The FedExCup Playoffs are like one of those ideas Forrest Gump inspired in the 1994 film.
Inexplicable success keeps pouring forth from a head-scratching source.
It’s like that scene where Gump’s face is splashed with mud at a truck stop, and a T-shirt salesman hands Gump a shirt to wipe himself, and Gump turns the mess into a smiley face that makes the salesman millions.
That’s the FedExCup Playoffs
It’s a beautiful mess of an idea.
It’s amazing how the PGA Tour’s postseason has thrived for 11 years in spite of itself, in spite of a convoluted, confusing and confounding points system.
We saw it again Sunday, when Dustin Johnson defeated Jordan Spieth in a terrific duel at The Northern Trust, the opening playoff event. It was great theater, with this postseason giving us meaningful golf we wouldn’t enjoy without the playoffs concept.
You put up a $10 million jackpot, get the best players in the world to compete in a series of individual tournaments played in a traditional format, and you’ve got the foundation for something special. It’s what makes the postseason work in spite of the muddle the points create in the end.
Yes, this is old, trampled down territory, but it’s relevant again with first-year PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan opening the door to change. He would like to improve on the FedExCup playoff idea, if possible. So, now’s the time to propose meaningful changes.
Where to begin?
Scrap the points formula.
Points are so maddeningly counterintuitive to golf, where par and money are the traditional measuring sticks. It’s not that fans can’t understand the points system. It’s how there are so many maddening possibilities in the fluctuating projections, which only serve to dampen the drama in the end, instead of intensify it.
We’ve learned to try to block out the points in the end, to tune into the golf we understand, where par matters in the individual tournament’s outcome.
Eleven years in, and Bill Haas still owns the defining moment of these playoffs. No, not the moment when he saved par from the water to keep his chances alive at the Tour Championship in 2011. The defining moment is his reaction after he won the FedExCup that year. It’s his confusion seeing the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship trophies being set out in front of him.
“So who won the FedExCup?” Haas asked.
Even Haas didn’t know he won it.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy, the Stanley Cup and the FIFA World Cup were never presented to guys scratching their heads.
So ditch the points.
A better idea lies in what Paul Azinger said about pressure. He said golfers need to know what they’re choking over at the end of an event. As Haas attested, players aren’t choking over FedExCup points at the end of the Tour Championship.
Give us par, Commish, or give us more confusion.
Monahan’s answer, a better playoff system, lies partly in setting up a tried-and-true formula where players know what they’re choking over on a last putt. That means using par to determine who wins the cup.
Use money to determine who gets into these playoffs, and then use par to determine who wins them.
If these really are “playoffs,” everyone starts from scratch once they begin, just like the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.
Yes, you want to keep the drama building through the playoffs, and reward overall postseason performances, so don’t re-set points. Instead, re-set scores to par. Have two leaderboards in the playoffs, a tournament leaderboard and a FedEx Cup leaderboard, both linked to par. In principle, it’s no different than re-setting points, but a lot easier to comprehend.
It’s tough going, keeping the drama alive through the playoffs and crowning a deserving FedExCup playoff winner. Here’s hoping Monahan can figure out exactly how to do that, because since the FedExCup’s inception in 2007, nobody’s offered a can’t-miss idea.
Another thing, trim these playoffs to three events, as seems already in the works, and disqualify any player who doesn’t compete in all three events.
Mostly, somehow, some way, Mr. Commish, give us par, because with points, “The FedExCup Playoffs are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”