The Round Table: golf gambling, Viktor and wrapping up the last wrap-around

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 more tweaks to the playoff format and another massive increase in prize money, the FedEx Cup is in the books for 2023. What’s your take on the format, prize money and the way the season winds up now?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I probably shouldn’t comment because I’ve never taken the time to try to understand the whole FedEx playoff structure and format.  But on principle, taking the top 30 guys and letting them duke it out is reasonable.  The $18million top prize is obscene, but apparently necessary to keep the PGA Tour players satisfied that they’re not underpaid in the professional sports industry.  It’s too bad that the “season” winds up in late August.  I prefer the old days when it went to the end of September, and the new “season” started shortly after the New Year… with the “silly season” of made-for-TV events during October-December.  I’m guess I’m just a fossil.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): The format is OK., But I still don’t understand why they can’t hand out two trophies, one for year-long dominance, and one for the week itself. That’s about my only criticism. The staggered start leaderboard seems to be over simplified, but it sort of works. I think Hovland did play the best through the Fed Ex playoffs, especially the last two weeks, he’s the deserving Champion.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I admit I follow things very well until after the cut to the top 30. Once the ‘handicapping’ begins, the standings become a jumbled mess for me. However, as soon as the first round is completed, it starts to make more sense. I like the huge first prize and believe every tour event should have exactly the same prize breakdown as they have now except there should be an additional $1M for the winner. Another ‘take’ might be to have everyone in the top 30 start at zero for the last event. Naturally, the players wouldn’t like that because somehow, they want the season-long body of work to be rewarded but currently, it isn’t a real play-off.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I still can’t quite get my head around “playoffs” in golf.  But if they want to do something in the way of an end of year playoff system, I think the one that have is pretty good.  It gives some advantage to those that played best coming into the playoffs, but clearly not enough as the top guy didn’t hold on to his two-stroke advantage.  It doesn’t excite me like playoffs in other sports because I think that winning a major is way more important than winning the playoffs, so I don’t find myself glued to the tv for East Lake like I would be for Augusta or The Open.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Well, when I first tuned in Curt Byrum was saying ‘there’ every second word and Scheffler had a five-stroke lead. More than reasons enough to turn it off. Later while I was away, a tournament broke out, briefly. It was fun to watch Hovland and Schauffele put on a clinic Sunday, but that was it. There was no gravitas, no “playoff” excitement. Unlike Nantz and CBS, no one in the audience cared about the prize money, much less who made the most from the obscene final purse (eight players made more than $1 million). The format doesn’t work. Golf is not a playoff sport. As I opined on FedEx opening day way back when, fahgettaboutit!

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I still don’t like the handicap strokes, even if Scottie Scheffler doesn’t know what to do with them, and the prize money is obscene. The Tour obviously wants to reward the season long top finishers and try to make sure some dog at the back of the pack can’t overtake the leaders. However, there is no drama in the rankings and no real playoff. Maybe the best they can hope for is an epic battle between red-hot players like we saw last weekend.

Viktor Hovland just played the best two weeks of his life to capture the final two events of the season and pocket $22 million. Along with a third win at The Memorial in May, was it enough to put him in the conversation for Player of the Year?

Deeks: It certainly puts him in the conversation, and he joins Scheffler, Rahm, and McIlroy as a “Big Four”, for the time-being.  But I’d still pick Scheffler for POY; when he didn’t win, he certainly hovered.

Loughry: He had a great year no doubt about it, you can make a Player of the Year (POY) case for Hovland. You could make a case for Rahm (with a Major and 4 W’s) or Scheffler as well. I’d give the nod to Rahm, for player of the year though, he was a little more dominant, he just stuck a little the last month or so, but his full body of work is impressive: 20 starts, 4 wins (including the Masters) 2 runner ups, and 10 Top 10’s. Impressive.

Schurman: Hovland has accomplished a very rare feat with his victory. First, is the example he set for Norwegians to accept golf as a realistic choice of activities. Second, the TV coverage revealed that Norwegians are the happiest population in the world. At a time when some of the most stable countries in the world are setting themselves up for civil war places to enjoy civility, peace and respect for others will have great appeal. Victor’s win could affect Norway’s tourism in much the same way as Abba had a great bearing on tourism in Sweden. Simply put, a really decent, pleasant, considerate representative will appeal to people worldwide. BTW Jon Rahm is Player of the Year with four victories including a major. Until you concede The Players Championship is the 5th major, winning $18M is just money and that’s all it is.

Rule: I think anyone who wins the Tour Championship has to be in the conversation, since they were good enough to be there and then won the final big event.  He also played well in the majors, but didn’t win one, so that will be the difference in the end.  I believe Jon Rahm should win given his 2023 resume, which includes of course the Green Jacket.

Quinn: Sure, Hovland’s otherworldly run puts him in the barroom discussion, and he did beat three of the game’s best fields when Jack’s event is included. But the award is for the ‘year’, and it’s voted by the players. Scheffler needed to play well at East Lake. Pretty sure the guys will give the nod to Rahm’s four wins including the green jacket. That counts for a lot.

Mumford: Hovland’s stats put him in the same area code as Scheffler, Rahm and McIlroy. Three wins, one second, nine Top 10s and no missed cuts is an amazing year but, in my opinion, it’s not quite good enough. Rahm has the edge because he has the most wins (4) and he’s the only one of the four to win a major. Great stats and fat pay cheques are nice, but reputations are built on majors and other victories.

During the BMW Championship, a fan interrupted Max Homa while he was putting, asking him to “miss the putt”. It turns out the fan was gambling on the action. Betting on the PGA Tour has become common place this year and seems to be encouraged by the Tour and the networks broadcasting it. Presumably there are huge sponsorship dollars involved. But it also sets up a situation where fans could influence outcomes with unsportsmanlike behaviour. What’s your feeling about legalized gambling on pro golf?

Deeks: I’m dead against it — any sport.  But frankly, it’s been going on since the 1880s, and has undoubtedly led to abuse and cheating and dishonest outcomes from day one.  It’s just legal and in the open now, and open to anyone with $5 to lay down… including this Yahoo who should somehow find his way into the Fulton County jail for a night or two.  Along with Mr. Trump, who claims he won the Club Championship at Bedminster over the weekend, shooting a 67 in the final round.  You da man, Don!

Loughry: I think now that gambling is more formalized, you’d be naïve to think “fixing” or influence won’t be more of a thing now and going forward, likely more so than in years past. As for on site disturbances, I really hope that doesn’t become a thing, but I can see if you’re gambling on site how you might be tempted to influence the outcome, especially after a few too many libations.

Schurman: I’ve never liked it, but I do like the frills afforded by the new-found cash. I like the simpler times of the Norman Rockwell America, but I also like air conditioning, TV/computers, jet travel and longer tee shots. In other sports, idiots yell things to distract the players and the game. Golf has always been a quiet game easily affected by sharp, sudden noise. If the noise was constant, the idiots wouldn’t be so effective. However, the times that I love and remember are probably gone and someone else will decide what the standard of decorum we can expect will be. Very few civilizations in history enjoyed better times than we did. If you don’t like listening to idiots perhaps you should attend more Champions Tour events.

Rule: It’s not just betting that has influenced fan behaviour at PGA Tour events, particularly in the US. Fans are obnoxious and long before guys were praying (out loud) for a missed putt, we had screams of “get in the hole” or “mashed potatoes”.  So, I’m not sure betting has increased the annoying comments from fans.  It’s clearly an important part of the fan experience in the Tour’s view, since they advertise it so much. I don’t get it myself, thankfully I’m not addicted to sports gambling, I’d hate to be watching a tournament just to hope for certain guys to “miss the putt”.

Quinn: It’s sickening. Instead of shutting down the offshore books, the governments and the major sports have opened their own shops, prostituting themselves at the expense of their youngest and least-sophisticated “fans.” Have seen the 20-somethings doing Phils, thumbing their phones pre-game/round/match and then making in-game parlays encouraged by that Breaking Bad guy pimping during Jays games. It is so cynical, so amoral. Maybe it will take some yahoo loser disrupting a player’s critical stroke at a Major to force golf to rethink swimming with the sharks.

Mumford: For sure it could influence outcomes. Golf might be the most susceptible sport to cheating since it just needs to involve a single player. A missed putt at the appropriate time could be worth a lot of money to the wrong people. Gambling, legalized and otherwise, is a huge business and now sports leagues and broadcasters want their piece of the action too. But gambling is an addictive behaviour, and it shouldn’t be encouraged or promoted. Cigarette advertising has been largely banned. So too should ads promoting on-line sports wagering. They make it sound so innocent. It’s fun until somebody loses their house or worse. I never liked this in the first place and still predict it will come back to haunt them.

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

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