News & Opinion

An objection to Tour's playoff projections

The problem with projections, whether it’s a presidential race, a Labor Day telethon or a FedEx Cup, is that they don’t mean anything. A weather forecast has value – it helps us plan our lives. Golf tournaments muddled by mathematics and marketing? Talk about a game of pin the tail on the jackass.

Slip on the blindfold, start up the spin. Since flipping the switch on its postseason shindig back in 2007, the PGA Tour has bombarded us with projections, assuming we care where the appropriately named Jhonattan Vegas will land in the standings if he makes this putt. After 11 years of worthless data and fluctuating strata, enough is enough.

I have objections to these projections. Just let these guys play. Add up the 72 numbers on Sunday night and we’ll see where everyone stands. I don’t need to know before then. The beauty of sports is that it’s the only thing on my flat screen that isn’t scripted. When you intrude on its precious future, you dunk the drama in a gallon of trauma.

It’s bad enough that 125 golfers make the playoffs, or that it takes two weeks just to burn off all the competitive fat. When Daniel Berger walks off the 18th green in Boston teetering in 69th place on the FedEx Cup countdown, my first and only reaction is: Really? I thought the kid was having a better year than that. Seriously, does Berger deserve to advance to Philly? He’s had 35 weeks to secure his position and make a very large amount of money.

Besides, the 2019 season starts in about 20 minutes. If there’s one thing to be sure about the PGA Tour, there’s more where that came from.

Projections simply don’t work in pro golf – just ask Hillary Clinton. Everybody is at a different place on the course, having struck a different number of shots, so real-time assessments are a totally fluid entity. It’s easy to understand what the PGA Tour is striving for, but any attempt to manufacture suspense gets lost in the constant shift of competitive activity.

You start the day 83rd in the standings, shoot 31 on the front nine and move up 40 spots, then triple bogey the 10th and fall back to 67th? It’s nothing more than meaningless drivel from the Department of Useless Information. All that matters is the score you bring to the clubhouse, at which point you have at least 12 hours to sort out the situation and figure out a way to jump at least 40 spots the next day.

The game moves way too slowly to generate an accelerated heartbeat with viewers, unless it’s a Sunday afternoon. Last month’s PGA Championship was a perfect example. Goliath vs. Hercules, abetted by a small but able supporting cast, with the Dude in the Red Shirt missing every fairway on the front but still roaring into the picture with a remarkable 64.

In the end, what slayed Goliath was that faulty driver, leaving a younger man with the body of a Chippendales dancer and the nerve of a jewelry thief to prevail in a display of outrageous skill. No projections, no moving on to next Thursday, no one having a lousy year but leaping past four dozen others because he shot a 65.

Just Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka duking it out in the courtyard amid a whole lot of noise. That’s golf. That’s exciting. And that obviously can’t happen every week, but when it does, the competition creates a bedlam that can’t be contrived no matter how long you crunch the numbers or how much you actually care.

Our game doesn’t need any excess arithmetic. The Tour has a business to run, and a vital part of that enterprise involves marketing its product to a large and very educated audience via television. Just like the other big sports, except that football and basketball games are over in about three hours, but a golf tournament takes four days to play.

It’s a slow boat to paydirt, a long walk to a $10 million house, and if constant changes in the standings are delivered with good intentions, the Tour’s projections leave us wandering in too many directions. I hope Daniel Berger walks away with the whole enchilada. Nothing makes a man feel better than a severe case of heartburn.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com