Here's the thing about the FedEx Cup: It beats the alternative
If Tiger Woods is too tired to play in this week's Barclays, imagine how exhausted PGA Tour officials must feel. They have spent the whole year promoting their new endeavor, the FedEx Cup, and now that it is here, they are running themselves silly trying to defend it.And there is a lot of ground to cover. First, it was a blow that Woods decided to skip this week's $6 million tournament at Westchester Country Club, the first of four playoff events that will culminate in three weeks with the Tour Championship and a $10 million bonus to the winner of the FedEx Cup.
Then there are the various aspects to the whole concept that have left many scratching their heads and others downright perplexed, starting with how points were earned, the number of players who qualified for the playoffs, the number of playoff tournaments and the fact that the bonus will be paid as part of a player's retirement, not in cash.All of it is enough to make some declare the entire thing a disaster. But isn't bad publicity still good publicity? "What would you be writing about right now if this didn't exist?" said Ty Votaw, the tour's executive vice president for communications and international affairs. Votaw, the former LPGA Tour commissioner who helped put in place an innovative season-ending championship for the women that preceded the PGA Tour's own attempt by one year, might be excused if he seemed a bit defensive. But he's right. The FedEx Cup and its playoff events might be flawed -- certainly not Votaw's words -- but it is a far better alternative than what golf fans were stuck with in previous years after the PGA Championship, the year's final major. If the tour had stayed with the schedule that was in place for most of the past 20 years, we would be about to embark on a meaningless and undramatic two months of golf.
Why? Most of the top players could not get enthused about the Tour Championship or qualifying for it. Woods and Phil Mickelson didn't even bother to play in it last year. In fact, Mickelson shut it down after last year's Ryder Cup. Both players called for a shorter season.Once Sept. 1 rolls around, the nation's attention shifts to football, and golf tournaments -- other than the Ryder Cup -- have little chance to compete. One example: In two of the past three years, the Chrysler Championship, played the week before the Tour Championship, had the worst television ratings of the year, despite attracting the best field of any late-season event. So the tour sought to do something about it, and did so by shortening the season by nearly two months and instituting a big-money playoff format. The FedEx Cup might lack the buzz that some expected for a season-ending playoff series. It is missing Woods in the first event. Criticism is flying. It has plenty of obstacles to overcome and needs to make some changes going forward. But for the next four weeks -- save for Woods' absence in Westchester -- we are going to have golf tournaments with loaded fields. "Why is it a bad thing if you are writing about four weeks where the best players are going head-to-head against each other?" Votaw said. It's not. In fact, four weeks in a row for that caliber of player in the same events is almost unheard of on the PGA Tour. The tour, to some extent, needs to get out of its own way on this one. The hype for the "new era in golf" started early and often, to the point where it became annoying to even the players, few of whom understood the concept or even changed their playing habits to gear up for the season-ending stretch. And when a tour official recently offered the example that the participants in the first Super Bowl game likely had no idea how big the game would become in the future, it seemed a bit much. The FedEx Cup is not going to be golf's Super Bowl. It will not replace the major championships. "It's never been portrayed as more important than any other aspect of the game," Votaw said. "That's what makes the game so great. We're simply trying to add to that greatness with four intense weeks of competition." Now the tour needs to get to work on simplifying the process. It needs to find a way to make the regular season more meaningful, perhaps by cutting down on the number of players who qualify. Perhaps the season should be broken into segments. Maybe the winner of the Tour Championship should be considered the winner of the FedEx Cup. There are many changes that can be made. There is not necessarily a right answer. But debate is good and even criticism should be welcome. Because at this time of year in golf, it sure beats the alternative. Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.