I’ll admit I never really got it from the start.
When the PGA Tour instituted the FedEx Cup Playoffs in 2007, it felt like an answer without a question.
Was anybody out there clamoring for golf playoffs? Hard to say, but I have a hard time believing there was a genuine appetite for what now constitutes the final month of the Tour season.
Sure, every team sport in North America culminates with a postseason (for better or worse) but individual sports like golf and tennis have always revolved around their four Grand Slam events, a.k.a. the majors.
Obviously, the birth of the FedEx Cup was done for money-making and marketing reasons, which is fine. This is a business, as we all realize at some point or another. And, hey, even the majors had to start somewhere.
But while I enjoy the smaller, more digestible fields in the playoff events — also one of the aspects of LIV that I enjoy — I still wonder why we’re doing this exercise in the first place.
Want to gin up the homestretch of the season? By all means, go ahead. But any attempt to have ‘playoffs’ in a traditional stroke-play format is always going to feel convoluted.
I’ll allow that it’s better now that the Tour Championship winner takes home the FedEx Cup as well. I also don’t mind the staggered-stroke start to the season’s final event; it’s probably the most meaningful way to acknowledge a golfer’s body of work coming in.
Still, how much sense does it make that the 30th-ranked player entering the final week even has a chance (albeit tiny) at the championship? That’s not very playoff-like. Of course, as I’ve acknowledged, golf is fundamentally different from team sports, so why are we trying so hard to convince ourselves that it isn’t?
Here’s the thing, though: Golf has within it a mechanism for making brackets and eliminations as natural as a first-tee mulligan. It’s called match play. Heard of it?
If you haven’t noticed, there will be no match-play event on the PGA Tour schedule for 2024. That’s a first since 1998, and that’s a shame, because the endless string of stroke-play events can become mind-numbing.
The World Golf Championships might have outstayed their welcome, generally speaking, but their annual match play event was usually an injection of energy into the Tour. More relevant for the purposes of this argument, it also was a real, honest-to-goodness playoff.
In fact, pro tennis has already set what I think is an optimized precedent for a season-ending event. And the PGA Tour should absolutely steal the idea.
Both the men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) tennis tours crown a champion with Finals consisting of eight players each. Those groups of eight are separated into two groups of four for three round-robin matches, after which the top two in each group advance to the single-elimination semifinals, and then the finals.
Of course, in a head-to-head sport like tennis, this fits quite well. I contend it would fit just as well in pro golf.
Take the top eight in the FedEx Cup standings and make the Tour Championship strictly a match-play shindig, with the round-robin matches taking place Thursday and Friday, the semifinals on Saturday and the final match on Sunday. Throw in a consolation match if you want to extend the TV window on the final day, but I think it would be a fitting and fair (and entertaining) way to close out essentially 12 months of competition.
What’s more, the fact that match play is an endangered species in pro golf would make this version of the Tour Championship all the more special.
That, my friends, would be a real playoff.
What do you think the Tour Championship — or the entire FedEx Cup Playoffs — should look like? Leave a comment below.