It has now been five years since the PGA Tour launched the so-called playoffs.
They have been tweaked and changed. This year there will be a break between Week 2 and Week 3. The last two years the break came after Week 3. In 2008 there was a break for the Ryder Cup, meaning several top Americans arrived in Atlanta for the Tour Championship complaining that playing for a $10 million had cut into their victory parties.
The tweaking needs to stop. It is time for a complete revamping, a makeover, a do-over – you pick the term.
In other major sports there is a clear delineation between the regular season and the postseason. Everyone starts at zero in the postseason. Sure, top teams earn home-field advantage but no one is given a head start – except in the NFL where four teams get a first-round bye.
NASCAR fans may point out that the Chase doesn’t begin with everyone back at zero. True, but the Chase only includes 12 drivers – not 125 golfers – and has been tweaked often because it is also far from perfect. What’s more NASCAR doesn’t call its final 10 races playoffs. The only word repeated more often by Tour officials than playoffs is FedEx.
In order to get people to buy into the playoffs, the Tour has created a remarkably unfair points system. The idea that winning a major championship is only worth 100 points more than winning a regular Tour event is ludicrous. It is why, for example, Keegan Bradley, is only fifth in the standings in spite of two victories.
Ask any player this question: You can win any tournament out there (including the Tour’s beloved Players Championship) five times or a major once, which would you choose? The answer is easy. If you don’t want the majors to be the one qualifier, fine, but triple the points. Barely bumping the points is insulting to those who win majors.
Once the playoffs begin, the points become downright silly. The player who wins this week’s Barclays will get 2,500 points, which is more than the 1,906 points Nick Watney, the regular season leader, accumulated all year. It also means that William McGirt, who slipped into No. 125 in Greensboro last week could be the points leader next Sunday night by winning, even though he hasn’t finished in the top 10 once all season.
The Barclays champion, and the winners the next two weeks, will be awarded more points than a player would receive if he won all four majors. Think about how that would look: Rory McIlroy wins the grand slam next year, makes history and then, after the 125th player on the points list wins The Barclays and vaults to the top of the standings.
Are you kidding?
Sure, that’s the longest of long shots but the fact that it could happen is proof that this current system is out of kilter.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with McGirt leading the standings if everyone understands that the regular season is over and that no one is putting a value on any postseason event vs. any regular season event. They should be completely separate entities.
Start everyone off at zero and let them all play hard for three weeks to get into the Tour Championship. No one gets a bye. In past years both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have skipped playoff tournaments in part because they had enough points to qualify for Atlanta even if they missed an event.
In theory one of the ways to reward players for a great regular season would be to give them a first week bye. This doesn’t work in golf because sponsors would go ballistic if the top 20 players were told to take their week off. But players shouldn’t be allowed to skip a week because they know it won’t hurt them en route to Atlanta. Charl Schwartzel is skipping Barclays and is 21st in the standings. In future years he should be told to skip the next three tournaments too. You are all in or all out.
If you argue that by taking everyone back to zero you downplay the importance of the regular season you’re probably right. So what? That’s what happens in any sport that has a playoff. Who had the best record in the NFL last season? It wasn’t the Green Bay Packers, the team that won the Super Bowl. In fact, they were a wild-card team. Who finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in college basketball last year? It wasn’t national champion Connecticut.
Players still make a lot of money during the regular season and they have the chance to win major championships. If you want, set up a regular season bonus pool for the top 10 or top 20 finishers on the money list.
If you win a major championship, regardless of whether you are a PGA Tour member or not, you should be invited to the playoffs. Adding Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke certainly wouldn’t have been a bad thing this year. And two more players in a 125-player field – even four if that somehow occurred – is hardly a big deal. Like everyone else, McIlroy and Clarke would start at zero and have to play their way into the next rounds.
Finally, the Tour Championship. The event has become a complete yawn. Changing it can’t possibly hurt and might help it a good deal.
Send 32 players to Atlanta. Make it a match-play event – winner-take-all. No more projections on a player needing to finish T-3 to win the FedEx Cup or T-8 to finish fourth. The guys who play the best the first three weeks advance to Atlanta and are seeded based on how they played those three weeks. The winner that final week gets the $10 million whether he’s seeded No. 1 or No. 32.
Do not start with the tired, “TV will never go for it,” argument. Because the ratings will be lower? Worst case they’d drop so little that no one would notice. Best case, if you get a compelling 18-hole final you might actually get higher ratings. Imagine, a year from now, McIlroy vs. Rickie Fowler or Ryo Ishikawa. Or maybe the old men creak their way through and we get Woods vs. Mickelson. If you don’t get that, so what? The ratings stay low but at least you get a true finish, a dramatic and different finish.
That’s the problem with the playoffs. If you remove the Tour’s constant hype, never-ending ads and hyperbole, they’re just four big money tournaments where the rich get richer. In reality they aren’t any different than the Texas Swing, the Florida Swing or any other non-major event.
If you want playoffs make them real playoffs, accept that they’ll never mean as much as the majors then make them as dramatic and fair as you possibly can.
Instead of telling us how special they are do something to actually make them special. It isn’t easy. But it isn't impossible either.