The two most important aspects of organized sports - money & winning - separates professional golf from the four major pro sports – baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
The first aspect is a plus for golf – an underappreciated and under promoted plus. There are no “overpaid” players in professional golf. Why? Because there are no paid players at all! They all start from nothing – even Tiger Woods. Every dollar a pro golfer makes – he earns. On the PGA Tour it’s all about: play well, earn well. Play poorly and you might walk away from a tournament with nothing you didn’t bring with you. If you fail to make the cut on Friday, you don’t even get to tee it up on the weekend and you leave town without a nickel to show for your efforts. Appearance money – payments to top players just to enter a tournament – is forbidden by the PGA. A pro golfer makes his money the old fashioned way. He earns it.
Can you imagine a Major League Baseball player – say, Alex Rodriquez of the Yankees – being paid that way? A-Rod’s contract pays him $27,500,000 per season guaranteed. That’s his salary. He gets it whether he hits or not, whether he plays or not. So, he is earning $169,753 for every game the Yankees play – even if he doesn’t – even for those contests he sits out because he or his manager thinks he needs “a rest.” A rest? For that kind of guaranteed money, who needs a rest? A-Rod has averaged 4 at-bats per game over his career, including walks. That works out to $42,438 for every time he steps into the batter’s box. If he hits a home run - $42,438. If he grounds into a double play or strikes out – the same $42,438. What kind of pressure is that?
In professional golf every swing of the club means actual money in the pocket of the player taking that stroke. A good shot means more money. A bad shot can cost thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands. One poorly played hole can make a million dollar difference. Imagine how well A-Rod (or any MLB player) would hit under that kind of pressure!
The second is a distinct minus for PGA golf. It has no definitive, season-ending playoff to determine the unchallenged winner, the acknowledged Champion player for that season. In the other major sports, the second best team always loses its last game and is rarely remembered as “second best.” Lose a World Series or a Super Bowl, the Finals in the NBA or get beaten in the Stanley Cup and your season is a disappointment to most of your fans – and also to most of the losing players.
What has golf got to match that? Some nonsense grouping of a few otherwise meaningless September tournaments they call the FEDEX Cup. Who cares? Can anyone tell me how a player gets into these so-called “playoff tournaments?” Can you tell me how the ultimate winner of the FEDEX Cup is determined? Of course not. Not even passionate golf fans can understand (or care about) this foolish FEDEX Cup nonsense.
If the PGA wanted to make its FEDEX Cup really mean something – to the fans and especially to the players who are the participants – they would set it up this way:
1. Okay, still play your regular season with golfers earning points each week according to their finish in the last tournament.
2. Have the top 100 golfers in the points play the first Playoff Tournament with only the top 50 qualifying for the next one. No prize money at all for Round One.
3. When the top 50 compete in the second Playoff tournament, only the top 25 move on to the next week. Again, no prize money is awarded for Round Two.
4. In Playoff tournament #3 only the top 4 make it to the Final Championship. Yes, only 4 players survive! And yes, there is no prize money given for Round Three.
5. Play the Finals as a foursome (just the way most of the millions of golfers play their golf) and play it on a Winner-Take-All basis. Yes, give all of it - the entire $35 million prize to the winner!
The TV ratings for a weekend of the four top PGA golfers playing for this kind of Winner-Take-All, $35,000,000 prize would be amazing. And the golf would be like nothing we’ve ever seen. There’s no point to playing safe – none at all – unless you’re leading… and if you are in front you’ve obviously not played safe to get there. Instead of a golfer hitting 20 or 30 feet into the middle of the green to avoid a hazard or a difficult pin placement, you’ll see them all taking direct aim at the flag on every hole! Can you see the back nine of Sunday? How hard would it be to pull that putter back if you were stroking a 10-foot putt… for $35 million dollars... and absolutely nothing if you missed?
No team plays safe in the World Series or in the Super Bowl. Safe is the same as second place, and second place is worth… nothing. Most fans don’t realize that baseball, football and basketball players actually make less money in the playoffs than they do for their regular season paychecks. For the top paid players, they're almost playing for nothing. Thus, in the playoffs, they only play to win.
But, last season on the PGA Tour, the Runner-Up prize in the FEDEX Cup was $3 million. That’s three million dollars for failing to win, for finishing second. Even the fifth place finisher took home a check for $1 million. As a player, if you were anywhere near the top five, would you be hitting the hard shots, taking the chances necessary to finish First? Not with that kind of money still available if you only made to fifth place. Why, the last place FEDEX Cup finisher made more money than most Americans earn in a whole year of work.
If the PGA wants to take pro golf to the very highest level, for the fans, for the players and for TV, do it my way. I’d bet all $35 million in the FEDEX Cup kitty that these playoffs would rival those of the other major sports – and maybe even beat them in the TV ratings.