"If you don't know what to say, it's easy to say something derogatory." That's a line from Stewart Cink regarding criticism of the FedExCup.
Although the final major of the year is taking place this week, there's this other reportedly big golf story right around the corner. So I thought I'd take a few minutes to start sorting out this FedExCup deal we've been hearing so much about.
By the way, if the PGA Championship is "Glory's Last Shot," what does that make the FedExCup? "Glory's Mulligans?"
When you mention the FedExCup, it seems like people have more questions than answers. How is it going to work? Why do 144 players make the Playoffs? How come Tiger is going to start the playoffs with more points than he's earned?
We're just two weeks away from the start of the Barclays Classic (and the start of the "playoffs"), yet most people have little more than a vague idea of what to expect. I have to admit, I am not much different. But I've been doing some research, and here's some of what I've learned.
The FedExCup is a season-long points competition that culminates in a four-tournament playoff. The winner earns a $10 million retirement annuity from a total purse of $35 million. That much you probably knew. Now, on to the things you probably didn't know.
Number Five: The Reset
In the NBA, the playoffs have often been called a second season. And why not, when over half of the league gets into the postseason? Now golf has the FedExCup where 144 players make the playoffs. That's more than earn Tour cards each year off the money list!
Rather than begin with a level playing field, players will be seeded based on their finishing position from the regular season. It goes something like this: Tiger… errrr… the leader after the regular season will receive 100,000 points to start the playoffs. That, you may have noticed, is almost four times what he has actually earned to date. The second-place finisher gets 99,000. Third gets 98,500. Fourth gets 98,000. Fifth gets 97,500. Sixth gets 97,250. 144th gets 84,700.
In the first three playoff events, first will earn 9,000 points, second 5,000, and third 3,400. The 70th place finisher gets 100 points. In the Tour Championship, the points go up to 10,300, 6,200 and 3,900 respectively. The 30th place finisher will get 395 points. So it's all starting to make sense now, right? If not you can check out the full list here.
Wait there's more! Although 144 players make the first playoff event - the Barclays Classic - only 120 will move on to the Deutsche Bank Championship the next week, and a mere 70 will make the BMW Championship the week after that. Finally, the Tour Championship will feature only 30 survivors. At first, The Tour wasn't going to cut the fields down, but people started making fun of a playoff system in which all the players moved on. So they changed their minds and created the Frankenplayoffs.
Number Four: The "Little" Tournaments Can Mean Big Things
At the beginning of this whole FedExCup thing, I wondered if it would make the smaller tournaments (like those running concurrent with the WGC events) even more irrelevant. These tourneys offer only half the FedExCup points available in the "big" tournaments.
I'm happy to report that the FedExCup race might just bring an added bit of stature to the smaller tournaments of the season. While these tournaments have always served as career stepping stones (who couldn't use a $720,000 payday?), now they can also launch a player into the postseason. They only have half the points of the "big" tournaments, but those points can make a difference.
Case in point: Steve Flesch moved up 61 spots from 140th to 79th by winning the Reno-Tahoe Open. Instead of being on the bubble, Flesch is now safely in the field for the first round of The Playoffs. Even the guys that finished T2 at Reno - Charles Warren and Kevin Stadler - are likely going to make the Playoffs on the strength of one solid tournament.
Number Three: Wildcards Are Not Going to Win… Probably
Anyone outside the Top 30 entering the Playoffs can most likely forget winning the FedExCup. It is at best an uphill (or mountain) climb. According to Steve Dennis of the PGA Tour staff, it will most likely take two wins in four weeks (and no one outside the Top 10 has two wins this year, let alone in four weeks).
Tiger will probably be the top seed (big surprise), though Singh and Furyk have a shot at catching him with a first-second and first-first finish, respectively. However, neither Singh nor Furyk are scheduled to play in the season-ending Wyndham Championship.
Finally, there's no hope for the player who finishes 145th or for Michelle Wie. The FedExCup has no provision for alternates or sponsors' exemptions. If someone in the field is sick or injured, then the field will simply be smaller.
Number Two: Who's Money?
One of the most interesting pages that I found in researching the FedExCup is the "Heat Index" on the PGA Tour site. It shows, among other things, who has been placing high in their most recent starts. While everyone knows Tiger is money, you might be surprised (I was!) to learn that another player is more consistently earning good money this year than Tiger. Can you guess who? Here's a hint: he stands "too close to the ball" and he's the poster boy for homegrown swings.
Yup, Jim Furyk has finished in the top 30 in each of his last eight starts (100%). Tiger is T2 (with K.J. Choi, Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, and Vijay Singh) at 87.5%. I was surprised to see Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose in that mix.
OK, I know what you're saying, so that's just top 30 (which is on average a mere $25,000). What about the real money?
When it comes to making the top 10 in their last eight starts, four players are tied at 62.5 percent: Tiger, Furyk, Rose, and (surprise!) Scott Verplank. All would be good picks to advance through the playoffs (or to win the PGA). Mahan is at 50%, along with Rory "Foot-in-Mouth" Sabbatini and Brandt Snedeker (another surpise).
Maybe Rory should try calling out Furyk for a change.
Number One: Getting Stiffed for the Loop
"And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice." - Carl Spackler, Caddyshack.
Think getting a mere dozen balls for caddying is poor payment? All $35 million in the FedExCup prize fund ($10 million to the winner alone) goes into a retirement fund that the golfer won't receive for quite some time. Since caddies are paid a percentage (often 10 percent) of a player's winnings, the caddies may also have to wait for their bonuses. Oh sure, some of the players will probably front their caddies the money while others will think of it as a retirement fund (though I somehow doubt the caddies will earn interest on that money), but all in all, the sizzle of a $10M prize is tempered by the realization that golfers won't see the cash for 30 years or so.
But rest assured, caddies will not be totally stiffed in all of this. Each of the four tournaments that are part of the FedExCup Playoffs also pay off just like other tournaments. So there's tournament money and FedExCup points to be made. So when it comes right down to it, it's kind of just like the rest of the year… except that the usual huge purse has been replaced with an incredible collossal purse.
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