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A time to reflect

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Tenth hole, Great River GC in Milford, Conn. Many Americans remember what they were doing and where they were doing it when they first heard of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – apocalyptic events usually receive special exemptions and head straight to the memory’s long-term vault. Details of the devastation were sketchy at first, but when someone tells you with a straight face that a couple of commercial airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, the location of a little white ball can seem rather insignificant.

Still, we hit our tee shots at what was then the par-3 10th, all of them poorly, then decided we didn’t want to play anymore. I live about 50 miles north of New York City and quickly remembered my wife was taking a train to midtown Manhattan that morning. Fifteen minutes earlier and she would have gotten stuck, probably for hours. Instead, she was back before noon, by which time grim reality had wrapped its hand around the nation’s throat.

Ten years later, the effects of 9/11, beyond those who lost friends or family, are most obvious during air travel. I’m no economist – a blissful 28 handicap when it comes to political matters – but I’m thinking the attacks did nothing to strengthen the dollar or shrink the gap between those who think our country is in shambles and those who think we’re doing just fine. Those issues are best left for the experts to ponder.

I’m a golf guy, and though the game looks a lot different competitively than it did a decade ago, that change has come about since 9/11, not because of it. The decline of Tiger Woods remains a big deal, much to the chagrin of some, but the emergence of the Europeans has done just as much to bulldoze the previous landscape. In September 2001, Phil Mickelson still hadn’t won a major. His career was becoming defined by those shortcomings, whereas David Duval, who had recently claimed the ’01 British Open, had also played better than Woods for an extended period in the late 1990s.

The PGA Tour reacted prudently to the terrorist attacks by canceling the World Golf Championships event that week in St. Louis, but I don’t think the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has anything to do with the bye week we’re in now. If you’re going to give the players some time off, it makes more sense to coincide that break with the start of the NFL season. Previously, the off-week was scheduled between Chicago and the Tour Championship in Atlanta, where the field is much smaller and everyone goes home rich.

This is better, not just to avoid competing with the NFL, which is going to happen anyway, but to give 70 guys a break instead of 30 and let everyone recharge their batteries for the final two stops of the regular season.

There was no FedEx Cup playoff series in 2001. In fact, the WGC concept was in just its third year, and the tournament sponsored at the time by American Express had been held in Spain in 1999 and 2000. The Amex gathering was the one canceled in St. Louis – it then alternated between Great Britain and the United States before a new title sponsor came along and the tournament settled at Doral (2007).

That’s when the Tour introduced the playoffs. If there is no such thing as too many premium-field events in pro golf, the FedEx Cup has illuminated the lack of an identity with the WGCs, two of which are stroke-play tournaments held at longtime Tour venues and look very much like what was played there for decades before. The fields were always strong at Doral, always strong at Firestone. The fellas just tee it up for a lot more money nowadays, which is the Tour’s definition of progress.

The playoff format, meanwhile, is obviously packed into a five-week stretch with a $10 million carrot dangling above the finish line, which at least makes it a project with a purpose. As much as the Tour could do to make its postseason better – deprioritize its commercial sensibilities and corporate-dollar craving, for starters – the system in place now works fine. There is more top-tier golf than 10 years ago, and many of the game’s hardcore fans are going to show interest regardless of how much noise the NFL is making.

This pause in the action doesn’t kill any momentum because there wasn’t much momentum to kill. It is what it is, as they say. A week away offers us a chance to reflect on a lot of things.