Punch Shot: Best way to crown a season champion?


Is the best way to crown a season-long champion the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs, the European Tour's Race to Dubai, the Race to the CME Globe, some combination of the three or a totally new idea? GolfChannel.com writers debate how they'd like to see a season-long race settled.


The FedEx Cup playoffs have set a solid foundation. The best players compete (virtually) every week. The fields get smaller the deeper we get into the postseason. The tournaments are held on strong venues. The system falls apart, however, with the points structure and reset at the final stage. The finale is not climactic. It’s confusing.

The playoff structure – from 125 players to 100 to 70 to 30 – is fine, but at the very least spice up the Tour Championship. Start it on Wednesday, the first of three stroke-play qualifying days. After 54 holes, cut to the low eight players and send them off in quarterfinal matches beginning Saturday. The semifinals would be held Sunday, with a two-man, winner-take-all, $10 million championship match on Sunday afternoon.

Yes, there is still a chance that the final match would be a dud, but the stroke-play qualifier should ensure that many of the best players advance. In a finale that is currently bogged down by points and projections, what is easier to understand than head-to-head match play with everything on the line?


The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs work brilliantly in how they get the best players in the world to play against each other in a meaningful, high-stakes series of events at season’s end. The system would work better if the playoff winner wasn’t decided by points. It’s so counter intuitive to golf, where par and money are the customary measuring sticks. This is, after all, the points system that was so head scratching Bill Haas didn’t even know he won the cup until it was practically handed to him in 2011.

Keep the FedEx Cup playoffs, but tweak the standings. Use money to get us to the playoffs, and then go to cumulative par, so we all know exactly where the competition for the $10 million payday really stands, right through the final round of the playoffs. Using par instead of points takes a baffling, confounding dynamic out of the finish. Of course, the challenge then becomes keeping the drama intact through the Tour Championship, so nobody’s taking a 15-shot lead into the final round. You do that making every round feel like it’s “do or die” at the Tour Championship. You make Friday, Saturday and Sunday elimination rounds at East Lake. After a Friday cut, you make players begin with clean slates on Saturday and clean slates again on Sunday. You boil the giant payday down to 16 players on Saturday and eight players in the final round. It’s dramatic, it’s easy to follow and it feels like a playoff, where a great season merely guarantees a chance to win a championship. It might not seem fair to a player who dominated the regular season, but that’s what makes it the playoffs. 


The central flaw for all of golf’s post-season races is the concept that the ancient game needed some sort of “playoff.” Golf, even at the professional level, doesn’t lend itself to the urgency of what one would associate with a true playoff.

“If I'm going to call it a playoff and 125 guys keep their card, I'd say 62 max should make the playoffs,” Jim Furyk said at September’s Tour Championship. “Half the league is too much in the NBA. Half is too much in hockey. They do it for money. But football and baseball you've got to earn it to get in the playoffs.”

To Furyk’s point, a true season-long race is predicated on the idea that once you’ve earned a spot in the post-season everything starts over.

Golf is largely missing that one-and-done mentality enjoyed in other sports, which is why Furyk’s idea makes sense. Allow the top 64 players from the regular season to advance to the playoff, and from there – with a player’s seeding based on where he finished the year – let a single match play event decide the champion.

Imagine the drama of two players dueling for the $10 million FedEx Cup on Sunday at East Lake. It’s still not a true playoff, but it’s closer than what the PGA Tour has now.


Getcha hate mail-typin’ fingers ready, because what I’m about to say should inspire an entire inbox of expletive-filled venom: I like the FedEx Cup.

Not everything about it, mind you. I think fewer players should reach the playoffs and I think it should be three tournaments instead of four and I think it should end on Labor Day rather than trespassing into football season. But I like the fact that it rewards the best player over a specific late-season period of time, not the best player over the entirety of the year.

This newsflash just in: Rory McIlroy was the best PGA Tour player during the 2013-14 season. No kidding. If the goal of the FedEx Cup was to identify the best player, we could save everyone a lot of frequent flier miles and determine this ahead of time. But he didn’t play as well as Billy Horschel during the playoffs, so he didn’t win it all. Simple as that.

By contrast, the European Tour’s season-long race rewards the year’s best player. Which sounds good on paper – until the current scenario takes place, when it’s likely that McIlroy will clinch without ever having to hit a shot.

Give me the FedEx Cup instead. It’s far from perfect, but it still beats the alternative.