New plan for fall schedule will make Tour bigger, but not better

June 30, 2012

Just when I was continuing to not understand the FedEx Cup points system, the bureaucrats in Ponte Vedra, Fla., gave me something new to not understand: the PGA Tour schedule.
The 2014 season will begin in October 2013.
Why’s the leftfielder in the old Abbott and Costello routine. Who plays first, Why’s in left, I Don’t Know plays third. That all makes sense. But why will the 2014 season begin in October of 2013?
Yes, because.
Because Tim Finchem can.
Because the hallmark of modern management is reinvention and never standing pat and changing things even when there’s no good reason to change them.
The fall changes announced by the Tour recently are designed to make the various tournament sponsors happy so that more money flows from the sponsors to the players. Finchem’s first goal is to make the players happy. But the fans are the real engine that makes the whole thing work and, speaking as one, I don’t think fans are going to like this or embrace it or care about it.
Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I didn’t like the wild-card system when baseball first announced it, and I don’t like it now. But the reason it’s so popular is that it brings playoff baseball to cities that otherwise wouldn’t have it. Its success is rooted on what fans want. These recent Tour moves are not.
All through sports you hear the phrase, “Grow the game.” Things are growing, all right. Baseball wants more playoff games. College football has added a playoff system. Basketball, historically, is a winter game, but the NBA finals wrap up with the U.S. Open. Webb Simpson, meet LeBron James.
Golf, for years and decades, had a real off-season, and there was nothing wrong with it. In fact, it was good. It gave fans and players and everybody involved in the game a built-in time to cool out and recharge and start the new season fresh, just as Old Tom Morris did when he insisted there be no golf on the Old Course on Sundays. Having a true off-season didn’t, “grow the game” in the conventional way. It did it in a far more subtle way. It kept you hungry for golf.
A half-decade ago, in the Tour’s continuing effort to grow the game and get more money to the players, the PGA Tour invented the Fed Ex Cup, a series of August and September cash-grab events, played after the natural end to the season, the PGA Championship in mid-August.
You and I might agree that the real end of the golf season comes with the hoisting of the Wanamaker Trophy, handed out by the PGA of America. The PGA Tour, a separate body, rejected that notion and did something about it. The FedEx Cup.
And once fans got accustomed to watching big-bucks tournaments with big-name players in September, the Tour realized it had to do something with the so-called Fall Series, the modest community-minded events played in October that the FedEx Cup series had turned into dressed-up Nationwide Tour stops.
"With the fall tournaments moving to the front end of the PGA Tour schedule, the policy board believes the next logical step is for these tournaments to kick off the FedEx Cup and begin awarding full points," Finchem said recently. "All of these tournaments have been very successful and certainly deserve to be part of the FedEx Cup competition."
Simply assigning those events FedEx Cup points wasn’t enough for Finchem, though. The Tour’s high-stakes, six-round Qualifying School will be played in its current form for the last time this fall, and come 2013 there will be a new formula for deciding how players get a Tour card. Their place on the Nationwide money list — which has been renamed the Tour — will decide whether they get a Tour card, along with their place on the Tour money list.
When the Tour makes its sure-to-be-complicated final announcement about what a player needs to do to get a Tour card, the Fall Series events will be part of the equation. The old dog-eat-dog Q-School — super intense and short in duration — seemed to me to be the essence of golf. But the Tour felt differently. I guess this new system is more democratic.
More golf is always more democratic, but that doesn’t make it better. A U.S. Open that went 126 holes would be a better barometer of golfing excellence than the existing 72-hole event. But do you really want to watch golf for seven straight days? Years ago, somebody figured out that 72 is just the right number of holes for all concerned for most tournaments. The weird six-round event — Final Stage! — was a final exam we could all relate to. It worked. But the Tour could not leave well enough alone
I know I sound like I’m stuck in a time-warp. There have been changes in the game that are good, many of them. Playing a 36-hole Saturday finish to the U.S. Open, the schedule under which Ken Ventui won in ’64, is not as good as the present method of one round a day for four days.
But part of the reason that chang worked is that everybody understood it, right away. One round a day for four days: Got it. Don’t need a calculator. Don’t need a cheat sheet. Don’t need a special press conference to have it explained to me.
The greatness of golf is that it is both incredibly simple and also incredibly complex. Golf really is hitting a ball into a distant hole without touching it (except on the tee). That’s easy to understand. The relationship of the golfer’s right shoulder to the face angle at impact is more complicated.

The essence of tournament golf is to play 72 holes in the fewest possible strokes. That’s not complicated. Playing a cut shot into a hook wind to get at a back-right hole position and moving the ball back in your stance and weakening your grip to do it, that’s complicated. That yang and yin is what makes golf golf.
But this kind of manufactured complexity the Tour is pushing down our throats is just foolish. The formula by which you get into the FedEx Cup is way too complicated. The formula by which a player wins the Fed Ex Cup is even more complicated. The formula by which a player either gets or doesn’t get a Tour card is about to become more complicated. The starting date for the 2014 golf season, that’s just another example of . . . logic being defied and nobody giving a damn as long as everybody’s getting rich. Or at least richer.

I think the Tour sometimes forgets that money ultimately comes from us. And we want our 2014 season to begin in 2014. Or I do, anyway.