PARAMUS, N.J. – Consider it a Catch-22. Or a double-edged sword. Or just an example of the PGA Tour being a victim of its own success.
When the FedEx Cup playoff format was introduced in 2006 and implemented one year later, commissioner Tim Finchem offered two major benefits to players and fans alike: It would allow the schedule to end before the meaty part of the lionized football season and it would offer everyone an opportunity to enjoy an offseason away from the game before it geared back up again.
In effect, the PGA Tour was attempting to enact a less-is-more philosophy.
Think about how it’s worked for football. From February through August, the game hibernates and plans its impending attack on our loyalties. Fans pine for the pigskin when it’s gone, and then celebrate its arrival with the fervency of most holidays. Year after year, again and again, the cyclical nature of the game dangles a gratuitous carrot in front of our noses and lets us take a significant bite, only to run off again and leave us chasing.
That’s never been the case in golf – and it won’t be anytime soon.
This season’s schedule of 45 tournaments has already increased to 47 for next season, with Finchem revealing, “We’re looking at one more.”
The commissioner’s optimistically tinged self-fulfilling prophecy of eight years ago has effectively stalled. While the first two playoff events – this week’s Barclays and next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship – conclude prior to the NFL’s opening week, the final two are directly up against what Finchem knows all too well is an unbeatable Sunday ratings behemoth.
Meanwhile, the duration between the last putt of this season and the first tee shot of the next one is exactly 22 days – and, oh by the way, that “offseason” happens to include a little thing called the Ryder Cup.
You get the drift. The carrot isn’t dangling in front of our noses. It’s being stuffed down our throats.
“The difference between now and when we talked about that originally is that we now start a new season,” Finchem explained Tuesday. “The season’s over. So it’s really still about the same variables for a player. How many tournaments are you going to play over the course of a season?”
The result – not that Finchem will admit it – has been a heavily diluted product because of so many inconsistencies. Every top player competes at the major championships and The Players. Just about every one of them plays in at least three WGC events. Same goes for all four playoff tournaments, although coming weeks might prove that prediction a little too hopeful.
Other tournaments simply fall in line under the next tier. Three top-10 players one week; seven of the top-20 the next week; 16 of the top-50 after that. Unlike NASCAR, another sports league for an individual sport, there’s no consistency with elite competitors vying against each other on a weekly basis, leaving the PGA Tour in a sense of athletic purgatory.
But therein lies the Catch-22.
Before we criticize Finchem and those in Camp Ponte Vedra too harshly, it should be noted that their navigation of choppy waters during the economic recession was nothing less than masterful. In a sport dependent on sponsors ponying up millions of dollars each week to hold the competition, they not only treaded these waters but witnessed continued growth throughout.
No sports executive in his right mind would turn down an incoming flow of income. None would retract when expansion is a clear possibility.
And that’s exactly what’s happened with the PGA Tour since the FedEx Cup playoffs were first implemented. That’s why the final few events of the season will run opposite the beginning of the football bonanza, why there’s hardly any space between one season’s end and the next one’s beginning and why golf never feels like it ever goes away.
It’s also why it won’t change anytime soon, either.
“We felt like if the playoffs got to be interesting enough, we could carry our audience pretty well for a few weeks into football and that’s materialized,” Finchem said. “So we like the positioning of the dates.”
When speaking on another topic Tuesday, the commissioner also stated, “I’m always of the view that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Clearly, that’s the attitude toward the current schedule. From a sponsorship standpoint, supply is exceeding previous demand, which has in turn led to greater supply.
Eight years after the FedEx Cup format was first introduced, this remains an example of the PGA Tour being a victim of its own success. Call it a problem, but it’s hardly the worst problem to have.