Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA Tour and the guy who brings us the FedEx Cup, was asked in his press conference Wednesday, "Did you ever think you'd see the day where you would put up $63 million in prize money over four weeks and guys would be bitching about it?"
It was a great question, because even though the commissioner declined to "characterize it that way," that's exactly what's happening.
Here's Steve Stricker, the guy who hated Westchester Country Club until he was enticed by the FedEx Cup to return, and, ahem, won three weeks ago:
"Personally I don't like it. It's a lot of golf in a short amount of time."
And here's Tiger Woods, who faults not the schedule (top guys can skip a week and still win it all) but the deferred $10 million first prize:
"I think that's one of the major issues for all of us is that it's not the true payout," Woods said. "It's like, how great would it be like in the World Series of Poker, at the first tee starting the first day of the Tour Championship, that's all you see is it stacked up there and that's what you're playing for. That would create a lot of buzz."
And here's Ernie Els, on how the big, bad Tour failed to keep players in the loop when it was shaping this four-week playoff series:
"Unfortunately, no, they did not express anything to the players," Els said. "They asked those questions, but they didn't come out and say, 'OK, look, this is what we're going to do, what do you think?' It was all about — you know, it wasn't directly asked. And unfortunately, we are in this position now because they didn't either listen or they just went on with the decision, and this is where we are."
Let's take a look at "this position." Players are driving BMW courtesy cars to a pimped-out golf course to play for $7 million, $1.26 million to the winner, but that's just this week. Total prize money for the four FedEx tournaments is $28 million, after which $35 million in Cup cash is sprinkled like fairy dust into the players' deferred accounts.
From here, "this position" doesn't look half-bad.
Some of the FedEx backlash owes to the Tour's reported $40-$45 million marketing and advertising campaign, and that was understandable. But the quantity of griping and sniping and trauma and drama defies logic.
Think back to the genesis of the FedEx Cup. The year-long points race and season-ending playoffs were supposed to emulate NASCAR. And golf was emulating NASCAR because of football, the sport that gives golf the most competition on Saturday and Sunday as August gives way to September. (With Phil Mickelson and now Woods invoking the image of a gigantic mountain of cash, poker joins the list of pursuits golf seems to want to emulate.)
In other words, golf wants to become a sport to be reckoned with, to trade paint with car racing and pancake blocks in the NFL and college football, and finally hold its own in fall's rough-and-tumble sports scrum.
The FedEx Cup was golf's big chance to play to Joe Sixpack and bring him in the tent with catchwords like "playoff fever," an ambitious reach outside the usual demographics. In case anyone missed the point, the Tour's TV promos featured Jim Furyk with Jerome (The Bus) Bettis, and Sergio Garcia with home run hitter Albert Pujols.
Early results have been mixed. While the Mickelson-Woods showdown in Boston was great theater, golfers have never looked less formidable or more precious. For that we can thank the Cup-half-empty crowd, which can't stop whining about playing four in a row and the tragic denomination of their millions. Chalk up another W for the law of unintended consequences.
As for their first argument, that too many big events loom at the end of the season, the solution is to take a week off. Stars and even second-tier guys like Scott Verplank have done so already. Or players can skip the WGC-Bridgestone the week before the PGA, or the Wyndham the week after. Or they can play fewer practice rounds, or leave some of that Monday pro-am money on the table, or get a massage.
The second argument, that the prize money shouldn't be deferred, has promise in that $10 million in gold bricks or Susan B. Anthony coins or George Washington's actual hair might look pretty sexy on the tee at East Lake.
But this argument fails for at least two reasons and probably more.
First, the sum. It's not $10 million. It's $10 million earning interest tax-free until the winning player turns 45 or retires. As Richard Sandomir pointed out recently in The New York Times, at 8 percent annual interest, a young man who wins the Cup at 31 (just to throw out a random number, Tiger) will have nearly $30 million waiting for him at 45.
That's being conservative, of course, but Tiger's a conservative guy. Six years older, Mickelson would net a tidy $18.5 million.
"It either has to go all cash, all deferred, or it could be split between cash and deferred, and that was an option that we put to the players," Finchem said this week. "We put to them three basic options. One was all cash, one was all deferred and one was split. Based on multiple meetings and a lot of input, we concluded that not only was it in the best interest of a lot of players, but it was what most players wanted to do. It certainly doesn't have to be that way. I'm sure based on all this commentary it'll be something that will be reviewed."
It shouldn't have to be.
The second big argument for a deferred payout is the type of players who are going to be winning the FedEx Cup. Pros like Omar Uresti and Jay Williamson could use $10 million in one lump sum, but Woods needs cash like an eskimo needs ice. He's joked that he might be dead by the time he gets to collect the money, and while that seems unlikely, whether he's dead or alive the prize is likely to end up in the same place, with his heirs.
Els and Mickelson aren't exactly light in the wallet, either. You might think they'd appreciate a way to keep Uncle Sam's mitts off their great grandkids' snowballing inheritance. Apparently not.
Here's an idea: If they want a huge pile of cash on the tee, let's stack it there, then put it back in the Monopoly game. No one will be the wiser.
As for the complaint that players weren't consulted on the FedEx Cup, it only goes to show you the limitations of even the most exhaustive meetings.
"Now, over the last six months," Finchem said, "we've discovered that a lot of players, regardless of the amount of information that might have been discussed, didn't necessarily for whatever reason want to pay much attention to it."
Good point. Here's another one Finchem ought to send Priority Overnight:
With just a little more complaining about their tiring schedule (what with school starting for the kids and all) and the untidy $10 million first prize, players will ensure that they won't be the only ones tuning out.