One thing usually missing from the whole FedEx Cup extravaganza is Cinderella stories. It's all about the rich getting richer and a player whose net worth is already more than $100 million scoring a $10 million bonus.
Not this year. The FedEx Cup actually has an honest-to-goodness Cinderella fella, and the media discovered him this week at Cog Hill. His name is Tom Gillis, a 41-year-old journeyman who has finally made it onto a big and hopefully lucrative stage. Larry Dorman sized him up for The New York Times and used Gillis to illustrate the little-noticed issue that this warped FedEx Cup point system actually affects major championships.
The top 30 who advance to the Tour Championship earn exemptions into the first three majors of 2011. The problem is, the FedEx Cup points awarded during the playoffs are five times greater than those awarded during the regular season.
"You could have someone getting into major championships just because they got hot for a couple weeks in the playoffs," said Gillis, who has qualified for three United States Opens and two British opens during his 20-year pro career. "I think that's too high for the value received. I think it should still be based on the money list.
That provides a glimpse into the work ethic of Gillis, a solidly-built man who is the embodiment of a journeyman. Until last week, few beyond the golf world knew who he was. Even after he finished fifth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, his highest finish on the PGA Tour, one writer who regularly covers the tour said, "I could not pick Tom Gillis out of a lineup of guys named Tom Gillis."
The Gillis story is the kind of thing that doesn't happen often enough in the FedEx Cup series or in the World Golf Championships, which also have limited fields (around 70 or so):
Now Gillis is at 48th on the points list, one spot ahead of Angel Cabrera and three ahead of Woods, who is in a battle of his own to get to the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Woods has none of the eligibility concerns that Gillis has for next season, but both have an intense desire to win and a belief that they can.
"To be quite honest with you, I would say I'm disappointed right now," Gillis said. "I would have thought I'd have had more chances to win. I think some of it is probably just a little inexperience for being in those situations and on that stage. There's a lot going on on Sunday, and I think you learn to deal with it, and I believe I dealt with it much better last week.
"Has it taken a little longer than I thought to be in contention?" he said. "I'd say, ‘Yeah, it has.' I really, in my heart … I think as a player you've got to think, why would you play if you didn't think you could win? And I thought I could, and I still think I can."
Gillis was the flavor of the day at Cog Hill. Golfweek's Jeff Rude wrote about him, too:
Tom Gillis is perhaps the best story this week at the BMW Championship. He's a career journeyman who thought about quitting competitive golf less than four years ago. Now he's playing the best golf of his life, at an age when many show signs of decline, and finds himself 48th in FedEx Cup points on the PGA Tour.
"If we talk about the journey, we'll be here a long time," said the man who didn't finish better than 139th in earnings in two previous full Tour seasons.
Gillis has earned $1.07 million officially this year, more than his combined total of the past on Tour. His swing, putting stroke and commitment revamped, he thinks he can win a Tour event. Now he has a chance to make the top 30 and get to next week's Tour Championship. That would mean more potential riches …
Mrs. Pavin speaks upThe talk of the Ryder Cup this week was the captain's picks, but the long-term Ryder Cup talk may take a different path. Outspoken Lisa Pavin, wife of U.S. captain Corey, is getting attention. Since her husband is a little on the quiet side, she could take on a larger role with the media during the Ryder Cup, and in fact is already sort of a "Captainess," as Robert Rodriguez wrote in a lengthy profile for Dallas Avid Golfer.
From designing team clothing, to planning gala events, to just taking care of things at home, Lisa has done a tremendous amount of work leading up the the biennial tussle between the U.S. and Europe.
"I want to win the Cup more than anything," Lisa said. "That's all life has been about lately, the Ryder Cup."
So much so that Lisa has earned the nickname, Captainess, which actually appears on one of her e-mail accounts … To truly understand Lisa Pavin, you must understand the hardships of her childhood. Leaving for the United States during the fall of Saigon in 1974 as an infant with her family. Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, a city not known for Asian-American influences. Losing a mother at age 11. Helping her dad, a former South Vietnamese naval officer, raise her two younger sisters and younger brother.
Lisa Pavin may prove to be on the most interesting personalities at the Ryder Cup. You heard it here first. OK, second. Playoff Fever?Meanwhile, there's a FedEx Cup to bash. Wait — what? The FedEx Cup is starting to get a little respect? Say it isn't so. Teddy Greenstein says just that in the Chicago Tribune, but come on, man, that's going to be a tough sell.
This year's FedEx Cup has featured something unexpected — Tiger Woods in a week-to-week struggle to qualify for events.
"Now he knows how we feel," Charley Hoffman said with a chuckle.
A staple of the FedEx Cup, though, has been criticism. But in its fourth year, the shouting seems to be muted, with a few rip jobs centering on the fact three of the four 2010 major winners could not compete and that a player such as Martin Laird could rise so dramatically without winning a tournament.
Kevin Streelman certainly won't complain. The Wheaton Warrenville South alum was 102nd in points, having registered no top-25s from April to July. Then he tied for third at The Barclays, the first of the four FedEx Cup events, and shot up to 18th.
"This is what the playoffs are for," he said. "If the Cubbies have a great year and then lose the first three games of the division series, they're done. It's just like the playoffs for us.
"They're designed to reward players who are playing well at right time. The movement makes for momentum swings and a lot of excitement. I feel like the fans have gotten into it."
It does seem that way, even with some evidence to the contrary: Last week's ratings for the NBC-televised Deutsche Bank Championship, the second playoff event, fell to 2.1 from 2.4 in 2009.
Forget the TV ratings. Golf ratings are always low. That's a given. If FedEx Cup criticism is fading, it may be because interest in the FedEx Cup is fading. The confusing points system, debated and critiqued at length, is now such old news that it's no longer worth debating. The FedEx Cup has been a success, however, in luring the top players to play late in the season, a clear improvement over the PGA Tour's previous system. With more star quality in the fields, the FedEx events have had more opportunities for better finishes.
But the FedEx Cup on the rise? We'll believe it, Yogi, when we believe it.