NORTON, Mass. – It was, essentially, a playoff snapshot. With two holes to play in Round 2 at the Deutsche Bank Championship and jacked on the business end of Saturday’s 36-hole cut, Kevin Na’s year was quickly winding down.
Moments after Na’s 8-footer for birdie at the last slipped past the right edge of the cup he bolted out of the scoring trailer and straight to a nearby ShotLink computer that was busily keeping pace with the action, “Where am I?” Na asked as he gazed at the ever-evolving FedEx Cup points list. The answer: out.
Farewell, see you . . . well, in four weeks in Las Vegas, or maybe at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort? Disney?
“Probably Las Vegas,” Na said of his next likely Tour start before shrugging his shoulders and moving on. It was an apropos indictment of all that is wrong with the circuit’s faux postseason.
Those in search of finality within the Tour’s four-event postseason have mistaken the playoffs for something other than what they are – the ultimate member-member where millionaires play for millions of dollars.
Without question, the current format is a dramatic upgrade over the pre-2007 dog days when the Tour Championship amounted to little more than an anticlimactic 72-hole march to nowhere, but it just seems the Tour arrived at the doorstep of an intriguing idea and forgot to knock.
Whatever excitement East Lake brings – be it real or perceived – the ultimate winner will be decided by the guy with the most zeros next to his name.
Point is the Tour’s playoffs don’t quite have the finality of say a loss in the American League Division Series or NCAA Sweet 16. And this town, after all, knows a thing or two about the cruel finality of a season that can no longer be salvaged having endured 86 consecutive winless calendars before the beloved Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.
Na likely won’t make it into the BMW Championship field in two weeks, mired at 72nd on the projected points list and unable to help his own cause, but don’t expect to find him slumped over his locker at TPC Boston lamenting a lost season or what could have been.
We like closure in our sports. Just as ties are akin to kissing your sister, the FedEx Cup is the competitive equivalent of an All-Star game – fun to watch but ultimately not that meaningful.
Sure someone will be crowned champion and cash the $10 million lottery ticket, but for pure drama the postseason leaves your correspondent looking forward to Disney, the actual end of the Tour season, and Q-School, where the difference between gainful employment and journeyman status is measured moment to moment.
“It’s obviously less pressure than Q-School, where you are fighting for your job,” Na said. “It’s not as stressful, but I know the BMW is a tournament where I’ve played well, so there’s a lot at stake.”
Charlie Wi began the week at 65th on the FedEx Cup points list, signed for rounds of 73-74 and will watch the rest of the Deutsche Bank, as well as the playoffs, from his couch, yet as he made his way off property he didn’t have the look of a man looking for something to throw.
“I knew I had to make the cut. You’re definitely aware, it’s like missing the cut and missing the cut,” Wi said. “(But) when you have already made $1 million it’s different than fighting for your job. Our mindsets are not as dire here.”
Forgive Na and Wi if they sound a tad too at ease with their plight, but in their defense TPC Boston is not the end – not for them, not for anybody. Therein lays the fundamental problem with the playoffs, an ill-suited concept for golf from the outset of the experiment.
The postseason works in other sports because it is the lone reason to exist, whereas golf careers are defined by major championships. If the Tour wanted to bolster the postseason’s appeal, however, there is an easy fix – make the season-ending race the actual end of the season.
There are some fine stops on the Tour’s fall calendar, but for the sake of clarity the playoffs would work best if, for example, they began at The Barclays with a 156-player field (currently, the event the week before Barclays has a 156-player field), cut to 125 for the Deutsche Bank and then 70 for the BMW, followed by the top 30 at the Tour Championship and nothing else.
As an added bonus, players would keep their cards based on FedEx Cup points – not money – which would also help to clear murky waters.
Imagine the pressure, and the stories, that would be born from the race within the race – players vying to advance to East Lake for the $10 million jackpot as well as those scrapping for their Tour cards.
Your correspondent subscribes to the theory that a tournament is important only if those participating in it consider it worthwhile. Employment is as worthwhile as it gets, and no amount of sponsorship money will give the playoffs that kind of immediate street cred.
Advance to Boston and you keep your Tour card, make it to Chicago and you lock up invitations to next season’s biggest tournaments, book a time at East Lake and you’ve got a shot at a cool $10 million.
“(The playoffs) are a totally different pressure,” said Brandt Jobe, who birdied the last from 8 feet on Saturday to make the cut and give himself a chance to advance to Chicago at 56th on the points list. “This one is giving you an opportunity, you’ve had a good year, if you don’t make it you can look back and reflect on all the good things you did. I know what I’m doing next year.”
Imagine then the combined pressures of job security and the chase for the cup wrapped into a single, neat package. Imagine Na slumped over his locker wrestling with the reality that the end has arrived. No Las Vegas, no Disney, just the thrill and defeat of closure.