We understand. You share your workstation with some blowhard who wheels around on his desk chair and says clever things like, “The golf season’s over when the final putt falls at the PGA.” How stuck in the Bruce Lietzke era can one guy be? Does your officemate like licking stamps and waiting a week for his mail to maybe reach its destination? Golf over after the PGA? Hardly. There’s so much going on in the game right now, your head’s probably spinning like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist.
Last week 30 golfing men — sponsored, impressively, by 10 manufacturers — played for keeps on an excellent, demanding old-school course, East Lake, in Atlanta, hometown of Bobby Jones and Coca-Cola. They were playing on Jones’s ancestral course in the Tour Championship presented by Coca-Cola during the fourth and final week of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Two events for the price of… 10. The whole thing is way over the top. Still, what was there not to like?
O.K., you might have hoped for more from the Tour Championship’s defending champion and headliner, Phil Mickelson. He had a rough week, and his Masters victory in April feels as if it were ages ago. He shot a final-round 74, four over par, in the rain and finished 22nd. Not what he was looking for, not going into the Ryder Cup this week. He’ll find no Five Guys in Wales this week, and there wasn’t one last week, not near the golf course, although he could have picked up a delicious Ghetto Burger nearby, at Ann’s Snack Bar on Memorial Drive. Oh, that’s right. That’s not going to happen. Phil’s gone vegetarian. Really, there’s too much to keep track of.
Last week you had to follow both events if you wanted to be part of the national golf chat — the Tour Championship, with its first-place prize of $1.35 million, and the FedEx race, with its $10 million prize to the winner. Your math is correct: If someone could win both he’d be collecting $11.35 million. Is it an obscene amount of money? Sure. This was an opportunity for the set to feel even more set. Feel sorry for nobody here. But do the big numbers get your attention? They certainly do. Eleven mil. That’s heavyweight money. (Ask Atlanta resident Evander Holyfield, who grossed $120 million in his career.) Last week’s sums must leave Bobby Jones, patron saint of East Lake and amateurism, spinning in his grave. But Gordon Gekko is smiling. It won’t last forever, boys. Save.
The winner of the Tour Championship was Jim Furyk, 2003 U.S. Open winner, Ryder Cup stalwart, solid guy. No great surprise there. It was his third victory of the year. He often plays hard courses well. He’s a grinder and a mudder, hyperfocused. The son of a pro and a pro’s pro. His pace is at times painfully slow, but his shots are always well considered. He hit some loose shots coming in on Sunday, in the drenching rain, and made bogey on the 70th and 71st holes. Then, on one of the most uncommon things in golf, a par-3 finishing hole, this one measuring 230 yards, Furyk got up and down for par from a greenside bunker to win by a shot over a golfer he’ll see on the other side of the Ryder Cup aisle, Englishman Luke Donald.
Gentleman Jim saved the day, for NBC, for the PGA Tour, for the PGA of America. Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, following a Saturday when both Georgia and Tech lost on the football field, was gray and gloomy and wet. Had the two Ryder Cuppers gone to a playoff that lasted more than two holes, the Tour Championship would have carried over to Monday. Team USA, all gathered at the Atlanta airport on Sunday night for a charter flight to Wales, would have had to fly off without Furyk, who, you could argue, is the heart and soul of the U.S. team. There’s nothing in golf he loves more than the Ryder Cup. You can book his captaincy now for the 2018 Cup, when he’ll be 48. The good deed he performed in Sunday’s gloaming secured it.
The surprise last week was that Furyk was able to win the FedEx Cup, a trophy previously won by Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. (Nice company.) Furyk had a serious handicap in trying to win the thing. He entered the playoffs seeded third, based on his 2010 season. In the first week of the playoffs, at the Barclays in Paramus, N.J., Furyk missed the Wednesday pro-am, oversleeping because of a dead battery in his cellphone, which doubles as his alarm clock. That disqualified him from the event, meaning he earned no points. By they time he got to East Lake he knew that to win the FedEx Cup he had to win the Tour Championship and a bunch of other guys — Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Charley Hoffman, Steve Stricker, Paul Casey most especially — had to finish way south of him. The end result was as if Furyk were pulling the strings.
When it was over Furyk was asked which of his two new trophies meant more to him. Both were in front of him, the super wide metal one for the FedEx playoffs, the super tall crystal one for the Tour Championship. “This one,” he said, pointing to the FedEx trophy. “This one is in this one, if that makes sense,” making nods to each. By the standards of the way-too-complicated FedEx Cup points system, understood only by Golf Channel’s Steve Sands and a few people at the Tour’s headquarters, Furyk was making total sense. No player admitted to understanding the system. Asked how he keeps track of the FedEx points, Paul Casey said, “I just don’t bother.”
Thankfully, things happened last week that anyone could underÂstand. After the Tour Championship, Donald, the only Ryder Cupper on the 12-man European team playing at East Lake, had to get himself from Atlanta to Celtic Manor, in Wales. Donald was asked if there was a spot for him on the U.S. charter. It had become something of a joke that there wasn’t enough room for all the caddies on the flight, because the PGA of America had sold and promised too many seats to various patrons. Donald said, “I’m on the 9:15 British Airways flight to London. The Americans didn’t even have room for me in the toilet.”
This is a first, these back-to-back cups in consecutive weeks, Fred Smith’s (American entrepreneur, package delivery) followed by Samuel Ryder’s (British entrepreneur, garden seed sales). Nine soggy Wales-bound American pros played East Lake on Sunday: Furyk, Kuchar, Mickelson, Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson. The three other U.S. team members — StewartÂ Cink, Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods — didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship and had to get themselves to Atlanta for the team charter.
Woods came from Orlando, where he spent parts of last weekend working on his game at home with Sean Foley, amateur student of the U.S. civil rights movement and professional golf instructor. Foley has Woods hit some shots barefoot, to improve his balance. This is known because Woods, previously the most secretive golfer ever, blogged about it last week. Woods’s posting also included this dig at U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin about his Cup pairings: “I’m not sure who I’ll be playing with. It keeps changing.”
That only sounds innocent. Veteran Tigerologists had just one interpretation of that comment: Pavin is already screwing this thing up by not telling Woods, the most high-strung of golfers, who his partner will be. With Woods there’s always a subtext, and the subtext here is that he surely thought it was a joke when Pavin said earlier this month that he was “not afraid” to bench Woods in any of the first four sessions. Last year at the Presidents Cup, Woods and Stricker played together four times. They won all four.
When Paul Azinger was the winning U.S. Ryder Cup captain two years ago, he emphasized the importance of getting hot golfers on the team and on the course. Well, last week, after Furyk, you didn’t have a U.S. Ryder Cup player on the leader board until you got to Zach Johnson, who tied for ninth. Mahan and Watson were the only other American Ryder Cuppers in the top 20. Kuchar and Overton never broke par. Dustin Johnson sputtered along for the first three rounds (73, 71, 73) before closing with a 66 (and made it look easy, as he does). Stricker opened with a 74, closed with a 75 and finished 25th. You couldn’t exactly call the U.S. team hot.
Meanwhile Nick Watney, 29, who some of the Tour’s cognoscenti felt would have been a better captain’s pick than Tour rookie Fowler, followed a Saturday back-nine 28 with a Sunday front-nine 30. He tied for fourth. Many established players on Tour greatly admire Watney’s attitude, demeanor and game. There’s a lovefest for Dustin Johnson among the top players right now. (Everybody wants to be his partner at Celtic Manor.) But for overall standing on Tour, among the under-30 crowd, Watney is right behind him.
Donald made the team as one of European captain Colin Montgomerie’s three captain’s picks. Casey, another Englishman, tied Watney last week. He’s the seventh-ranked player in the world, but he wasn’t picked. He said last week that he’ll be biking in Canada during the Ryder Cup. Rooting for the Euros, of course, but biking in Canada. Monty also didn’t pick Justin Rose, who finished 15th last week and won twice on Tour this year. They weren’t outrageous omissions. That’s how deep the Euros are.
Casey said last week that he felt extra pressure, playing two years ago as a captain’s pick. There was nothing about Donald’s demeanor or play or comments that would suggest he’s feeling anything similar. “I felt like I was deserving of a pick,” Donald said. “I have a great Ryder Cup record (5-1-1), I’m top 10 (eighth) in the world. So I don’t really think I had anything to prove. But this performance will give me a little bit of added confidence going into this week.”
That last bit, Donald can say it and Furyk can say it, but can anyone else? On Sunday night both were boarding planes for overnight flights to Great Britain. The golf season continues. Here comes October, full speed ahead.