTON, Mass. – It was, essentially, a playoff snapshot. With two holes to play in Round 2 at the Deutsche Bank Championship and jacked on the business end of Saturday’s 36-hole cut, Kevin Na’s year was quickly winding down.

Moments after Na’s 8-footer for birdie at the last slipped past the right edge of the cup he bolted out of the scoring trailer and straight to a nearby ShotLink computer that was busily keeping pace with the action, “Where am I?” Na asked as he gazed at the ever-evolving FedEx Cup points list. The answer: out.

Farewell, see you . . . well, in four weeks in Las Vegas, or maybe at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort? Disney?

“Probably Las Vegas,” Na said of his next likely Tour start before shrugging his shoulders and moving on. It was an apropos indictment of all that is wrong with the circuit’s faux postseason.

Those in search of finality within the Tour’s four-event postseason have mistaken the playoffs for something other than what they are  – the ultimate member-member where millionaires play for millions of dollars.

Without question, the current format is a dramatic upgrade over the pre-2007 dog days when the Tour Championship amounted to little more than an anticlimactic 72-hole march to nowhere, but it just seems the Tour arrived at the doorstep of an intriguing idea and forgot to knock.

Whatever excitement East Lake brings – be it real or perceived – the ultimate winner will be decided by the guy with the most zeros next to his name.

Point is the Tour’s playoffs don’t quite have the finality of say a loss in the American League Division Series or NCAA Sweet 16. And this town, after all, knows a thing or two about the cruel finality of a season that can no longer be salvaged having endured 86 consecutive winless calendars before the beloved Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.

Na likely won’t make it into the BMW Championship field in two weeks, mired at 72nd on the projected points list and unable to help his own cause, but don’t expect to find him slumped over his locker at TPC Boston lamenting a lost season or what could have been.

We like closure in our sports. Just as ties are akin to kissing your sister, the FedEx Cup is the competitive equivalent of an All-Star game – fun to watch but ultimately not that meaningful.

Sure someone will be crowned champion and cash the $10 million lottery ticket, but for pure drama the postseason leaves your correspondent looking forward to Disney, the actual end of the Tour season, and Q-School, where the difference between gainful employment and journeyman status is measured moment to moment.

“It’s obviously less pressure than Q-School, where you are fighting for your job,” Na said. “It’s not as stressful, but I know the BMW is a tournament where I’ve played well, so there’s a lot at stake.”

Charlie Wi began the week at 65th on the FedEx Cup points list, signed for rounds of 73-74 and will watch the rest of the Deutsche Bank, as well as the playoffs, from his couch, yet as he made his way off property he didn’t have the look of a man looking for something to throw.

“I knew I had to make the cut. You’re definitely aware, it’s like missing the cut and missing the cut,” Wi said. “(But) when you have already made $1 million it’s different than fighting for your job. Our mindsets are not as dire here.”

Forgive Na and Wi if they sound a tad too at ease with their plight, but in their defense TPC Boston is not the end – not for them, not for anybody. Therein lays the fundamental problem with the playoffs, an ill-suited concept for golf from the outset of the experiment.

The postseason works in other sports because it is the lone reason to exist, whereas golf careers are defined by major championships. If the Tour wanted to bolster the postseason’s appeal, however, there is an easy fix – make the season-ending race the actual end of the season.

There are some fine stops on the Tour’s fall calendar, but for the sake of clarity the playoffs would work best if, for example, they began at The Barclays with a 156-player field (currently, the event the week before Barclays has a 156-player field), cut to 125 for the Deutsche Bank and then 70 for the BMW, followed by the top 30 at the Tour Championship and nothing else.

As an added bonus, players would keep their cards based on FedEx Cup points – not money – which would also help to clear murky waters.

Imagine the pressure, and the stories, that would be born from the race within the race – players vying to advance to East Lake for the $10 million jackpot as well as those scrapping for their Tour cards.

Your correspondent subscribes to the theory that a tournament is important only if those participating in it consider it worthwhile. Employment is as worthwhile as it gets, and no amount of sponsorship money will give the playoffs that kind of immediate street cred.

Advance to Boston and you keep your Tour card, make it to Chicago and you lock up invitations to next season’s biggest tournaments, book a time at East Lake and you’ve got a shot at a cool $10 million.

“(The playoffs) are a totally different pressure,” said Brandt Jobe, who birdied the last from 8 feet on Saturday to make the cut and give himself a chance to advance to Chicago at 56th on the points list. “This one is giving you an opportunity, you’ve had a good year, if you don’t make it you can look back and reflect on all the good things you did. I know what I’m doing next year.”

Imagine then the combined pressures of job security and the chase for the cup wrapped into a single, neat package. Imagine Na slumped over his locker wrestling with the reality that the end has arrived. No Las Vegas, no Disney, just the thrill and defeat of closure.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.