It strikes me as unusual that after a long series of individual tournaments we need to close the season with playoffs.
Every PGA Tour member is obligated to play a minimum of 15 events and, of course, after that, he may play as many as he wishes, but what does that really mean to a player?
Originally, the tour consisted of events that ‘followed the sun,’ beginning on the west coast, down through Florida and the south, out to Texas and then up the eastern coast.
Most of the participants held jobs as the resident professional at country clubs to help offset the cost of travel. They travelled in groups, many with young families, from city to city like nomads. Today, things are different.
First, few events are accessed by car with more and more players opting for air transportation. One reason for this is that their off-course, revenue-generating obligations demand it.
Every tour player is a sought-after commodity and gets paid very large appearance money to compete in exhibitions, shows, commercials, ads, sponsor outings and non-U.S. tournaments. Taking full advantage of it while it lasts is vital to their ultimate business success that can be very fleeting.
Competing in an actual event is physically and mentally draining. Beginning with one early and one late starting time, consider that a player must rise in the morning at least three hours prior to the early time, which means early to bed the night before.
On day two, you can sleep in a bit, but most don’t. Everyone has an internal sleep clock. Plus, meals come at irregular times – eat light before an early rise and control a healthy, balanced diet.
When combining this with sponsor appearances and cocktail parties one begins to get a picture that getting adequate rest and maintaining your health can only happen through diligent management.
Add in family obligations and everything tightens a bit more. I’m not saying “poor babies, how hard done by they are,” but what I am saying is nothing comes easily and it’s a very long season.
Every player has courses they play better than others and cities they enjoy more than others, time zones to think about and financial considerations when constructing their annual playing schedule.
A balanced life is necessary too and for that reason, few players enter more than two or three consecutive events. Players also are faced with tournaments that have restricted fields, events that require qualification such as the U.S. Open and the British Open. Of course there are certain events with monster purses like the Players Championship.
If you aren’t at the top level, you have the challenge of winning enough money to keep your card. If you aren’t eligible to play the golden events, you have to play in fields where purse sizes aren’t as big and more travel is required.
My point of all of this is that earning enough money to qualify for the playoffs isn’t easy. I doubt there is a player on the PGA Tour, regardless of position, who simply is incapable of winning. In other words, anyone can win at any time.
So when you qualify to play an event with a limited field of 125 and an increased purse as found in the playoffs, you should take it. Not only that but if you qualify for the next playoff event the field is reduced again and that repeats over four playoff events.
If the 125th player plays well enough during the four tournaments, he can win millions of dollars all of which sounds good to the average patron, but is it really a playoff?
Yes, some are eliminated and some advance based on their year’s earnings, but some do so well over the year, they can afford the luxury of not entering all four events. Doesn’t that seem odd?
Imagine in the NHL, the NBA, MLB or the NFL, the first place team earns a bye into the second round, wins that game and then skips round three to save its strength and goes directly to the final.
I know the hectic pace of life I have just outlined takes its toll and players get tired, but I think the credits earned based on play over the whole summer are too high and offer a distinct advantage to an elite few.
Having said that, I also recognize that when patrons are watching the final round of the final event, they find it extremely confusing to award a huge amount of money based on points accumulated in that event, combined with points earned from other events.
People best understand the concept of shooting the lowest score and holding up a trophy. However, they are getting much better at understanding that one player won the overall and another won that event held that week.
My first choice of an alternative format would be to pay the players for their total points earned year long. Players would then enter the final four events with everyone at zero, no carry-overs for year-long performance.
Then reduce the field after each event (125 to 100, 100 to 70 and 70 to 30) exactly as is done now, with the prize money distributed as it is now only with $10-million to the winner of the final tournament.
The second choice I’d like to see is points awarded all season as they are now. After each playoff event one, he gets one point for every player he beats and combine the two.
Taking that total forward to event two, a player gets two points for every player he beats, combined with his previous total. Event three repeats, only he gets three points for each player beaten and, of course, in event four, he gets four points.
This way, more players are eligible to win the $10-million and each of the four events becomes increasingly more important.
A player’s performance for the year is considered at each level, only with decreasing value while the pressure to perform and even enter each week escalates and nobody can afford to miss an event for fear of losing too much ground. With computerization there is no reason why the process would be difficult to follow.
If we are going to playoff, then let’s play off in a way that favours the best player that week, just like we do every other week of the season and just like they do in every other sport.