FedEx Cup playoffs was confusing, but the event delivered high drama
When it was all over, Bill Haas stood on the 18th green at East Lake and accepted congratulations from his contemporaries, from Hunter Mahan, the runner-up, and Webb Simpson and others. Great win, dude. His father, Jay, stood on the side of the green and accepted congratulations from his contemporaries, Peter Jacobsen and Roger Maltbie and others. Congrats, Jaybird, your son's set for life.
Bill Haas had just won his third PGA Tour event, the Tour Championship, after a three-hole sudden-death playoff that featured two up and downs for pars that, assuming a prudent course of investment, will send his grandchildren to college. Even if he has a hundred of them. The Tour Championship title earned him $1.44 million. His other victory on Sunday, in a competition the Tour poetically markets as "the playoffs for the FedEx Cup," got him $10 million. His total haul was $11.44 million. Bill had his older brother, Jay Jr., also a professional golfer, caddying for him. If Jay Jr. gets anything like the standard caddie cut of 10% on the victories, he won the lottery last week too.
When the senior Haas won his third Tour event, the '81 B.C. Open, he earned $49,500. When Bob Goalby, Jay's uncle, won his third Tour event, the 1961 L.A. Open, he earned $7,500. Jay's first win came at the 1978 San Diego Open. That got him $40,000 and an oversized cardboard check with a misspelling on it. (fourty-thousand. No spell check back then.) He took $600 of it and bought, he said on Sunday night, "a bitchin' stereo." Bill could buy himself Bose with what he made last week, but he's a Haas and the Haases have always had a practical streak.
These are not hysterical people. Fred Couples, the Presidents Cup captain, asked Jay to be his assistant because Jay is smart and sane and makes friends wherever he goes. For years he ate his breakfast where the caddies ate theirs, and for years he answered Curtis Strange questions from reporters when Curtis Strange wouldn't answer Curtis Strange questions. Jay and his wife, Bill and Jay Jr. and their wives, the scads of other golfing Haases—the whole clan is so damn nice there should be a Golf Channel reality show just to prove they exist. You could call it The Well-Adjusted American Golf Family. Now there's a phrase the Tour could run with.
Tim Finchem and the Ponte Vedrans should be congratulated for finding a way to make the golf season after the PGA Championship way more interesting. The four events that make up the playoffs for the FedEx Cup are a big upgrade over the late-summer stops Jaybird and Uncle Bob made for years. This year the tournaments were all wildly entertaining. The finale, on the proud and stately links at East Lake, was especially so.
On the first hole of sudden death, Haas did something that you almost never see in playoff golf. He followed one of the worst shots of his career with one of the best. Usually, those things go from bad to worse. He should remember that resiliency in his times of need, like when he plays Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup golf in the years to come. He's only 29 and getting better.
Bill's four-iron tee shot on the 235-yard par-3 18th, the first playoff hole, was 30 yards off line and 15 yards short. For his second shot Haas had to hit a delicate pitch off a thin lie. He nipped it beautifully and made a 10-footer for par. He got up and down from the edge of a lake—his ball was half submerged, but he blasted to three feet with a shot that bounced twice and trickled to a stop—on the second playoff hole, the 17th, for another par, and followed that with a par on 18 to Mahan's bogey. All that was supercompelling and easy to understand. It was golf.
But here's a crazy thing. As the playoff was unfolding, none of the scoreboards explained what the stakes were regarding the FedEx bonus. A reporter polled a dozen tournament marshals and several spectators asking whether the playoff winner would take home the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. Only two of the roughly 15 people knew the correct answer, which was yes. A retired utilities executive named Isaac Blythers had a solid understanding of the points system because he has made a study of it. "The average fan cannot understand it," he said. "It's too much of a moving target."
And here's something even crazier: Haas himself didn't know he had won the $10 million until after the playoff was over. Before an interview with Jimmy Roberts of NBC, Haas asked, "Who won the FedEx Cup?" They say that ignorance is bliss. Somewhere along the line, golf got way complicated. The Tour has forgotten the ultimate fundamental: In tournament golf the player who takes the fewest strokes wins. That was true in Uncle Bob's day. It's still true now, or should be. In the playoffs you don't count strokes, you amass points, as if you're on a game show.
On Sunday night Bill's parents were fielding scores of text and voice messages on their smartphones. One was a voice mail to Jan Haas from Barbara Nicklaus, who said, "Is there anything better than watching your child do something special?" One was a text to Jay from Curtis Strange, who wrote, "Uneffingbelievable." One was from Couples. Jay didn't open that one, not right away. He was still getting his head around Bill's winning two events in one afternoon, an $11.44 million payday, his namesake son aiding and abetting the whole thing. All around the 18th green, people were talking about the prospect of Fred's picking Bill for the Presidents Cup team. For most any other family, it would have been too much, but the Haases were playing that part cool. Bill had just won at East Lake, where Bobby Jones learned the game. Everything else was gravy. Gravy for life.±