FedEx Cup Playoffs have come a long way in 10 years


As 10-year-olds go, the FedEx Cup is surprisingly mature, particularly when you consider the relative animosity players held for the season-long race when it was launched in 2007.

Or maybe ambiguity is a better way to characterize how players viewed the FedEx Cup when it was created a decade ago.

“I was quite critical of it 10 years ago when it first came out. I think that was fair because the points weren’t right,” Adam Scott said. “It's taken a while to get it right.”

Well, time and a healthy dollop of tinkering by the PGA Tour’s mathematicians have helped move the FedEx Cup along, but it’s difficult to argue with Scott’s assessment that the postseason has come of age.

In every way, the FedEx Cup was always a work in progress going back to that first season in ’07 when Tiger Woods won the big paycheck after skipping the first postseason stop.

That wouldn’t do.

The next year, Vijay Singh won the FedEx Cup needing only to remain upright for four days at the Tour Championship thanks to a dominate playoff performance that included victories at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship.

That wouldn’t work, either.

In 2014, Billy Horschel won the title after starting the playoffs 69th on the points list, which prompted a new system with less volatility beginning in 2015.

Whether the point permutations are now perfect is matter of perspective and it seems likely the tinkering will continue as long as the Tour has calculators. What’s not up for debate is how the FedEx Cup has evolved from a curiosity with largely lukewarm support from the players to a prominent seat at an increasingly crowded table.

“I think it's really achieved what it set out to do, and that's have better fields at the back end of a season,” Scott said. “That's what it set out to do and it’s done that.”

Meaningful golf with strong fields during a time of year when the Tour normally takes a backseat to football was the implied mission of the FedEx Cup, and with a few exceptions that’s what golf’s faux playoffs have accomplished.

Nothing proves that more than the participation numbers for this year’s playoffs.

Masters champion Danny Willett and Shane Lowry passed on this year’s postseason, but that was to defend a title on the European Tour (Willett at the European Masters) and make a final Ryder Cup push (Lowry); and Henrik Stenson skipped last week’s BMW Championship, but that was to nurse an injured knee.

Otherwise, the players have spoken with their feet when it comes to the FedEx Cup.

“Not many guys skip tournaments in the FedEx Cup, one or two here or there, so they're getting great fields every week and that's what we needed,” Scott said.

And the benefits of the increasingly improved postseason go well beyond four weeks in the fall. Across the schedule, players have added events with an eye toward East Lake and the season finale, where a start assures an idyllic schedule at the biggest events the following year.

Players like Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na virtually assured themselves a start at the Tour Championship thanks to a hot start last fall, and each year those post-East Lake events are seeing stronger and stronger fields.

“When we get into the fall series, guys are putting priority on those first events of the year,” David Hearn said. “Maybe in the past guys sort of eased their way into the year. If you're having a good season, you might take it easy. But with this FedEx Cup format now, I think it makes each and every week so important out here.”

The postseason is not perfect. There are some who say four playoff events are one too many, and during Ryder Cup years, like this year, the top players are compelled to make tough schedule decisions that often don’t lead to their best golf.

Nor has the FedEx Cup replaced the Jack Nicklaus Trophy for deciding the year’s top player. The FedEx Cup champion has also won the Tour’s Player of the year award just four times since 2007.

“It determines who's the best player for these four weeks. But that's what playoffs do as well in any other sport,” Scott said. “Just because you've topped the division or whatever you call it doesn't mean you're just going to be given the top spot at the end of the year. Playoffs have volatility and that's what this does.”

There is room for more changes, and if history is any indication, the Tour won’t stop tinkering with the FedEx Cup anytime soon, but just like any other 10-year-old, the players and Tour should all marvel at just how fast the postseason experiment has grown up.