How do you solve the enduring puzzle of the Tour Championship?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

After winning the AIG Women’s Open, an exuberant Sophia Popov got a dose of reality when informed last week that she would not be receiving the usual 5-year exemption on the LPGA Tour that comes with winning a major. The reason? At the time of her victory, she was not a full member of the LPGA. Commissioner Mike Whan is taking a lot of heat over this one because the arcane rule had a chance to be revised in the past few years when other non-members won majors. Whan says he’ll review the rule after the season, although public sentiment is heavily weighted towards him doing something immediately. Ian Poulter summed it up best on Twitter, “This story is absolutely embarrassing to the LPGA and quite frankly embarrassing to the game of golf. Somebody wake up and figure this out. To the best story in golf for a very long time to the worst story in a few days.” Should Whan make an exception for Popov?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Yes, he should absolutely make an exception for Sophia Popov and revise the ridiculous rule immediately.  Do the rules exist for the rules, or for the players and the fans?  If the latter, who could possibly benefit from keeping Sophia out?  Letting her in would benefit everyone… she may well be a flash-in-the-pan, but she’s exciting to watch and attractive to look at, and surely that’s what the LPGA needs more of.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well, sadly, its simply a hot topic right now, other past non-exempt players have won, and they never corrected it. WHY NOT? Saying you’ll take a look at it now, why wasn’t this looked at when it previously happened? If it’s happened multiple times and it hasn’t been “looked at” or “corrected”  I ask why not? Huge error on their part. Do I believe this needs to be changed? YES. If you win a Major, you get the 5-year LPGA Tour exemption, full stop.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: Watched the media release made by Mike Whan. I thought he defended the first issue about qualifying for the ANA very well when he said, “the field is set for 2020”. What he didn’t say but I thought he should have addressed is whether Popov qualifies for the 2021 ANA. Regarding Popov earning a five-year exemption instead of the two she did earn Whan missed a huge marketing opportunity. Instead of saying “there have been a few others who won a major but were not given the 5-year exemption because the rule had not been discussed by the committee”, he should have announced Popov, and the other players in the same situation would ALL be granted the 5-year exemption retroactively. If the other players were given a 5-year exemption that stated today all would be well and the LPGA could move on.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): No. Those are the rules and I like that he stuck to them despite the pressure from the public. Popov did not have LPGA Tour status, so she got the two-year exemption that she was entitled to which, by the way, will still be a tremendous boon for her career. If she keeps playing at this level, she’ll have no problem locking down her future status on the LPGA Tour over the next two years. And if she doesn’t pull it off in that time frame, then I think this two-year rule will actually appear pretty fair in hindsight.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): First off, I do think the LPGA has to review that rule and get it changed, and perhaps should have by now.  It shouldn’t matter that they are technically an LPGA member.  If they just qualify for a major, there’s obviously a reason they are there.  If they then go on to win, there’s no doubt they should get the same exemption as a tour member.  Saying that, given the rules that exist, I think Mike Whan did the right thing and didn’t make an exception for Popov, that would just open a whole can of worms.  But I’m glad to hear they are looking at changing the rule.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It shouldn’t be an exception. The brainiacs on the LPGA Tour brain trust should simply admit that the rule is ill-advised, should have been deleted years ago, and retroactively admit indefensible stupidity for not wiping it out before the ink was dry. The world of golf looks forward to watching Popov on the Tour for the next five years, and beyond.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Absolutely! Give Popov the exemption and everything that comes with it. She earned it. If Mike Whan has trouble making an exception, then retro-actively give the exemption to any other players that got screwed by this silly rule. Then change the rule. Nobody likes it when they think something has happened, then the lawyers get involved, change the outcome and tell us it’s all explained in the fine print. Sports should be inherently transparent. We shouldn’t have to read the fine print.

The FedEx Cup playoffs end this week with the Tour Championship. Last year, the PGA Tour revised the format (again) so that the FedEx Cup points leader started the tournament at -10 and the rest of the 30-man field received correspondingly fewer strokes. This eliminated any possibility that one player could win the tournament while another won the FedEx Cup. After seeing it in practice last year, are you satisfied that the PGA Tour has finally found the right format for their year-end event? 

Deeks: Gee, I wish I could say “You bet, they got it right!”  And they may well have.  But I just haven’t figured out, and probably never will — or (more importantly) CARE — about the FedEx playoffs and format, and the obscene amount of money these millionaires play for.  That said, that was one helluva finish yesterday… DJ’s putt to tie, then Rahm’s 66-footer to win.  That’s what turns my crank, not the cheques they receive.

Loughry: Meh, the staggered leaderboard start is good in theory, but it’s still hard to watch and comprehend. It really would be weird if a guy won two of the tournaments leading into the Tour Championship, that he’d only earn a two shot lead? I think the two victories would earn you more of a lead than just two strokes. I still don’t know if it works, as there are a few scenario’s like the one I mention that seem out of place. Another oddity is using points all year until the final event when they get converted into strokes.

Schurman: I enjoyed the event last year and I am still curious about the format. It seems OK, but I can’t help waiting for a ‘shoe to drop’. BTW I do like the 3-event playoff instead of the previous four events, but I think the points for every player should be X3 in each event not just the winner. That would reduce the impact of the season-long points and make the playoffs more important.

Kaplan: 10 shots is a lot to overcome for the group of players starting at the bottom of the leaderboard but at least it’s straight-forward. The old system was bonkers. No one likes having to refer to a list of 20+ variables that need to occur in order for the 23rd-ranked player in the field to win. They got it right.

Rule: I like it.  There’s no perfect scenario, but it gives anyone a chance to actually win and it’s much easier for the average fan to follow.  The lead up to the final event should carry some weight but ultimately the champion should win the final event to win the title.

Quinn: Contriving changes to a contrivance is a pug’s game. There ain’t no there there from day one. The gate paying public (pre-pandemic), what’s left of the golf media, the networks (the shills discounted) have not embraced the FedEx thingy as anything more than a massively expensive attempt to combat the Fall season of the NFL and US college football, and that thing that used to be called America’s game. There’s no correct ‘format’ for something that shouldn’t be happening.

Mumford: It’s hard to find adjectives strong enough to describe the abject stupidity of this format. Would baseball start runners on third base? Would the IOC allow Usain Bolt to start a race at the 10-metre mark, just because he won the previous two heats? Apart from the fact that the FedEx Cup playoffs are pointless (they prove nothing) and obscene (see prize money), the Tour Championship could still produce a golfer who shoots the lowest score for four days and doesn’t win. Tell me that’s not confusing. Or moronic. Or …. Where’s my thesaurus?

After watching CBS and NBC cover the various events on the PGA Tour for the past season, which network do you think is doing a better job and what comments can you offer to improve your viewing experience?

Deeks: Other than the Masters, I make a point of not watching golf events on CBS.  Nantz and Faldo bore me to tears, and I don’t think CBS has done one innovative thing in golf broadcasting for over 20 years.  NBC does a much better job, and Dan Hicks and Paul Azinger are a good team, with a solid crew on the course.  The now-continuous use of shot tracker is a useful device.  I’d like to see more use of drone flyovers, to give a sense of what the hole entails.  (On the other hand, what exactly is the point of Goodyear blimp coverage?)  And with all the money the networks make on golf, I wish they’d spend a little of it on short pre-produced profiles of players and spare us the time wasted on watching players line up their shots and putts.  There are some good back stories out there, we should know more about some of these guys/women.

Loughry: Uh, this is like picking between death by knives or drowning. So, far not a big fan of either. It just seems messy, and I blame the producers, not all of the announcers. And for the love of GOD can we please go easy on the commercials, especially the last hour of (so called) coverage. I could point to many situations but it didn’t even seem like Mackenzie Hughes was playing on Sunday until oh, shoot, we need to show the drama for him needing a par on the last hole to make the top 30. Yet EVERY OTHER PLAYER in the top 10 was shown throughout the day….except Mac (and yes he was in the top 10 pretty much the whole day). Yeah, if you have the means, go back and watch it. Brutal.

Schurman: You have to hand it to NBC for their announcers; Azinger, Sands, Feherty and Maltby are fantastic! When you add their ‘secret’ power, Mark Rolfing who is one of the best, you get a great show! CBS has their stars too! I’m a Faldo fan, I like Ian Baker-Finch and Dottie Pepper. When you add their ‘secret’ power, Frank Nobilo you also get a great show! The last time we discussed a similar subject regarding announcers, someone on the Round Table suggested Geoff Ogilvie, I wish had thought of that! He would be terrific! As far as changes, I think the non-tour-player announcers should comment far less on the actual playing of certain shots and CBS is trying to work out the details of the players being mic’d which would be fantastic!

Kaplan: To be completely honest, I’ve started muting the broadcasts this year in favour of background tunes and I do not miss the commentary! Those guys are brutal, regardless of the network.

Rule: I don’t know if I notice much of a difference between the two to be honest.  Jim Nantz is still the best in the game, so that gives CBS a slight advantage, but otherwise I don’t notice.  I’m there to watch the play, I don’t log on to listen to the commentators.  I wish they would follow the lead of the European Tour coverage (I’ve been saying this for years!), where they show mostly golf, and not just the three players in contention plus Tiger.  Leave it to me as the fan to follow along and figure things out.

Quinn: The solution is very simple — record, play back with fast-forward through the commercial blizzards, and hit the mute button hard. Done and done. Can’t comment on which network might be doing a better job. Haven’t heard a word of commentary this season, but I’m heartened to note that they have taken my suggestion of years ago and used Shot Tracer wherever possible. Small mercies.

Mumford: Jim Nantz (CBS) and Dan Hicks (NBC) are experienced sports broadcasters and hosts, and both are exceptionally good at their jobs. Everyone else on either network is a former golfer and like the game itself, they have good days and bad. Recently, I thought Paul Azinger the most annoying. Last weekend, he must have said, “This is the most important shot of his life” several dozen times. But on most other occasions, I find Azinger’s insights and experience informative and witty. Apart from the mute button, which can be useful when the announcers start to drone on, the best thing I can suggest is more action, less chatter. It’s fine to focus on the leaders and add some depth to their battles but the tournament consists of a lot of other players who are making great shots or blowing up elsewhere on the course as well. The late, great Henry Longhurst used to say that he would only speak if he could add something to the pictures on the screen. Current producers and commentators might be well advised to follow the same rule.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

2 thoughts on “How do you solve the enduring puzzle of the Tour Championship?

  1. When I opened your link for the World’s best 9 hole courses the first name that stuck out like a sore thumb was “Newmarket” …. I though to myself, surely they can’t be referring to Cardinal’s Executive Course at Kettle Creek. Alas no!

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