The Foibles and Follies of the FedExCup Playoffs
By Will Leivenberg under FedEx Cup

The shiny Tiffany's trophy

The FedExCup playoffs reminds me of soccer in the United States — it’s a nice idea, but it’s never realistically going to catch on.

Perhaps it’s the fact that many fans (and even players) are confused with how it all works.  The seemingly arbitrary organization of the system revolves around position, points and payout. And when I say payout, I’m talking the big money, $10 million to be exact.

It makes you wonder whether this outrageous amount of prize money motivates players to compete at the highest level or just fuels pecuniary greed? Could it be both?

Webb Simpson, a two-time winner this season and the PGA Tour’s poster boy in 2011, said last Tuesday before the BMW Championship,

“You know, $10 million is a ridiculously large amount of money and an unbelievable prize…You know, at the end of the day, we want to win golf tournaments, but when $10 million is at stake, you can’t not think about that.”

Simpson’s sentiment was honest—if that amount of money were on the line, how could you not think about it, or at least have it in the back of your mind?

Unfortunately, the PGA Tour has turned a cold shoulder to the fact that in a struggling, turbulent economy, a $10 million payday is a slap in the face. This is already a game that preaches the “anyone can play” mantra, yet ultimately hides behind that façade in a world of wealth and exclusivity.

Larry Dorman of the New York Times ventured another line of reasoning for both fan and player apathy towards the structure of the FedExCup.

“Perhaps the most unexpected, for those accustomed to playoff systems in other sports in which advancing to the finals is predicated on winning, is that one player could wind up winning the FedExCup — and its $10 million bonus — without actually winning a tournament this year.”

That’s right, without proving that you are worthy of the title, you can still be given the crown.

For a player like Matt Kuchar — who has been a blueprint for consistency over the last two seasons, earning 20 top 10 finishes in 47 events — even without winning a single event in 2011 his chances of winning the FedExCup were alive and well. Although the task was daunting, contingent upon back to back 2nd place finishes at both the BMW Championship and next week’s Tour Championship, he was still in the hunt.

The idea of a player winning what is supposed to be the most prestigious accolade of the year, after the majors, who hasn’t won a single regular season event just doesn’t sit right. Jim Furyk, last year’s PGA Tour Player of the Year and winner of the FedExCup, would agree.

“I think winning is important. The Tour’s response to that will be, well, think about how consistent and how well the guy’s had to play all year to not win and still be high up in points. They’ve got a point there, too. But I’ve always kind of put my emphasis on winning, and I think that’s most important and should be emphasized.”

I believe that one of the most intriguing elements of these playoffs is that it gives definition to the principle of, “it’s anybody’s game.” But at the same time, in the event of somebody who’s had a crummy, inconsistent season notching a few top finishes when the time was right (the Playoffs) and ultimately winning the FedExCup totally trivializes another player’s consistency and effort over the season.

Justin Rose, who currently leads the BMW Championship is four shots clear of the field heading into the final day. He entered the event 34th in the FedExCup standings and is projected to be No.3 if he wins — is that fair or is that ridiculous?

Like Furyk, I believe the “race to the FedExCup,” as it has been advertised since the Playoffs’ inception, needs to be won by a proven winner. A system that rewards the best for playing the best needs to do simply that, instead of attempting to win over its competitors with superfluous amounts of money (We saw where that got the NFL and now where it’s gotten the NBA).

This gripe with the FedExCup is good. There are more than enough flaws ingrained in the Fed-Ex Cup system and as the sun sets on the final hole of the season, it’s time to outline a new course of action that doesn’t rely on obscene monetary rewards, but rather restores the integrity that separates golf from every other sport.

– Will