When the PGA Tour rolled out its new endgame, the attenuated, crescendo-building FedEx Cup, to start in 2007, the rationale was that golf needed to shorten its season and get off the stage for football. The FedEx Cup may or may not entice top-tier talent to play week-in, week-out in hopes of hitting the $10 million jackpot, but it will be a true playoff. Fans will get a national champion and not a split vote between the winners of the four majors, the World Golf Championships, the Vardon Trophy, the Player of the Year and so on.
In other words, by reacting to big, bad football, or at least college football, small ball (PGA) trumped fall ball (BCS). A quick check of the math says it all: After more than 1,400 college football games this season, and the Bowl Championship Series selection show Sunday, we still don't know if Ohio State should be playing Florida, Michigan or Boise State for the national title. Florida will do the honors, having jumped Michigan by a hundredth of a point owing to, what, a federal subsidy to make up for the worst orange crop in nearly 20 years? After 108 holes of PGA Tour Q-school at PGA West, ending Monday, we know exactly who's playing on Tour in 2007, and why.
Golf is still pure meritocracy, while college football is still a beauty pageant from hell.
If golf were football, Tom Pernice, Jr., could either play or talk his way into the field at the Masters. If golf were football, Jim Furyk, who defended his title at the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, South Africa, over the weekend, would do great in the computer rankings, but with his unsightly action, not so well in the (swing) coaches' poll. If golf were football, then plucky Q-schooler George McNeill would not be allowed on the same sod as Lee Janzen, just as plucky Boise State could never play Ohio State. (Even though McNeill easily got his card and Janzen easily did not.)
Not that performance doesn't matter at all in college football, which still has a few things in common with golf. Chris Riley, who famously partnered Tiger Woods to victory and then asked to sit in the afternoon at the 2004 Ryder Cup, shot an opening 83 at Q-school (back-to-back doubles, seven bogeys, no birdies), 72 in the second round, 78 in the third and withdrew. He's such a far cry from his prime that he recalls the gridiron's once mighty, now pitiful Colorado Buffaloes. Play good or bad enough and you'll rise to the top or bottom of any sport.
But the measure of any game is its cleanliness. Is the ending neat and tidy, leaving little or no room for debate? Can we, the viewing public, rest easily with the knowledge that a certain player or team was clearly the best over a given season? If the pursuit is golf, then the answer is yes, but college football is the Monopoly of sports in that it always ends in a vicious argument with large sums of money flying hither and thither.
Take away Oregon's 34-33 win over Oklahoma, made possible by an officiating gaffe that was so egregious it got Pac-10 zebras suspended for a game, and the Sooners would be the fifth team with a legitimate claim at a title shot. Only in golf's Skins Game (and lately the PGA's Grand Slam of Golf) is the dance card filled so haphazardly. Who looks good in a pink skirt? Who moves the Nielsen needle? Who might have won a major this year if the breaks had just gone his way on Sunday, and can he pull in the critical Canadian demographic? And, most importantly, whom would Urban Meyer like to see invited?
Golf reserves such silliness for the Silly Season. In the FedEx Cup, we get a shorter season of official events, and more importantly an overriding theme, a focal point to fix the sport's third-act problems. No one knows exactly how it will come off, but against the current backdrop of BCS malarkey, it's looking better by the day.
If you're a struggling parent, you watch Fox's "Nanny 911" to feel better. If you're an embattled golf fan, concerned about the FedEx Cup and wondering whether Tiger and Phil will make it a success, all you had to do was watch the hopelessly murky BCS selection debacle, and smile.