It was announced some time ago that there would be something of a revolution on the USPGA Tour in 2007. The revelation that the final few weeks of the season would be dominated by the newly devised FedExCup series was disclosed long ago, but many of us put it to the back of our minds whilst the drama of 2006 was played out. Now, on the eve of 2006?s final event in Georgia, the USPGA Tour Commissioner and two of America?s most famous players have been championing the virtues of the changes for next season and the inaugural staging of a playoff system for golf.
Playoff systems have long been the norm in America and are gradually creeping into sports on this side of the Atlantic ? most notably in rubgy union and rugby league. At the end of a given ?regular? season the top few teams progress into what is essentially another ?mini season?, which eventually decides the overall winner. It is the perennial route to the Superbowl in the NFL or the Grand Final in rugby league.
On the 2007 USPGA Tour, full time players will earn FedExCup points throughout the year in addition to prize-money. On August 19th, after the Wyndham Championship, the final points totals will be calculated and the top 144 scorers will progress to a three tournament ?mini season? in August and September. Points will then be reset to zero as the players compete in the three prestigious tournaments ? the Barclays Classic, the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship. The top 30 points scorers from these three events will then progress to the season-ending Tour Championship.
Crucially, the winner of the Tour Championship will not automatically win the FedExCup and its $10 million first prize. The Tour Championship is not a sudden death style final tournament ? the player with the highest aggregate points total from all four playoff events will walk away with the bumper cheque and the FedExCup trophy.
The series has been devised undoubtedly as a money spinner, but also to prolong interest in the latter stages of the golf season. This year, for example, it was obvious after the USPGA Championship in mid-August that Tiger Woods would finish the season as the leading money winner and the Vardon Trophy winner as PGA Tour Player of the Year. The race for US Ryder Cup points was also over after the USPGA Championship, meaning that interest in the final few tour events throughout August, September and October was muted.
The FedExCup will, in the eyes of the administrators of the USPGA Tour, keep interest alive right through to the end of the season. The players are being tempted by a total prize fund of $35 million, making them even more heavily rewarded than they already are, and the TV networks are extremely enthusiastic about the venture. On Tuesday the USPGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem (pictured) criticised Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for missing this week?s Tour Championship at the East Lake Golf Club and claimed that next season?s race for the FedExCup would encourage them to line up next year.
?I?m disappointed that Tiger and Phil haven?t made it,? Finchem said at a press conference at East Lake.
?We hope they will be here next year, when the event will be the final leg of the new FedExCup series. People have asked me why we have made changes as the USPGA Tour is in a healthy position in terms of prize money and TV revenue. The answer is that if you?re not going forward then you?re going backwards.?
?Our hope is that the fans connect with this new format as it will be a new way to look at the best players in the world competing. Rather than events week after week we will have two things at stake every time ? the events themselves and also the year-long points system. That?s important, especially when you get to the end of the season as there will be still be lots of money and prestige up for grabs.?
Finchem?s excitement at the new format has also been echoed by two respected USPGA Tour veterans, Davis Love III and Stewart Cink, both of whom are very much looking forward to having extra pressure and extra incentives next year.
?Initially I was thinking ? why do this? It?s not traditional,? said Love.
?But right now we don?t have any stress at the end of the season and everyone knows who?s going to be player of the year. There?s not a whole lot of buzz about the Vardon Trophy. Next year someone will have the chance to win $10 million and the FedExCup so it will be much more exciting. It?s going to go right to the end.?
Cink?s comments reflected those of his former Ryder Cup colleague and fellow USPGA Tour stalwart as he also pointed to the added drama that the series would produce.
?This year it?s going to be hard to argue against Tiger as player of the year as it will be the aggregate of votes cast,? said the 33 year-old from Alabama.
?Next year it?s not. There?ll be no subjectivity and no dispute. You?ll have to play golf under the stress of having a chance to win and there will be a clear-cut deserving winner. That will be something to carry around and be proud of. I think people will be excited about it. It?s the end of year playoffs with four tournaments in a row, which will be big news and on the front of the newspapers. Everyone is going to be reading about it, watching it and listening to it on the radio. That has to be good for golf.?
It will be interesting to see whether or not the venture takes off next season. With the full might of the TV networks and sponsorship money behind it is almost guaranteed to succeed. I?ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on its merits. The danger, of course, is that somebody could win all four Majors next season, narrowly miss out on winning the FedExCup series and therefore not be crowned as PGA Player of the Year; the Official Golf World Rankings system, meant to be open to all, could become distorted due to the absence of overseas players who are not full time USPGA Tour members; and the rich golfers will get even richer, leading to an even bigger chasm between them and the journeymen pros. Incidentally, the $10 million first prize is more than Tiger Woods has earned during the entire 2006 season – one of the best ever in the history of the USPGA Tour. On the flip side, the heavy promotion of the FedExCup and the excitement likely to be generated should mean that fans will stay tuned for an extra month or two.
What are your views on the FedExCup? Join the debate in the forums section of our webiste and air your opinions on what is the USPGA Tour’s biggest change for many years.