How is it, you might wonder, that Kevin Sutherland, who had never won on the PGA Tour Champions circuit until Sunday and had played 341 tournaments since his only PGA Tour-related victory, wound up as the Charles Schwab Cup winner when Bernhard Langer won seven tournaments, including three majors, during the same season?
Because that’s the way the playoff game is played.
Is anyone suggesting Sutherland, generally considered one of professional golf’s nicest people, is the best player on the 50-and-over tour?
He was the best player at Phoenix Country Club, where he won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship by one stroke over Lee Janzen and Vijay Singh while Langer finished tied for 12th.
To some, there’s a ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ feel to Sutherland holding the Schwab Cup trophy that comes with a $1 million annuity. But that’s the way playoff golf is structured – to create a season-ending chase that doesn’t have a predetermined winner before it starts.
Langer will win another player-of-the-year award because he’s clearly the best player on the senior tour but that is not what the Schwab Cup was created to determine. If that were the goal, Langer or Scott McCarron would have been the only serious contenders for the prize.
It raises the natural question of whether the playoff system should be reconfigured to more accurately reflect what happened over the course of a full season. That will likely be discussed but this is one of the reasons the PGA Tour adopted playoff formats.
Bill Haas won the FedEx Cup when he didn’t have the best season. Ditto for Billy Horschel and Brandt Snedeker.
They won the playoffs. That’s what Sutherland did.
“It was never meant to be fair. It was meant to be playoffs. Everybody in the field was given a chance to win. Is it fair? No, it’s not but that’s how it is right now.”
Who said that?
Langer, who voted in favor of the playoff format.
He also acknowledged it may be time to consider tweaks to the format. The FedEx Cup format has been massaged through the years but it still leaves the opportunity for an unexpected winner.
Was N.C. State the best basketball team in 1983 when it won the NCAA title? Were the New York Giants really better than the 18-0 New England Patriots team they beat in the Super Bowl?
That’s the allure of the playoffs, an admittedly awkward fit in golf. Sutherland’s victory does not define this season on the PGA Tour Champions. It defines his career at the moment and that’s worth celebrating.
But it doesn’t diminish what Langer accomplished this year.