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Monday, May 1, 2017

The PGA Tour Makes It Harder for Injured Players

Obviously there's no Limerick Summary today because, at the time I'm doing this post, the Zurich Classic isn't finished. So I thought I'd comment on a recent turn of events that bothers me.

I'm talking about Brian Gay and Ian Poulter finally getting their Tour cards back. Don't get me wrong -- I'm very happy that they got them back. What bothers me is the Tour error that almost kept them off the Tour. It's time for a rant!

Ian Poulter

I'm linking you to a golf.com article that explains the whole thing in more detail, but the short version is that the Tour has changed the way they figure the points for the FedExCup. That's what the Tour is using to figure out when an injured player has played well enough to regain his card.

Again, short version: The Tour has made it harder to get those points since the two men were injured, so it's harder for players coming back from injury to regain their cards. If Brian Gay had not realized what had happened -- and that it shouldn't have applied to him and Poulter -- both men would have lost their cards DESPITE having done enough to get them back.

Brian Gay figured out that something was wrong, went to the Tour and, fortunately, common sense prevailed at Tour HQ and they awarded both men their cards. And I realize most folks would be happy and let it go at that.

But I'm bothered by the Tour's decision to make it harder for a player to come back from a major medical leave. Shouldn't a player trying to return from an injury be granted a slightly easier road back, allowing him to properly return to form?

After all, players keep saying that no matter how much you practice, you need time playing under competitive pressure to genuinely return to form. Logically, players will not finish as well during that "return to form" period.

Yet the Tour has reduced the points that are available for those lower finishes! That puts recovering players in the situation Gay and Poulter found themselves in, and that simply doesn't seem fair to me. If you really want to help players return to the Tour, why would you set the standards so high?

Presumably the Tour has changed the points structure to represent an improved level of play at the top levels of the Tour. I question how making it easier for the top players to gain points while the rank-and-file have to struggle even harder to keep their cards improves the makeup of the Tour. (But since when has the Tour made decisions that are easy to understand?) However, this seems draconian to me.

At the very least, it seems that the Tour should use a different point structure for players returning from a major medical leave -- one that allows them to ease back into the competitive environment of the Tour, rather than expecting them to return in the same form they had before they were injured. As it stands -- using the sample point totals from the golf.com article:
Gay began digging into his FedEx Cup totals for his 2016-17 finishes and only then noticed a lightly publicized change to this season’s points breakdown. The Tour has restructured the distribution, giving fewer points to finishes below 14th. For instance, a 20th-place finish last season was worth 51 points, but this season it brings only 45; 30th place has been devalued from 41 points to 28.
Note that Gay was 28 points short of his requirement, which was 464 (125th in ’14-15). But look at how the changes affect him:
  • Two 30th-place finishes -- just outside the Top25, and a reasonable expectation for a player returning from an injury but playing well -- now bring only 56 points rather than the original 82. That's 26 points right there!
  • With five Top20 finishes, he would only receive 225 points instead of the 255 awarded before the change -- 30 points less.
For comparison, Ryan Moore is currently 30th in FedExCup points with 538 points in 12 starts (one MC) this season. Moore has only one T3, one T9 and one T15... but he has 7 Top25 finishes. Most of his finishes are between 15 and 35 (plus a T39 at the Match Play and a T61 at the Phoenix Open).

Drop down to Branden Grace, also with 12 starts (one MC, one WD) this season. He's 64th with 359 points. He has a T10, T11 and T13... and only 4 Top25 finishes. Most of his finishes are between 20 and 35 (plus a T39 at the Match Play, same as Moore).

Neither of these players were on major medical.

Compare them with Brian Gay, currently at 83rd after 11 events (three MC). He has only 280 points for this season. He has two T6s and a T13 (that's three Top25s)... and nothing else higher than a T28. Yet this is better than he did last year when he first came back from the major medical, when he missed 9 cuts. He only had one Top10 last year, a 6th place finish.

You're probably thinking that Gay played so bad, it's no wonder he didn't get his card. But that's the whole point -- under the old system, HE DID! There are a number of healthy players, in no danger of losing their cards, who don't have three Top10s in that time period. Players coming back from a major medical leave simply don't have the consistency of healthy players, yet they have to conform to a new point system that requires consistency to keep one's card.

The Tour needs to fix this. Situations like Gay and Poulter's simply should not happen. Major medical exemptions should help players work their way back into shape, not penalize them for being injured.

End of rant.

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