The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs has always lacked a certain element of clarity and simplicity. By definition, playoffs are a final contest, series of contests or period of play to determine the winner between contestants or teams. Merriam-Webster makes no mention of NBC/Golf Channel’s Steve Sands’ whiteboard.
It’s that need to explain all the various scenarios and machinations, coupled with the desire to create a bigger end-of-year bang to the season-long race, that are behind the tour’s expected decision, first reported by the Associated Press, to dramatically overhaul its Playoffs beginning next year.
Starting in 2019, the tour is hoping to abandon its points system at the Tour Championship for something (sort of) more traditional, or at least officials hope will be easier to comprehend. The FedEx Cup leader going into the season finale will begin the tournament at 10 under par with the rest of the scores for the 30-man field staggered based on their position.
More simply put, the winner of the tournament will win the FedEx Cup, thus avoiding the awkward scenario of having one player win the Tour Championship and another the FedEx Cup, something that took place for the second time last year at East Lake.
“A points system confuses people,” said veteran Geoff Ogilvy, also a member of the tour’s Player Advisory Council. “Once the first round starts [at the Tour Championship] everyone understands everyone’s position.”
Three sources who spoke to GolfDigest.com on the condition of anonymity because the tour hasn’t commented on the changes, or finalized them, confirmed the original report and also provided additional details about the tentative plans on Monday.
The stroke differential between the first player and the 30th in the field will be 10 shots, with players in between grouped incrementally. The top handful of players going into East Lake also will be within just a few strokes of the top spot in an effort to maintain a similar advantage the top five have under the current system, in which any player in the top five who wins the Tour Championship automatically wins the FedEx Cup.
Another significant change: The overall prize. This year’s FedEx Cup champion will be awarded a $10 million bonus. That number is expected to climb to $15 million next year.
Winning the Tour Championship will still count toward a player’s victory total as well.
There also will be just three Playoffs events, as previously announced, with this week’s Dell Technologies Championship going away after this year and the first leg of the Playoffs, the Northern Trust, alternating between New York and Boston every other year. The reduction from four to three will help enable the season to come to a close the week before Labor Day.
“What we’ve done with the schedule is great. We don’t have to combat football and everyone’s happy about that and happy about three Playoff events,” said one source with direct knowledge of the details of the new format. “That said, we still have to have to have an end-of-year splash. There has to be some sort of drama and it has to be an understandable concept that anyone who turns on a TV can understand and say ‘This makes sense.’
“That’s been the task since [the FedEx Cup] started. This does that, and it maintains the integrity of what we established with the FedEx Cup.”
Still, not everyone thinks it will end up being that simple for fans to understand.
“It’s going to have to be explained a lot,” one player said. “It’s not a true tournament in the sense that everyone starts at even par, so that’s going to be confusing.”
The tour doesn’t think so, however.
According to multiple sources, the organization gathered statisticians and focus groups to help flesh out the format and gauge how well the changes would be received. Roughly 80 percent of the focus groups grasped the concept and said it was easier to understand, according to one source.
“I think there might be confusion the first year, but once we’re on the course with one leaderboard and no FedEx Cup leaderboard and no whiteboard with Steve Sands going through all the numbers it will be easier to understand,” one member of the Player Advisory Council said. “I think this gets us much closer to [previous Commissioner] Tim Finchem’s original idea when this whole thing started.”