Water Cooler Fodder


The mathematics lied in 2008, at which point the buzzword/solution became “volatility.”

Despite winning the final two FedEx Cup playoff events that September, Camilo Villegas never had a shot at claiming the overall title, which Vijay Singh had locked up in Boston the week before. It didn’t seem right, didn’t seem fair, but most of all, it didn’t make good business sense. Why lead anyone to believe the Tour Championship was just another well-paid vacation?

So the PGA Tour tweaked its playoff system. Again. More leapfrogging, a lot more 'What Have You Done Out Here Lately,' with virtually no importance placed on what players did in the regular season. Anyone with a clear grasp of the competitive element could see the changes were overreactive and ill-advised, dangerously oblivious to the downside of theoretical possibility. Tiger Woods could win eight events in 16 starts, three of them majors, and have no better a chance of winning the overall crown than, say, Kevin Streelman. Talk about being careful what you wish for. If there are five great players, 25 really good players and 75 OK players, the OKs have the numbers, and therefore the power, to control all legislation not meted by the commissioner’s office.

That, in a half-cracked nutshell, is the problem with pro golf in the modern era. It caters to a bloated, over-compensated middle class – a contingent of guys who live off the fat of the land, excess generated by the superb play of a precious few. You don’t have to sing for your supper anymore. All you have to do is open your mouth.

Steve Stricker, a good man and an outstanding player who never complains about anything, wondered aloud about the balance of the playoff formula last week in Chicago. Stricker shows up at the weak-field tournaments, the ones Tiger never thinks about playing in. He’s a back-to-back winner of the John Deere Classic, which is held the week before the British Open, but here we are in September, and Stricker doesn’t see how that victory in July has any bearing on his position heading to Atlanta.

If you’re Charlie Hoffman, by the way, you owe Tim Finchem a Christmas card.

As for Streelman, the only thing he’s beating is the system. Having finished 102nd in the regular-season standings, Streelman qualified for the playoffs with but a few whiskers to spare and has just one top 40 in the postseason – a tie for third at the Barclays. Here he is, however, No. 29 and East Lake-bound, which translates into all kinds of super-duper bonus perks, most notably, a berth in the 2011 Masters.

Go ahead, ship me off to the funny farm, but I just don’t think a T-3 at Ridgewood should punch your ticket to Augusta National. Not when a victory at one of the Tour’s little-fish events doesn’t even get you a spot on the sidewalk next to Martha Burk. Camp Ponte Vedra wants the Tigers and Phils to play more, then throws out everything they’ve done for eight months so guys like Hoffman can afford a haircut?

Somebody get me a doctor.

Try as it might to get things right, the PGA Tour operates with an innate smugness that can be hard to rationalize when it comes to reaching the American public. The truth? This playoff thing isn’t working. It’s not making a splash – I challenge anyone to prove that more than a few drops of water have left the swimming pool. It’s not working because it’s not built correctly. It’s not built correctly because the wrong people are laying the bricks and hammering the nails.

It’s just four nice tournaments at the end of the summer. There is no connection between the plugged-in sports fan and the purpose of those four events, which makes the concept, at least to this point, an institutional failure. Another billboard for title sponsors, another paycheck for Sammie Softspikes. Another reason to thank Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer for helping to clearly identify golf’s four major championships.

God bless, the doctor has arrived. His diagnosis isn’t grim, but the road to recuperation will take some effort.

– The top-3 finishers on the season-long money (or points) list automatically qualify for the Tour Championship. Never mind how many events they show up for – so what if the big boys don’t play Memphis? Tiger’s absence translates to Omar Uresti’s presence. The little fish have to eat, too.

– If you’re among the top 3, then skip a playoff event, you lose your free pass to Atlanta. That doesn’t mean you’re out – see the next proposal for clarification. Missing a postseason tournament is a bad thing, but it isn’t a felony. Let’s not forget that.

– Only the top 60 make the playoffs to begin with. That number is cut to 20 (including automatic qualifiers) for the Tour Championship. From there, the top 4 receive byes. The other 16 compete for four spots in a 54-hole, stroke-play format.

– Once we’ve determined the eight finalists, they are seeded and bracketed for a match-play showdown. In each match, the higher seed gets to decide whether the match goes 18 or 36 holes – golf’s equivalent of the home-field advantage so crucial in other sports.

I don’t care how much they play for. I don’t care about politics or petty contract clauses. I just want something people will talk about over the water cooler, even if somebody ends up kicking that water cooler to the curb.