News & Opinion

Season didn't end with majors. No, really

Granted, the major-championship season went whizzing by much too quickly. It was too condensed, with not enough time for a proper buildup between events. And now that it’s gone, it will be nine months until the Masters.

But that doesn’t mean the golf season is over. Quite a lot still is left to play for – and plenty of reasons to watch.

The PGA Tour created this schedule so that the FedEx Cup playoffs would end before having to compete with college football and the NFL for weekend afternoon TV viewers. The Tour Championship ends Aug. 25.

However, between now and then, most of the game’s best players will show up to grab their share of a pile of money that’s on offer over the next five weeks.

This week, for instance. The WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational is in Memphis, Tenn., and it’s the final WGC event of the season. The purse is a whopping $10.25 million – only the four majors and the Players paid more – and though a handful of the top players are skipping this event, 45 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking will be in the Bluff City.

The only negative about this tournament is that it’s being played at TPC Southwind, which is not a venue worthy of a World Golf Championships event. Almost every year since 1999, this tournament was played in Akron, Ohio, at Firestone Country Club’s South Course, one of the game’s best layouts.

The reason it has moved to TPC Southwind is that FedEx’s headquarters are in Memphis. When the shipping company ponied up $70 million for the FedEx Cup playoffs bonus pool – including $15 million to the winner – the Tour would have played this event at a Topgolf if FedEx had insisted. Regardless, the quality of the field will make it worth watching.

The rest of the PGA Tour tees it up this week in Reno, Nev., for the Barracuda Championship, a modified Stableford event at Montreux G&CC. If you like birdies, the guys in Reno will be trying to shoot the grass off the place.

Next week is the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., at historic Sedgefield Country Club, the last event before the playoffs. This event is usually a worthy watch because in most years, a few players work their way into and out of the top 125, the cutoff for the playoffs, on the FedEx Cup points list.

Then, the playoffs begin. This season, the Tour has reduced the number of playoff events from four to three for a couple of reasons. First, in past seasons, some of the top players would skip one of the tournaments and still be guaranteed to remain in the top 30, which merits a trip to the Tour Championship.

Which leads to the other reason, which is that the top golfers are not going to play four tournaments in a row – five, in a Ryder Cup year. Reducing the number to three guarantees that nearly all of the best players will participate in all playoff events.

The first playoff event is the Northern Trust, which returns to Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, which is watchable for the stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, if nothing else. The field will be cut to the low 70 after the Northern Trust.

The BMW Championship is back in Chicagoland at the No. 3 course at Medinah Country Club, which has hosted three U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships and the 2012 Ryder Cup.

And, as usual, the top 30 after the BMW advance to the Tour Championship, which will be contested at another historic venue, East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Last year’s event was on the game’s map because Tiger Woods completed his comeback and won on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2013, in front of huge, boisterous galleries.

Speaking of Tiger, he’s not playing this week in Memphis, and it’s almost certain that he won’t play at the Wyndham. It’s not even clear whether he’s going to compete at all during the playoffs. He won both PGAs at Medinah, in 1999 and 2006, which would seem to assure that he’d be there. He ranks No. 27 in the FedEx Cup points list, and he seemingly would need to compete in one playoff event to guarantee a spot at East Lake.

This year’s Tour Championship takes on a whole new look. To ensure that the tournament winner also wins the FedEx Cup, the Tour is using a format worthy of NASCAR, which begs for discussion all on its own.

Instead of resetting the points for the Tour Championship, the No. 1 seed will start the tournament at 10 under par. The second seed will start at 8 under, No. 3 at 7 under and so on. Seeds 26-30 will start at even par.

Someone at PGA Tour headquarters thought this was a good idea – better, in fact, than Golf Channel’s Steve Sands at a dry-erase board, adding and subtracting points throughout the back nine on Sunday.

The jury will be out on that one.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf