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FedEx Cup Debate Unhealthy

ATLANTA | Here is all you need to know about the FedEx Cup: In the run-up to The Tour Championship, Commissioner Tim Finchem attempted to sell everyone on the success of golf’s $10 million grand finale by comparing it to the College Football Bowl Championship Series. 

Really. And he wasn’t joking. 

“I think it’s healthy to have a debate,” Finchem said as questions swirled about the future of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. “I think, actually, as incensed as all of us college football fans are about the BCS, it’s a great thing for the BCS to be arguing about it all the time. Who wouldn’t want the argument?” 

Other than players, coaches, alumni and fans, no one springs to mind. So toxic is the entire college football system that Congress has threatened to hold televised hearings if the NCAA doesn’t get its act together. While no one has taken the Well of the Senate to denounce golf’s playoff system, Finchem could not have been more tone-deaf in his analogy. 

But he was right on one front: At this stage in its history, the FedEx Cup has, indeed, become just like the BCS – maddening in its convolution, infuriating in its inequities, and shameless in its monetary motivations. 

Going into The Tour Championship, officials did their best to play up the fact that this year’s FedEx Cup Playoff was wide open. Anyone could walk away with it. To pound that point home, the Tour gave out a “handbook” that showed all possible scenarios for winning, because, in the world of the FedEx Cup, a scoreboard wasn’t enough. For guidance, you needed an 18-page booklet full of charts that only an Ivy League statistics professor could love. 

To illustrate the absurdity of it all, if Phil Mickelson had won The Tour Championship, he would have been the first player in the event’s 23-year history to successfully defend his title. He also would have become the No. 1 player in the world, and probably the Player of the Year. But, according to chart No. 7 on page 6 of the handbook, to win the FedEx Cup, Phil would have needed Matt Kuchar to finish fifth or worse in Atlanta, Dustin Johnson to finish fourth or worse, and Charlie Hoffman and Steve Stricker to finish third or worse. 

But it got better. According to chart No. 2 on page 3, if Dustin Johnson had finished fifth in The Tour Championship, he still could have won the FedEx CupPlayoff as long as Kuchar finished 13th, Hoffman finished fourth, and Stricker, Paul Casey and Jason Day finished third or worse. However, if all those things happened and Ryan Moore had won in Atlanta, Johnson, Kuchar and Stricker would have tied in the final FedEx Cup standings. 

And no one at the Tour found this the least bit crazy. 

“We like the fact that there is volatility,” Finchem said. “Obviously, at the end of the season, depending on how things work out this week, we’ll evaluate the structure again. But last year we determined that we wanted to take a break from tweaking it, and we may come to that conclusion this year; we’ll see. There are a lot of opinions on the subject.” 

Wimbledon, the World Cup and the Super Bowl don’t need to tweak their systems three times in four years, nor do fans need actuarial charts to figure out who is winning. For decades, golf had four simple barometers for end-of-year success: major championship wins, the money title, the Vardon Trophy, and Player of the Year. None of those required a handbook. 

Now we have this mess. It was enough to make the mildest guy in the field, Steve Stricker, stand up and say stop. 

“Right now every shot doesn’t matter,” Stricker said. “You could finish 120-something and still win the FedEx Cup. I think we need to do a little bit better job of having a guy who plays well all year long staying in there towards the end, but give a guy a chance, maybe further down the list, if he wins a couple of playoff events. It’s a fine line no matter what you do.” 

As long as Tour officials feel the need to put out charts to help you follow the action, they will simply be dusting the drapes in the burning house. The concept is flawed, not the execution; although Finchem continues to insist that all is well. 

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a happy medium, because whatever medium you choose, things are going to happen and somebody is going to say, ‘I wish it was the other way,’” he said. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t look for a happy medium, but I think you’ll always have this debate.” 

So, the Tour will nibble around the edges, at least for the next couple of years until their contract with FedEx runs out. Until then, the Playoffs and the race for the FedEx Cup will remain largely unchanged for the same reason the College Football BCS isn’t going anywhere. 

As Paul Casey aptly summed it up, “The money is absolutely outrageous.” 


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