FedEx Cup win worth more than $10 million

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2016, 4:29 pm

ATLANTA – Ten-million dollars doesn’t buy as much as it once did.

To be clear, as paydays go, winning the FedEx Cup qualifies as a cash flow boon, even for most of the millionaires who made it to East Lake for this week’s PGA Tour season finale.

The pot of gold – it’s actually a silver cup filled with dollar bills, but that doesn’t paint the same enticing picture – has always been the central theme of the Tour’s playoffs. Through years when the mathematical formulas proved to be mind-numbingly complicated and early indifference from top players threatened to undermine the concept, the big lottery ticket awaiting the winner was always an easy way to sway the conversation back to the competition.

From the early days of the FedEx Cup experiment, there were always 10 million reasons to pay attention, whether you were a player or fan.

This year, however, it’s the championship, not the check, that’s dominating the conversation among the players. For the first time, the winner of the Tour Championship will be crowned on East Lake’s ninth hole, now the 18th after officials reversed the nines for the tournament, and it will probably also be a first that the would-be champion will be focused on something other than their bank account during the award ceremony.

This isn’t a case of millionaires turning their noses up at pocket change. Unlike other professional sports, that much money can still cause a Tour player to sit up and listen.


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“It's still a ridiculous amount of money, for a lot of guys in the field, maybe there's a few here, it doesn't change their lives that much,” said Paul Casey, who at fifth on the points list can assure himself the FedEx Cup with a victory. “But for most of the guys in the field, this would be a life-changing victory, and for me, I'm one of those guys.”

The difference this year for the FedEx Cup, which celebrates 10 years this week, is that having your name etched into the cup has taken priority over signing you name on the oversized check.

Maybe it’s a decade of tinkering that’s created a system that the majority of players agree with even if they don’t entirely understand it. Or perhaps it’s a trophy that includes the game’s biggest names, from Tiger Woods (2007 and ’09) to Jordan Spieth (’15). Whatever it is, the onetime curiosity has evolved into a bona fide craving.

“More so than money, I'd much rather have my name on the trophy, and that's just me personally because how much is enough?” said Jason Day, who begins the week fourth on the points list. “We all have money, but I don't have my name on the FedEx Cup trophy, and that's what I really want.”

That’s a long way from the initial thoughts on the season-long cash grab that has nothing to do with the adjusted cost of living rate and everything to do with a desire to play for more than just a paycheck, even one as big as Sunday’s jackpot.

Much like The Players and Presidents Cup, both Tour-owned properties that compete with the game’s biggest events for prestige and attention, the FedEx Cup was always going to suffer by comparison.

For years, The Players has scratched away for “fifth major” status, just as the Presidents Cup has always been challenged to move out of the Ryder Cup’s shadow. But throughout those debates it’s been the players who would decide the relative importance of each event.

The same narrative applies to the FedEx Cup, and on this front the players seem to have an increasingly clear commitment.

“I remember people kind of sneering when we first started this, thinking this is never going to be as important as a major, and now you hear guys talking about it as if it's a fifth major, as something that is that important,” said Brandt Snedeker, the winner of the 2012 FedEx Cup.

The most glaring example of this increased attention came on Tuesday when Jordan Spieth, who is seventh on the points list, was asked if he knew the various scenarios that would allow him to win the FedEx Cup.

“Dustin [Johnson] can't finish in a two-way tie, second or better, and Patrick [Reed] can't finish solo second,” Spieth explained to a slightly stunned audience. “I told you guys I knew.”

It was an uncharacteristic nod, for all players not just Spieth, to the importance of these last four events that the normally process-driven athletes allow something other than the next shot into the decision making.

It’s not that inflation or indifference has robbed $10 million of its luster, it’s just that the FedEx Cup, which has always been a work in progress, has evolved into more than just a collection of zeros. A $10 million payday can buy a lot, but not competitive relevance. Only a decade of trial and error can do that.

Lilia Vu, Collin Morikawa, Andrea Lee Getty Images

College season one for the record books

By Nicole RaeApril 25, 2018, 4:50 pm

March Madness may be over, but in the college golf world, the madness is just beginning.

With NCAA Division I Regionals the next two weeks, championship season is officially underway, which means it’s time for college golf to again swing into the spotlight. And rightfully so. This is turning out to be a record-breaking season, and the excitement around this year’s NCAA Championships is brewing.

In this wrap-around college campaign, five different NCAA Division I men’s teams have won four or more events. Oklahoma State leads the way with eight wins, seven of which came in consecutive starts to tie the school’s single-season winning streak, set in 1986-87. The most wins in one season for the Cowboys is 10, and with a home-course advantage at this year’s NCAA Championships, they’re setting themselves up for a good shot at another record – and a national title.

On the women’s side, three teams have notched half-a-dozen wins each. Arkansas won the SEC Championship for the first time in program history to earn their sixth victory of the year, while Southern California has won six times with four freshmen in their starting lineup. Top-ranked UCLA captured its sixth win at the Pac-12 Championship by a 12-shot margin, leaving the last three national champions coughing in the dust.


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Much of UCLA’s success this season can be credited to powerhouse junior Lilia Vu. She captured four individual titles in as many starts earlier this season, a repeat of the feat she also accomplished last year. Along with being the top-ranked amateur in the world, her most recent victory etched her name in the record books, setting a Bruins women’s golf record for most career wins (8) and 54-hole scoring record (14 under par).

Stanford’s Andrea Lee has also been on the record-breaking trend. The 2017 Freshman of the Year set a new Cardinal freshman scoring average last season, and is currently on track to break the sophomore scoring record this season. Lee is just one win shy of tying the Stanford women’s career victories record of eight, and she hasn’t even finished her second full season.

College golfers are getting better and better, and they’ve got the scoring averages to prove it.

The Golfstat Cup is an annual award given at the end of the season to the men’s and women’s collegiate golfers with the lowest adjusted scoring average who played a minimum of 20 stroke-play rounds.

It’s no surprise that Vu leads the women’s side, with a scoring average of 69.95. What is surprising, however, is how much scoring averages are improving. Ten years ago, Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst won the award with a scoring average of 71.00. Another decade before that, in 1998, fellow Blue Devil Jenny Chuasiriporn led the standings with a 72.94 scoring average – nearly three strokes higher than Vu. In the 2017-18 season, the entire top 10 in scoring average fall below a 71.00.

The men are faring well, themselves. California junior Collin Morikawa leads the Golfstat Cup standings with a 68.67 scoring average. PGA Tour superstar Rickie Fowler took the top spot in 2008 with a 71.11 average at Oklahoma State, a number that would rank 70th in the standings today. Other notable winners of the Golfstat Cup include Tiger Woods (70.61 average in 1995-96), Luke Donald (70.45 average in 1998-99), and Jordan Spieth (70.92 average in 2012-13). Morikawa’s average is nearly two shots better than all three.

To put it in perspective, the PGA Tour average score this season is 71.46 and the LPGA tour’s average is 72.17. While courses and set up on the pro ranks are vastly different than at collegiate events, it’s no wonder we’ve seen an influx of young players leaving school early to pursue a professional career after proving they can score low – and win – amongst their peers. Sam Burns (LSU), Cameron Champ (Texas A&M), John Oda (UNLV), and Joaquin Niemann are just a few notable names who chose to forego their degree for a shot at a Tour card this past year. Collectively, they’ve already earned over $887,000.

As the regular college season comes to a close in the coming weeks, our attention inevitably will turn towards which standout amateurs could be The Next Big Thing and make their mark in the professional world. For the players slashing NCAA records this season, though, long-term success is secondary, at the moment. What’s primary in their minds? Stillwater, Oklahoma, and a national championship trophy.

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Spieth reflects on Masters run: 'I could have shot 59'

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 4:21 pm

AVONDALE, La. – After he nearly staged a historic comeback at the Masters, Jordan Spieth rewatched the final-round coverage to see what he could learn.

His biggest takeaway?

“I look back on it and I actually thought that I truly could have shot 59 without doing much more other than making a few more putts,” he said Wednesday at the Zurich Classic, where he’ll team up with Ryan Palmer for the second consecutive year. “I put myself in opportunities on each hole to shoot 59 that day, which is really, really cool.”

Spieth roared from nine shots back Sunday to eventually tie Patrick Reed’s lead. He went out in 31 and added four more birdies, but his tee shot on 18 clipped a tree, leading to a long second shot and a bogey. He settled for a 64 and solo third.


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“I felt like Houston, but really at Augusta was the best my swing has ever held up under the gun, especially my driving,” he said. “I wanted to see what that looked like compared to other times.”

Spieth said he developed a good feeling with the last six or seven balls he hit on the range before the final round, and that he noticed on the coverage that he was more stable and patience during his swing.

“In all honestly, I made a couple putts, but it wasn’t really a hot day with the putter,” he said. “I just put myself in position to birdie just about every hole.”

Big picture, Spieth said that after his Masters week he “got on the right path.”

“I was working on things throughout the year, thinking I was doing the right things, and I feel like I got the short game back on track in Houston and Augusta," he said. 

“And to hit some of those putts under pressure and see some go in, I think that will be very beneficial going forward this year. It very well could be a spark for a really solid year.”

Tiger Woods and Kelli Kuehne at the 1996 JCPenney Classic. Getty Images

Another team event? Sure, and do it with the LPGA

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 4:07 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The revamped Zurich Classic is already such a smashing success that it naturally leads to another question: Is there room for one more team event on the PGA Tour schedule?

“It’d have to be something unique and not really out there already,” Billy Horschel said.

Agreed, so it’s time for the PGA and LPGA tours to bring back a mixed-team event.

The two tours previously sponsored a team event for nearly 30 years, the JCPenney Classic, but it hasn’t been played since 1999. When the PGA Tour announced a “strategic alliance” with the LPGA two years ago, one of its core missions was to showcase the deep talent pool and lift both tours to new heights. There’s no better way to do that than to combine forces for an event – especially with the PGA Tour about to unveil a major schedule shakeup and reduce a portion of the fall season.

The field here at the Zurich is proof that there’s a willingness among the players to try something new.

The New Orleans-area stop has never been a must-play for Tour types; the tournament is hosted on a nondescript TPC course and sandwiched between the Masters and The Players during a slow part of the schedule. And yet this is the first time in seven months that all four reigning major champions are in the same event. It’s the strongest field the Zurich has ever had, and if the tournament offered world-ranking points – more on that later – the strength of field would be identical to the Genesis Open, which anchors the West Coast swing.

There’d be a few issues to iron out, of course, including the timing and how the field is assembled.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said last year that there’s a “realistic” chance that the men and women could compete at the same time at Kapalua, for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but that option won’t be quite as appealing when the season is condensed. Players who tee it up in paradise are not only looking forward to a working vacation but also trying to get a head start in the FedExCup race.


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If the Tour targets Kapalua for its mixed event, the idea of a “tournament of champions” might also need adjusting. The LPGA (34) has 10 fewer events than the PGA Tour (44), which means fewer opportunities for the players to earn their way into a winners-only event. The simplest solution is to create more of an all-star showcase, filling out the rest of the women’s field with the leading LPGA money earners who didn’t win.

The format is another question. Fourballs and foursomes are familiar to most players, but at the Zurich there’s a growing interest in a third format.

“I’m waiting on a scramble,” said William McGirt, echoing the sentiments of a few other players interviewed. “I don’t care who I’m playing with – I want to play a scramble, just one time.”

And the final piece is the stakes. The Zurich offers Ryder Cup points, (reduced) FedExCup points and a two-year exemption to the winners, but there are no world-ranking points available. For some, that’s a lost week, especially with the top-60 cutoff for the U.S. Open looming. But for others, like Jordan Spieth, who likely won’t have to worry about his world ranking for the next two decades, it’s a chance to “be in a different space than normal,” with more emphasis on fun than the result.

Men and women already compete together at the Oates Vic Open in Australia. Co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia, the Australian Ladies Professional Golf and Ladies European Tour, the two events are held concurrently, on the same course, with the men’s and women’s tee times staggered throughout the day. The prize money is split evenly.

More impactful, however, would be mixed teams, competing for a title together.

Steve Stricker still has fond memories of playing in the old JCPenny Classic, alongside Vicki Goetze. Last week, he talked to Davis Love III about how today’s players would gravitate toward another tournament like that.

“We’re in the position to do it again for sure,” he said. “I know I personally respect and look up to those female golfers, and to interact with them would be a lot of fun.”

Horschel, who has played alongside big-hitting Lexi Thompson during the CVS Charity Classic, said he would sign up for a mixed team event on Tour “in a heartbeat.”

“I’d take Lexi or Brooke Henderson or another top girl right now,” he said. “I’ll make a call right now. I don’t care if it’s two years in advance. I’ll reserve them, put down a down payment for their partnership. It’d be really cool. It’s time for someone else to step up and do it.”

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Cancer patient who fulfilled dream of meeting Woods dies

By Will GrayApril 25, 2018, 2:55 pm

Shane Caldwell, who fulfilled a dream of meeting Tiger Woods earlier this month at the Masters, died Monday after multiple bouts with cancer. He was 52.

Caldwell's stepdaughter, Jordan Miller, gained national attention with her social media campaign to get Caldwell to Augusta National to meet Woods. That dream became a reality Thursday of tournament week, when Caldwell was greeted by Woods behind the practice area and offered a signed glove. Caldwell, from Columbia, S.C., also attended the tournament during the final round.

Caldwell had twice beaten colon cancer and was battling Stage 4 lung cancer. According to a report from The State (S.C.), Caldwell's family was told two weeks ago that the cancer had become "too aggressive to fight," and Caldwell opted to stop treatment rather than face further radiation. His oncologist reportedly told his wife he had two or three months to live, but Caldwell died just 13 days later.

According to the report, Caldwell was still showcasing the glove bearing Woods' autograph up until the day he died.

"It gave him hope to see the love that was shown to him," Miller said.