Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas played three gut-wrenching playoff holes to determine the winner of the Tour Championship. And by a stroke of luck, the two men were also playing for the FedEx Cup – the PGA Tour’s made-up trophy to answer NASCAR and keep folks interested in golf once the pigskin starts flying. After five years of mostly shrugs from the mainstream sports world, the PGA Tour seemed to hit on something Sunday afternoon in the fading glow of the early autumn Atlanta sun.
There was just one itsy, bitsy problem – Bill Haas didn’t know what was going on.
Yes, the man who won the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and a check for about $11.4 million, had no idea the stakes were that high during the playoff. You can’t blame him – the PGA Tour has a convoluted, confusing and asinine points system to determine the winner of said FedEx Cup. Prior to the two-man playoff, Webb Simpson could’ve nailed down the FedEx Cup. If Aaron Baddeley had won the tournament, of course, since Simpson finished T-22 and about two miles from the winner’s circle.
Exactly. Whereas NASCAR fans have been conditioned for the sport’s entire history that a champion doesn’t have to win the final race, golf fans have been conditioned to think the exact opposite way. Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods because he won. Jack Nicklaus is Jack Nicklaus because he won. And…so on and so forth until you get the idea.
But somehow, the PGA Tour has spit in the face of hundreds upon hundreds of years of golf to give out a trophy and a $10 million check, possibly, to someone who finished tied for 22nd.
Yet in the face of this stupidity, the PGA Tour stumbled into what fans want – two guys, sudden death, a whole truckload of cash on the line. It didn’t take a computer or NBC to crunch the numbers and spit out projected FedEx Cup standings. The viewer knew the stakes – even if the players didn’t – and it made for riveting television.
When Hunter Mahan needed to drop knee-knocking par putts on the 18th hole – once in regulation, twice in the playoff – those were $10 million putts. When Bill Haas found his ball in the water – the WATER! – he needed to get up and down to give himself a chance at $10 million. The crowd, feeding off the moment, drove itself into a frenzy. The announcers, sensing the moment, appropriately captured the atmosphere. And that’s what it was in its purest form – a moment.
But it almost wasn’t. And that’s the problem. The FedEx Cup has been around for several years now and this was the first time it felt special. The first time it felt like a major sporting event. The first time, frankly, it lucked out.
The solution is simple. The PGA Tour can keep its four-tournament playoff system. They can whittle the field down to 30 by the Tour Championship. But it ends there. The point system gets thrown out when the Tour Championship starts. The winner of the Tour Championship is the tour champion. I know, quite the stretch, right?
Mahan/Haas won’t resonate through the years like Nicklaus/Watson or Woods/Mickelson. But it finally unlocked the potential of the tour’s mostly-mocked FedEx Cup. It can work. It could work. It should work.
The PGA Tour needs to give us a showdown like Mahan/Haas every year at the Tour Championship – not every five years.E-mail me
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