The Business Of Golf: Changes Ahead For The FedEx Cup Playoffs
The tinkering continues with the FedEx Cup playoffs. Actually, what recently happened was more like rolling up a new piece of blank paper in the typewriter. For the sake of golf and golfers, that’s a great thing.
I used to be, for sports in general, one of those anti-playoff guys. That makes me either a traditionalist or a curmudgeon. Probably both.
I can still recall conversations with a then-new baseball commissioner named Bud Selig, who had the same reservations about pushing his sport further into the postseason malaise. What could be better than the National League champion playing the American League champion in the World Series? Clean, concise, meaningful. I remember, in that conversation, we both made fun of the National Hockey League, which had, in one season, qualified 16 of its 21 teams for the postseason. What a joke.
But what went unmentioned in that conversation, and what Selig knew all too well and knew he needed to address eventually, was the god of sports, television money. He would not have had the long and illustrious career he did if he had failed to deliver, for his owners, all that cash generated in the wild card scrambles and the additional series it takes just to get to that World Series. Baseball has a month- long ringing of the cash register, not just seven games worth — or less.
Golf is a much better sport to conduct playoffs. There is less player fatigue. Probably less fan fatigue. Golfers are not getting tackled constantly for months. Nor are they dashing up and down a hardwood court, or being cross-checked into the boards, or ducking 100 mph pitches. Sure, the playoffs bring more golf for the players, more physical exertion. But let’s face it. It’s golf.
Those who run the PGA TOUR and who cut the deal in 2007 for the annual FedEx Cup playoffs are to be commended. Not long ago, when the PGA Championship ended in August, the TV golf fan had little more than a silly fall season of father-son, or male-female concocted events. The Skins Game, created for golf’s late fall dog days and for real estate developments trying to sell homes, was actually a highlight amidst the other foolishness. The drought was especially acute if it wasn’t a Ryder Cup year.
Now the final major of the season ends and focus turns easily and correctly to the FedEx Cup playoffs. The fall hibernation of past years for the TV golf viewer is long gone. These playoffs keep the buzz, keep the sport germane. The big names have to play, want to play. There is, literally, a pot of gold at the end of this golfing rainbow.
The $10 million dollar check that went to the FedEx Cup winner was more than enough to get the public’s attention. Starting next year, that number will be $15 million, and TOUR officials are estimating that the final winner, when all his lead-in playoff money is calculated, will walk away with around $27 million. Not bad for batting around a little white ball with dimples.
Another new wrinkle will be two lead- in events to the TOUR Championship, not three. That’s also a good move. Too much of a good thing can become too much, even for golf fans. Also, we currently live in a time of near-zero attention span.
The new structure, designed to eliminate fan confusion when one person wins the big check and another wins the TOUR Championship, will give us just one winner. That was often the case, but not always. Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup trophy and Phil Mickelson the TOUR Championship in one of the early years. Then last year, Justin Thomas won the big money while Xander Schauffele won the tournament.
And this year, wow!
Justin Rose won the big trophy and nobody seemed to notice. That’s because Woods won the TOUR Championship and continued his amazing late-in-golfing-life comeback.
Next year’s final event at East Lake near Atlanta will also start with a neat new format: whoever comes out of the previous tournament as the points leader will start at 10-under-par, followed by the next finisher at 8-under, and so on down the line. Think of it this way: If this were horse racing, the top point person going into East Lake would start with a few pounds less in his saddle.
These are changes that make a good thing even better. Business must keep up with the times. Sports is big business. Golf is keeping up. The NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL get bigger TV ratings, for the most part. But golf is making the best of its niche, not sitting on its hands and relying on the past.
For that, we golf fans say: thank you