A modest proposal to fix the FedEx Cup, and 6 other best things in golf this week

August 21, 2019

Every week (pretty much) GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best* things in golf right now. This week, he’s cooling his jets at East Lake G.C., Atlanta, Ga. (*or at least mildly interesting)

7. Big Jack

The other one. You kids out there in golfdotcomland might not know the game Jack Whitaker. He was a broadcasting legend who died on Sunday at age 95, a worldly man who was in the first wave of reporters and commentators who grew up on newspapers with bold columnists, got jobs in radio after the war and migrated to network TV soon after that medium was invented. Whitaker covered, and delivered essays about, all manner of sport. He wrote as he dressed, with tweedy charm. He said of his favorite game, “Golf is the most movable feast of all.” That is, it could be played everywhere, from Merion, where he was a member, to the public courses of Philadelphia where he learned the game in the 1940s.

Whitaker figured out that the golf is a great leveler, the ball sitting there mockingly and invitingly, no matter your station in life. He seized his chances and the day, and when the U.S. Open was at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in 1995, Jack Nicklaus went to dinner at Whitaker’s summer home in Southampton. People are still talking about that supper, the two Jacks at the one table, the dinner conversation starting with golf and going east and west and south and north from there.

Jack Whitaker was 95 when he passed away Sunday.
Getty Images

6. Jackson Park

I made a quick visit to Jackson Park, a city-owned course on Lake Michigan in Chicago’s fifth ward, the other day. It’s a short, flat par-70, not even 6,000 yards, with bright-green and gorgeous trees, and on Monday it was loaded with golfers. Beside it there’s a short nine-hole course called South Shore. Tiger Woods, working with others, wants to combine the two courses and turn it into one 18-hole course suitable for tournament play and the everyday golfer. It surely could be turned into something spectacular. But on this summer afternoon, you could also say it’s spectacular, in its own way modest way, exactly as it is.

5. Greenland is Icy

A photo in the Wall Street Journal on Monday showed Daniel Thorleifsen, the president of the Nuuk Golf Club, a nine-hole course in Greenland. President Trump, you may have heard, would like the U.S. to buy Greenland. Turns out, it’s not for sale. Still, Thorleifsen’s arms are open: “He’s welcome to play if he came here,” Thorleifsen told the Journal. “But he would find it very hard.” An accompanying photo showed the man, a rugged-looking golfer, in running shoes, carrying his bag, nothing but sea, fog and rock behind him. President Trump plays virtually all his golf out of a cart and on courses that bear his name.

4. Matt Kuchar in the House

Matt Kuchar is one of the most observant and articulate players on Tour. For instance, while talking to reporters on Tuesday at East Lake, he noted that Tiger Woods does not use the term pods, as some of his other recent team captain predecessors have, but fire squads instead. Later, he stopped himself in mid-sentence as his eye wandered to this large photograph and said, “Bubba looks so perplexed in that photo.” Perplexed indeed.


3. The commissioner as fan

Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, had an hour-long meeting with reporters on Tuesday. The confab was in a large white tent suitable for a wedding, with the air-conditioning off in the interest of sound-recording. Monahan spoke about various issues in the game including slow play, FedEx Cup playoff points, Tour TV contracts and other first-world problems. But the most emotion he displayed came as the meeting was breaking up and he was asked about 50-year-old Doug Barron’s two-shot win over Fred Couples in last week’s senior event, Dick’s Sporting Goods Open.

The tournament is held at the En-Joie Golf Club, where Couples won in 1991 when the course was the host of a Tour event called the B.C. Open. Said Monahan, “Doug Barron, a Monday qualifier, going against Fred Couples, a Hall-of-Famer, who’s nearly 60? How good was that?” If you recall the name Doug Barron it might be because he was suspended by the PGA Tour for using prohibited drugs, in his case testing positive for testosterone and a beta-blocker, in 2011. Talk about changing a narrative. Doug Barron did that with his golf and then the commissioner put an exclamation mark on it.

2. Best FedEx Divot

This could be a new video series, Divots Gone Wild. This bureau was going to wait until the conclusion of the FedEx Cup Series before awarding its first annual Long Haul Divot Award. But the fairways at East Lake are zoysia, a thick-bladed grass that does not have deep roots, and the fairways are firm and dry, and the players will take just wee little divots this week. Some of the recorded divots at Medinah and Liberty National were monstrous, a function of the modern golfer and the modern swing. So, without further ado, The LHD Award for an Outstanding Divot during the 2019 FedEx Playoffs goes to Mr. Brooks Koepka, for a divot he took on the par-4 15th hole at Liberty National on Sunday, that flew, and remained in one essential piece, 23 Ricky-Elliott-caddie paces and that was into the wind. Congratulations, Brooks!

1. New FedEx Points System

The commissioner also announced a new, simpler and better system for the FedEx Cup playoffs. Starting next year, the East Lake event here will again be two tournaments in one. The winner of the 72-hole event at East Lake — the player who takes the fewest strokes over four days — will be the winner of the Tour Championship, and will claim its massive $3 million first-place prize. The winner of the FedEx Cup will be the player who takes — hope you’re sitting — the fewest strokes aggregated over the 216 holes of Week I, Week II and Week III of the FedEx series. And that winner’s haul for claiming the FedEx Cup will be $10 million! (The “missing” $2 million will go into an Atlanta program funded by the PGA Tour and others to teach golf in public schools.)

Part of the excitement of this new playoff system is that at the conclusion of each of the first 11 rounds, the golfers with the highest eight scores, plus ties, will be cut. In other words, about 10 or so players a day will be sent packing. The first week will start with 125 players, the second week will start with about 85 players, the third week will with about 45 players. The winners of the four majors and the Players will get so-called Farmers Insurance Protection and be exempt into the first round of Week III, regardless of what they do in the first two weeks. Also, any player who wins two or more Tour events in the preceding year will be exempt into the first round of Week III. In a release, Monahan said, “We’re giving golf fans what they want — three great tournaments to end the season and true playoff excitement!”

Well, a man can dream.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]