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PutterGate Overshadows FedEx Cup

We’ll get you back to your regularly scheduled programming on Thursday but, in the meantime, this week off on the PGA Tour seemed to be a good chance to take a look at where we find ourselves.

Except that no one knows. There are two more events in the playoffs for the FedEx Cup and not one person has any clue who might take home the $10 million on offer for the winner of the playoffs.

The only thing that we do know is that anyone in the top five in points going into the Tour Championship will win the FedEx Cup if they win the tournament. That’s it. The rest we have turned over to television.

The points system cannot be simply or easily explained, which is why you can’t find anything in print or on the Internet that tells you how this thing actually works. Fortunately for the Tour and for FedEx, someone somewhere did some math and created software so that the Tour’s television partners can project where each player will wind up on the points list that week if his position on the leaderboard remained as it was that moment.

That’s great and it takes the heat off people like us to try to sort it out. The only problem with television is that the networks use the projection model starting with the first shot fired on Thursday, when it really doesn’t matter. It would be nice if TV would just wait until Saturday to start projecting, but that’s obviously too much to wish for.

On the other hand, some of the best stories of the playoff season were created by television and this magic software. The fact that the likes of Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington entered the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro – the final “regular season” event on Tour – so they could try to make the top 125 on the points list and qualify for the playoffs was pretty compelling. Unknown William McGirt was the man on the bubble and his birdie on the 17th hole on Sunday got him into the playoffs, but not before a couple of hours hanging by the television and the computer to learn his fate.

And Els has been a story for the first two rounds of the playoffs for playing his way into the next round, even though the best he could do was finish T30 at the Wyndham, T32 at The Barclays and T16 at the Deutsche Bank. He’s qualified for the BMW Championship, but he’ll need to finish third or better to advance to the Tour Championship.

But the fact that we need this mechanism at all epitomizes exactly what’s wrong with the playoffs – it’s just too darned complicated. Even NASCAR, which, by the way, was the model for the Tour, simplified its points system. Even the BCS system in college football is easier to understand.

Which is exactly why the playoffs have not resonated with the fans. The “regular season” doesn’t mean much, if anything. And once the playoffs have started, there’s no buildup after each round. All we know that 125 start the playoffs and it’s cut down to 30 at The Tour Championship. In between, it’s a mess.

The Tour calculated what each player needs to do this week to qualify for The Tour Championship and it turns out that 21 players are guaranteed a spot, no matter what they do this week. So, we’re playing 49 players for nine spots at the BMW Championship, which makes it a four-day, not-so-sudden-death playoff.

The bottom line is that the current system doesn’t get anyone talking. Nobody cares about the playoffs during the regular season and very few care once the playoffs have started. The only thing golf fans get excited about is the outcome of the current week’s tournament.

In fact, there has been much more talk about long putters than there has been about the playoffs, mainly because the long putter debate is much more interesting. Webb Simpson won with one at the Deutsche Bank and Els, Jim Furyk and even Phil Mickelson used one in the playoffs, even though none of the non-winners had much success with the belly putters.

But ask yourself this: If you find yourself in a golf conversation this week, what’s the topic likely to be? FedEx Cup playoffs or long putters? Thought so.


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