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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Thoughts on the Rumored Changes to the FedExCup Playoffs

Everybody knows some of the changes coming to the FedExCup next season.

The FedExCup

For example, the Playoffs will finish before football season begins and the number of events will be reduced from four to three. That's part of the reason the PGA Championship was moved back to May. And these changes aren't very controversial for most fans.

But there are rumors of more changes -- none of which are more than rumors at this time -- which will likely cause a lot of debate among Player Advisory Council members, not to mention the public at large. You can read about some of the rumors in this Golf Magazine post.

There's some disagreement concerning when the regular season should end. Currently that's at the Wyndham in Greensboro NC, about a half-hour from where I live. Some folks want it to end a week earlier, at the WGC event. However, that could affect the field at Wyndham adversely, and hurting a Tour stop isn't something the Council will want to do.

I think most folks would like to see the points system changed, although the rumors that it could be eliminated completely may catch many fans off-guard. There's a suggestion that it be replaced by a staggered starting score, where the top player may begin the Tour Championship as many as ten shots under par and other players would start at varying scores beneath that; the further back you start, the more shots you have to make up in order to win.

The winner of the Tour Championship would automatically win the FedExCup, which would mean only one winner would be crowned. The prize would be greater than the current $10mil, and there would be additional payouts at the end of the regular season for the guys who lead the points list at that time.

And those might be only the tip of the iceberg, as there will certainly be more options debated before any decisions are made.

I think it's dangerous to make serious overhauls to a system that has done exactly what the PGA Tour wanted it to do when they created the FedExCup Playoffs. Some of the current ideas make sense to me:
  • I like the idea of a payout to the FedExCup point leaders at the end of the regular season. That would give the regular season added weight, as well as perhaps giving the top points getters a reason to play a bit more as the season ends.
  • I don't mind cutting the number of Playoff events to three, since many of the players only play that many now. I don't see it changing the outcome much, and it makes each event feel more important.
I'm less certain whether making the Tour Championship winner and the FedExCup winner one and the same is a good move. As it stands, if one of the Top5 wins the event, they DO win the Cup. I understand the reasoning behind the potential change -- presumably, the overall winner should always be the last man standing -- but perhaps the fans like having two winners. It does put a bit more pressure on the Top5 to play well in order to win the Cup.

But while changing the points system to something more easily grasped for the Tour Championship makes sense, I don't think trying to jigger the system is the way to go. Presumably the points will continue to be used until the final 30 players are identified, so basically we're just trying to figure out how to make the standings during the Tour Championship easier for the fans to follow.

Match play has been suggested for the final event, and there is merit in this idea. Seeding potentially gives the #1 seed the easiest route to the title, since the higher seeds play the lower seeds, who are theoretically the easiest to beat. But I think the regular approach to match play skews the odds too much in favor of certain players. Ian Poulter and Patrick Reed are two examples of players whose seeding, determined through stroke play, would be inaccurate for match play.

I'm not going to weigh in on all the different rumors in the linked article, but I do have a thought on how the Tour Championship should be handled... and there's no guesswork in how to "handicap" the field.

Once the Top30 are identified, the Top8 in FedExCup points are seeded 1-8 and they skip the first round of the Tour Championship (which will now have five rounds, as you'll see). The remaining 22 players play a single round of stroke play; eight players move on -- use a playoff if necessary to determine these eight -- and the rest of the players receive a payout, as they are done.

The eight who servive the first round are then seeded 9-16 based on their scores in the first round -- lowest score is 9, next lowest is 10, and so on. If players are tied, they simply draw numbers from a hat to determine their seeding. For example, if three players are tied for tenth, three papers marked 10, 11 and 12 are placed in a hat.

The Final16 then play one-on-one 18-hole STROKE PLAY matches to determine the winner, cutting to eight, then four, then two, and finally the winner. (You would have four top players, with "layers" of finishers after that. You guys know how match play events pay out!) This would give the event a unique format that isn't seen in any other pro event, and every shot would count. Fans would know at every stage exactly where players stood, without any attempts to create some bizarre handicapping system. All that would matter is a player's ability to score.

And in my opinion, that's how it should be.

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