September 9, 2009

Must-See TV

What would make the FedEx Cup really compelling? Jim Moriarty might have the solution

The FedEx Cup might really command attention if it featured two marquee players going head-to-head in a match play final.

The FedEx Cup might really command attention if it featured two marquee players going head-to-head in a match play final.

Ever since the birth of balata, professional golfers and, especially the tours enjoined with the responsibility of keeping those golfers clothed and fed, have tried one gimmick after another to maintain interest in the sport once all championships of real import have been decided and the blocking and tackling on the playing fields of autumn has commenced. There is nothing wrong with this and I, for one, think there is a better-than-even chance that a few guys (especially if they're the right guys) playing for an obscene amount of money (especially if it's an unimaginably vulgar amount) could prove interesting.

Let's talk about what we know about the FedEx Cup:

First, the word "playoffs" and "golf" do not belong in the same sentence. The marketing wizard who came up with this idea should be exiled to a Siberian gulag along with the title and a yak. And, just so the absurdity of this association escapes no one, how about we time golf's playoffs to coincide with the start of the NFL season? I ask you, could we look any sillier? Let's just play for the FedEx Cup. That really ought to be enough.

Second, golf's regular season is, was and always will be, defined by the money list. What's wrong with using that? What is with this cockamamie point system? The only defense I've ever seen for it is that other sports seem to have point systems that are just as cockamamie. If Federal Express wants its name attached to a list, let's call it the FedEx Money List. No one understands points and resets and all that nonsense. Everyone understands money. Third, the FedEx Cup takes too long. Plain and simple. Everyone knows it, especially the players.

So, what do we do?

If I was the emperor of golf, the FedEx Cup would last two weeks, back-to-back. The first week would have two tournaments running simultaneously. I know, I know, but bear with me. One would be on the garbage dump of your choice on the East Coast, televised by CBS, the other on the West Coast, televised by NBC, thus accommodating two of the current four playoff sponsors with no TV overlap. Each tournament would be comprised of 100 players. The PGA Tour money list would run from FedEx Cup to FedEx Cup and the top 125 on the money list would qualify, just like they keep their cards. That leaves 75 spots to fill. How about the top 50 from the European Order of Merit, not otherwise qualified, and the top 25 from the Nationwide Tour?

The East and West sites cut after 36 holes to low 60 and ties. Players who miss the cut get samples of dental floss as a parting gift and a hearty handclasp for participating. Adios. The remainder of each field plays the final 36 holes and gets paid just like they do now. The winner makes $1.35 million and so on down the line. However, only the top 30 from the East and West advance to the FedEx finals at, say, East Lake. That's 30 on the nose so, even after an East winner and a West winner are decided, there will likely be some kind of playoff at the end of the day for that 30th spot.

Once we're in Atlanta with a field of 60, we begin with 72 more holes, sponsored by another one of the current sponsors, and shown on the Golf Channel. Since the field is so small, it could be done in 36 holes a day, if you choose. Borrowing from the format of the Western Amateur, the stroke play would actually be qualifying for the Sweet 16 and a match play finale on one of the networks. The 72-hole stroke play would be paid off just like it is now, the winner getting his $1.35 million and so on down to 60th. The top 16 players advance to match play on the weekend (presented by Coca-Cola?) for the FedEx Cup. And, just as in the East and West tournaments, there will often be a reasonably dramatic playoff for that 16th and final spot.

That leaves us with 16 guys playing match play for $10 million, winner take all. You lose, you get nothing. Of course, everyone who made it to the 16 already would have been nicely compensated in the two 72-hole events they were in, so it's not like they're really leaving emptyhanded. It just looks that way on TV. All they're really losing is their shot at the $10 mil. Plus, after going through 144 holes of qualifying, what are the chances Tiger Woods isn't going to make it to the Sweet 16? There may be a surprise name or two who manage to get hot for two weeks and make it to the match play but there won't be anyone who just got lucky. Television can be relatively confident we'll be familiar with the 16 guys.

The matches would take two days, morning and afternoon, with the last two guys playing for the FedEx Cup and a truly vulgar amount of money. There really would be a $10 million putt in there somewhere. I bet America would watch, or at least TiVo it.