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Are The FedEx Cup Playoffs Broken?

James, 29th August 2017

The FedEx Cup. Ask the organisers, and they’ll tell you it’s a titanic, four-part series, where the world’s finest golfers run the gauntlet to scoop a $10 million prize. But the reality is slightly less glamorous. While it is a well-respected spectacle, there are some significant problems unfixed with the Playoffs since their inception in 2007 – and we’re here to break them down for you.

FedEx Cup

Image credit: CBC.ca


Four tournaments is too many

For many, the idea of the ‘playoffs’ is well-established – after all, with such a large field, it is essential to whittle them down until only the crème-de-la-crème remain for the final tournament – the Tour Championship. That means 125 players, down to 100, to 70 – and finally 30.

However, despite the vast sums of money involved in each of the three preceding tournaments, the action is so spread out that most golf fans either side of the Atlantic struggle to care until the very end.

The consensus amongst golf fans and experts alike seems to be that removing one of the tournaments would be the best solution. That way there’s no need to factor in a week’s break on top of the four weeks of action. Three tournaments is neater, faster and more enjoyable.


Wearing out their stars

Perhaps the biggest incentive for the PGA of America to consider reducing the FedEx roster is burnout, particularly at the top level.

Golf is having enough trouble keeping fans engaged right now, without losing some of their biggest names to injury or disinterest.

Take Rory McIlroy, for instance, whose rib injury has plagued him all season – but has forced himself to compete in the FedEx Cup, because of its status and prize money, before taking time off to properly recover.

When asked about it, Rory spoke more in anticipation for the break than the tournament(s), “Guys who play both tours, you don’t get this opportunity to take a couple of months off and really work on what you need to work on, on your game — a real and proper offseason. Like every other sport has, basically. I’m excited for that.” He’s not excited for the cup, just the break. Even the best need time off – and reducing the number of tournaments involved in the FedEx Cup would help.

Another pertinent example would be Sergio Garcia, who for the third year running skipped the opening event – the Northern Trust. If you’re determined to create such a spectacle for the end-of-season tournament arc, it seems an inherent flaw if players of a high-enough level (Garcia was 22nd before they started) can take the risk to just sit the first one out. Again, if players consistently skip one of the four, that’s probably another indication to reduce the number to three.

FedEx Cup

Image credit: VisitStAugustine


Web.com Pressure

Outside of the very biggest stars, however, the gruelling FedEx schedule also presents a pressure challenge to those at the other end of the table too.

Even getting into the top 125 places to qualify usually requires a good performance in the Wyndham Championship – which makes the tournament a home for desperate, stressed golfers. As any of us will well know, you certainly don’t play your best golf under the most pressure.

As Sam Saunders put it – who dropped to 129th in the FedEx Standing after the tournament – giving him ‘conditional status’ on the PGA Tour next year, “It was the least enjoyable round of golf I’ve ever played in my life. You don’t know if you’re going to throw up or have a heart attack.”

Those who don’t make the cut for the FedEx Playoffs (those places 126th-200th) can compete in the Web.com Tour Finals to try and get their position up – another chance for stress, fear and, in this year’s case, the final promotion not being decided until the final hole!

While pressure and competition are part of golf, the PGA end of year system seems extremely haphazard, with ranking fluctuating per minute and no-one really quite sure who is where in the standings as they address their shot. Both at the top and the bottom, there is room for improvement.

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