Monday, January 23, 2012

The PGA Tour released its 2009 schedule with no earth-shattering changes last week, but it remained mum on its biggest failure of the last two years, the embattled FedEx Cup.

As of last week, the party line was that the Tour Policy Board had "favorably received" the framework of the new and hopefully improved 2009 FedEx Cup, but "no action was taken pending further review and discussion with sponsors, network media partners and players."

"The Policy Board will reconvene via teleconference," the Tour's press release added, "at which time final approval will be sought. Final action is expected prior to Thanksgiving."

Here's how a recent conversation went between GOLF Magazine's Cameron Morfit and Steve Flesch, a member of the 16-man Players Advisory Council in 2008.

GOLF: No one seems to be able to agree on what the FedEx Cup should look like.

STEVE FLESCH: Let's say this: We've tweaked it twice in two years, and being on the PAC, we've seen tons of scenarios with points. The first year, guys complained they couldn't make a move in the playoffs; the second year, we reset the points and made the playoffs so volatile that guys complained they moved so much, and then the Tour Championship didn't mean anything. But let's be honest here, the Tour Championship hasn't meant anything for a number of years. By that time it's just kind of a free payout to 30 guys.

People are starved for football that time of year, whether it's college or pro. The Tour moved it up to accommodate Tiger and Phil, who wanted the year to end earlier, but now we see that they're taking the chance to go abroad and collect appearance fees in Europe and Asia and wherever. So we're like, did we really achieve what we wanted here? Because now they're just going abroad and playing, so they're really not shutting down their year like they said they were going to. Last year Tiger played six of seven weeks in a row including his tournament right before Christmas, whereas during the year, during the regular Tour, he never plays more than two [straight weeks]. Then we threw the off-week in this year, which I don't think was very popular except with people playing in the Ryder Cup. I don't know if I'm answering any part of your question here.

GOLF: When the objective is to maintain interest in the Tour Championship, how does the Tour create a system where the FedEx Cup is either decided before the Tour Championship, like this year, or over for all intents and purposes, like in 2007? It's almost as incompetent as the LPGA's waffling over the English language issue.

SF: I voiced this to a lot of our top brass that we have the PAC meetings with: After two years we haven't gotten it right. FedEx is putting all this money in, and Coca-Cola needs to get its bang for its buck at the Tour Championship, which it hasn't been getting. I said, "If we don't get it right the third year, we're going to look like fools." At our PAC meeting in Vegas we asked the questions, how can we make it so the public understands the points race, and how can we make the last tournament mean more?

GOLF: What about making the entire Fall Series mean more? There were so few fans at one fall tournament last year it was compared to a club championship.

SF: I think we need to give our fall more value than just the race for the top 125. You have so many big tournaments in an eight-week stretch, by the time we get to our fall schedule the intensity is lost.

GOLF: This is the result of the Tour shortening the schedule for the top guys.

SF: Right, but what we're seeing is they're not walking away from the game. They're going overseas to play.

GOLF: So might the Tour eventually go back to a schedule that resembles the way it used to be in 2006 and before?

SF: Instead of having a Fall Series, you push the final of the Tour season back to where it was. The Tour Championship always was and should be the final tournament of the year. Take four of these Fall Series events, put 'em after the PGA Championship and give them point values for the FedEx, and then have the FedEx Cup be the finale. Instead of having all that play out right after the PGA, and having the Fall Series be just about money.

GOLF: But then you're back to the season ending in October or early November.

SF: I think if you don't see Tiger or Phil for a couple weeks after the PGA, you let football start and run its course for a couple weeks. God help me I'm a Bengals fan, living in Cincinnati, and I'm jacked up to watch 'em play the first couple weeks. But when they're 0-3 and 0-4 I'm back to watching golf in October or early November. So August, September, you let the hype of pro and college football die down. That's our big problem and I don't know why we battle that.

GOLF: Wouldn't Tiger and Phil have a problem if the Tour Championship were moved back where it was?

SF: They're playing overseas then anyway. The Australian players are going to go home and play in the tournaments there. Guys are not going to take three months off; we're used to traveling and playing golf. It's what we do for a living.

GOLF: How would you fix the fact that the Tour Championship keeps being a moot point? How hard is it to make it a match play or a winner-take-all? I mean, you can make it up!

SF: I think the guys agree that the $10 million payout should not be decided on one round of golf when you've played the whole year to gain your ranking in the FedEx Cup race. We don't think one round of golf should decide $10 million. Now, if it's between six guys ... we're trying to find the balance of maintaining the integrity of rewarding a great year.

GOLF: But nine innings decided the American League Championship. Why is everyone so concerned about rewarding the entire year? Isn't that what the money list is for? The Vardon Trophy rewards the best year, the trophies on your mantle, the Player of the Year. People are trying to make the FedEx Cup do too much.

SF: I'm not disagreeing with you. I think the terminology of it being a playoff in golf is what players are having a hard time grasping, and the public is having hard time grasping. It's not a team sport; everyone is trying to protect his own interest.

GOLF: What is the objective? What is the FedEx Cup supposed to do? Because after two years of this, I still don't know.

SF: I think the FedEx Cup ideally is trying to identify the best player during the playoff format, which any playoff does. The team that plays the best should win. If you look at the first two years, that's what happened: Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh were the best players. Now did we arrive at those winners in the best way? I don't think we have, and I don't think the Tour would disagree with me. We had not enough volatility in the first year, and too much in the second. We're trying to make it more equitable for the players.

GOLF: More equitable or more suspenseful?

SF: Both. Instead of having eight teams playing we've got 144 guys playing. Resetting everything at the last tournament might be an interesting way to do it. Make it so if a guy wins two of the first three tournaments, he gets the one seed, but he's only got a 100-point lead over number two. And you've got 15 of the 30 guys at the Tour Championship who have a chance, and you've got four rounds to decide it. I don't like just one round deciding it.

GOLF: You've got to admit there are way more interesting ways to eliminate players. Plus, the public can't follow the math.

SF: Neither can the players. The players are not buying into the way the FedEx is run. So how is the public going to buy into it? The only reason I don't think it's totally broken is we have identified the best player the past two years.

GOLF: But the Tour Championship doesn't matter.

SF: I think we have some more attractive ways to present it that we'll present to the commissioner. We're never going to get past the fact that the four majors are, in the public's mind, the four most important tournaments.

GOLF: None of which the Tour has anything to do with.

SF: No, but no one could argue, either, that the Players Championship doesn't have the best field in golf. We wanted to find a way to capture the public's attention in addition to those five weeks, four weeks for a bunch of money. It would be cool to back up a truck and let Vijay Singh dive into $9 million. Our idea is, make it so whoever wins the Tour Championship, let's let him dive into a pile of cash.

 

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