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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Let ME Tweak the Finals

The players are already tossing in their two cents about what’s wrong and what’s right with the new Finals. I’ve decided to save everybody a lot of trouble and just fix them myself!

And yes, there are definitely some problems that need to be addressed before next year.

There’s one thing I think almost everybody agrees on—namely, the 25 players who received Tour cards during the regular Tour season should NOT be involved in the Finals. These are two entirely different animals doing the job though entirely different processes, and they should remain separate entities.

Let “The 25” stand as is, with no opportunity to improve their seeding. After all, the Finals are supposed to determine the best players—who, based on the arguments for funneling everybody through the Tour in the first place, are clearly defined as the players who are the most consistently good from week to week. “The 25” was determined over months of tournaments… and now you want to change that seeding based on four weeks of play? Forget it.

That means the Finals will determine 25 Tour cards and their seedings over four weeks of play, totally apart from “The 25” who have already been determined. Instead, the seedings of the 25 Playoff cards will be intermixed with those of the 25 Tour season winners, just as they have in the past. The Finals will be contested between numbers 126-200 from the PGA Tour and numbers 26-75 from the Tour. (In fact, they could expand the players down to #100 if they wanted to get 150-man fields.)

But now we hit another problem. The new Playoff system treats these four tournaments as a Tour season… and that’s clearly not in line with the “determine the best players” concept. During the last round of the Finals, Phil Blackmar suggested that people who have a problem with a player missing 3 cuts then getting his card with a good finish in the final tournament should consider that the Tour works the same way. The money there is so top heavy that you can miss a lot of cuts and still secure your card in a single tournament.

But I think Phil is ignoring several distinct differences between the Finals and the PGA Tour:
  • Phil said the PGA Tour doesn’t reward “consistent mediocrity”—that is, players who just make cuts. However, at the very least, I don’t think you can say that a player who misses more cuts than he makes is one of the “best” players, do you? I’m pretty sure the Tour doesn’t. For comparison, Phil Mickelson is considered “inconsistent” but he made 18 cuts and missed 3 this season. Graeme McDowell had a stretch of domestic and foreign tournaments where he won 3 times and missed 5 cuts… and everybody (including Graeme) considered that unsatisfactory.
  • I’ll concede that a PGA Tour player only needs one or two decent tournaments to keep his card… but consider the competition. If you’re in the Finals, will you be facing EVEN ONE competitor who’s the caliber of Tiger or Phil or Rory or Henrik or…? Then why should you get rewarded as if you did?
  • In Q-School, players had to play well for at least 6 rounds to get a card… and that was considered an inadequate way to determine the best players because all a player had to do was “get hot” for one week. With the new system, a player can get a Top5 in the first event (a mere 4 rounds), skip the other 3, and probably get his Tour card. What’s the difference? This is unacceptable!
As you can see, I think Phil is missing the point. The goal isn’t to duplicate Tour competition; it’s to create a crucible that will identify the players capable of handling the pressures of the Tour. As it stands, the Finals don’t do that.

But I have a few ideas…

First, if you want to measure consistency, you have to narrow the gaps in the money each finishing position gets. As it is, the winner gets $180k, the runner-up gets $108k, and so forth. These gaps at the top are far too large for a series of 4 tournaments! We need to rethink the entire money setup…

And, in the process, make the entire series more exciting.

Currently, each tournament has a total purse of $1mil, so the entire series has a purse of $4mil.

Change #1: Take 20% of the total purse—$800k—and make it a prize pool awarded to the Top10 money finishers at the end of the Finals, to give them a little extra help getting started on Tour. Here’s my arbitrary division of the pool, although I’m sure could come up with something better:
  1. $180k
  2. $140k
  3. $110k
  4. $90k
  5. $80k
  6. $60k
  7. $50k
  8. $35k
  9. $30k
  10. $25k
That leaves an $800k purse for each tournament.

Change #2: I want the dollar amount for the winner lowered considerably, and I want the dollar difference between each finish position narrowed dramatically. That means that if you get a runner-up finish in the first tournament and you miss the next 3 cuts, you probably won’t get a Tour card. The whole idea for using the Finals as a “testing ground” in the first place is to prevent a player getting “hot” in the traditional Q-School and winning a spot on Tour he doesn’t really deserve.

Make sure you understand what I’m saying here. The money gaps between the top finishers should still be larger than the money gaps between the low finishers. What I’m saying is that the gaps at the top shouldn’t be as large as they are now, and certainly not as large relative to the gaps at the bottom.

Part of the idea behind the four-tournament series was to stop one bad week from ruining a player’s chances to get his card. I agree that one missed cut shouldn’t ruin your chances… but two missed cuts ought to make it more difficult to get your card. And if you miss three cuts, maybe you need another year on the Tour before you’re ready to play with the big boys. (Unless you win your fourth event. I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Let me repeat myself: The whole reason for this change from Q-School to Finals is that the best players are defined as the players who are the most consistently good from week to week. Therefore we have to eliminate the massive rewards that let a “weak player” leapfrog several good players and open an uncloseable gap between them. To do that, we have to minimize the differences between how much each finish position pays so that one great finish doesn’t overcompensate for several bad ones.

And just to make sure you understand, I’m not saying players shouldn’t be able to lock up a card in less than 4 events. If you make, say, a runner-up and a third in two of your events, I don’t have a problem if your card is pretty well locked; in that case, you’ve played very well in half the events. I just don’t want a single finish of third or fourth place to lock up a card. As things currently stand, that’s what happens.

But wouldn’t such a change mean wins are devalued? If a win doesn’t pay that much more than a runner-up, does it even matter if you win or not?

Oh, yes. Under my system, it matters more than ever!

Change #3: No matter how much money a player has (or hasn’t) won, getting a win guarantees him a Top5 seeding. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg…

You see, I want to up the Playoff stakes. As it stands, the grand prize for the player with the most money is a “Golden Ticket,” better known as a fully-exempt Tour card and an invitation to play the TPC. But suppose—depending on how well the individual players played—there could be as many as THREE Golden Tickets?

Do I have your attention yet? Let me explain.

Based on what I’ve told you so far, you can see that the Top5 seeded players at the end of the Finals would be the 4 tournament winners plus the non-winner with the most money. The order of the winners’ seeds would be determined by how much money each had made, of course, but they might be seeds 2-5 if the top non-winner made more money. (John Peterson took the top spot this time without winning an event, so I’m not suggesting anything groundbreaking here.)

But suppose a single player won TWO of the tournaments? Shouldn’t that be worth more than simply money or a higher seed before the reshuffle? I think so. In fact, I think anybody playing well enough to win two of the four tournaments should get a Golden Ticket.

But what about the series money winner? What happens to him?

Simple. In that case, there would be TWO Golden Tickets awarded—one to the double winner and the “regular” one to the player with the most money who didn’t win twice.

And suppose there were TWO two-time winners? In that case, THREE Golden Tickets would be awarded—one to each of the double winners plus the “regular” Golden Ticket.

But—and this is the kicker for me—no one would know exactly how many Golden Tickets would be available until the end of the final tournament! (And just to be clear, if one player succeeded in winning either 3 or all 4 of the tournaments, two Golden Tickets would be awarded—one to the multiple winner and one to the “regular” winner.)

Tell me… under my new rules, do you think any player is going to skip a tournament unless they absolutely have to? Do you think the pressure that players feel might be ratcheted up a few notches? Imagine the fun the announcers would have trying to project how many Golden Tickets might actually be awarded… and who would have the best shot at them.

And best of all, the final results—and rewards—are completely determined by the quality of play!

So using my tweaks, the Finals would see these changes:
  • only 25 Tour cards would be awarded and seeded; “The 25” wouldn’t play and their seedings would remain untouched
  • only the four tournament winners could lock up their Tour cards with a single good finish; that’s a perk for winning
  • it would take at least two decent finishes for other players to lock up a Tour card, thus eliminating most of the “freak finishes”
  • by lessening the money differences between finishing spots, it would truly take all 4 tournaments—16 rounds—to determine which players are most deserving of Tour cards, as the Finals were originally intended to do!
  • the Top10 finishers at the end of the Finals would share in a bonus pool, not unlike the FedExCup, to make up for the lessened prize money (at the bottom, prize money amounts wouldn’t change as dramatically)
  • there would always be 1 Golden Ticket available to the money winner, but there could be as many as 3 Golden Tickets if players played well enough (a new Golden Ticket is added when a player wins 2 events)
So my tweaks would level the playing field for everybody and better identify the best players, while creating more rewards for the best players and more excitement for the fans. Not bad for one blog post!

If only tweaking the FedExCup was as simple…

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