News & Opinion

PGA Tour botches delivery with FedEx Cup

The package giant gift-wraps a $70 million-plus box of goodies for the Tour each year, but the playoff events in 2020 won't feature the top players because of the shortened season, and that's no good

In spite of all the uncertainty that the coronavirus pandemic has dumped on our world, those who run professional golf have been feverishly spending their days trying to sort out how we can save the season. The PGA Championship has been moved to August, the U.S. Open will be held in September, the Masters in November and the British Open canceled altogether, based on a revised schedule released Monday.

Whatever golf there is in 2020, the four major championships – and perhaps the Ryder Cup – should be the priorities. Not only is it for history’s sake, but now that we will conduct the majors so late in the season, it will serve as a sign – a collective, national sigh of relief – that maybe we can have a chance at some kind of quasi-normal life again.

WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational
FedEx maintains a massive presence on the PGA Tour, including as a title sponsor in the delivery giant’s corporate home of Memphis, Tenn., an event that could be imperiled by the shortened season this year.

However, the FedEx Cup playoffs should not reach the top of anyone’s list. Understandably, the PGA Tour has done everything in its power to salvage the three-event playoffs, even to cobble together whatever schedule necessary. The Tour even was willing to sacrifice the Players Championship, which commissioner Jay Monahan says is the Tour’s Super Bowl, to save the FedEx Cup. Outside of the majors, the Tour’s expressed priority is the FedEx Cup.

FedEx spends more than $70 million with the Tour every year, which is the answer to the question, “Why worry about the playoffs?” But given the world in which we presently live, golf sponsorship money should be the least of our concerns.

But the real reason the Tour should ditch the playoffs for 2020 is this: It’s not fair to the players. The FedEx Cup is a season-long race to the top 30 and the Tour Championship. It’s meant to showcase a body of work that lasts nearly a year. Whatever schedule the Tour manages to put together before the majors and the playoffs, it will be contrived, at best, which would make a playoff champion less than legitimate.

When the Tour was halted in March after the first round of the Players, the 2019-20 wraparound season was only 22 events old, fewer than half of the 49-tournament season. The Tour, according to a story on PGATour.com, is attempting to schedule regular Tour events into the weeks formerly occupied by the U.S. Open, British Open and the Olympics.

But it has not determined other important factors, such as: When would the Tour resume play, and which tournaments would be salvaged? At this point, only the Wyndham Championship and the three playoff events have dates. The Tour Championship is scheduled for a Sept. 7 Labor Day finish.

Even at that, there probably would be only a handful of Tour events before the major-championship season starts, which is simply not enough tournaments to create a truly representative points list. Even with more top players competing early in the calendar year, most of the highly-ranked players crank up their schedules in Florida and beyond, gearing up for the Players and Masters.

With this schedule, one major – the PGA Championship – would be played before the Tour Championship. None of the top players would be able to pile up points in the Players and the other three majors.

Sungjae-Im.jpg
South Korea’s Sungjae Im holds the lead in the PGA Tour’s season standings.

What that means is the top of the points list would be dominated by players such as Sungae Im, who leads the FedEx Cup standings, and Brendon Todd. Justin Thomas ranks second, and Rory McIlroy is third, which is a good thing. But most of the top players are well down the list.

The argument might be made that everyone has the same chances to play in the fall and in January and February. But that falls flat, considering this unprecedented catastrophe. Tiger Woods has played only three tournaments this season, which should mean something to those trying to complete a schedule.

The sensible solution would be to conduct the playoff events – the Northern Trust, BMW Championship and Tour Championship – as scheduled but remove the playoff implications and make them full-field events.

More players would have playing opportunities, which many will sorely need. Just don’t have a FedEx Cup champion in 2020. It’s unfortunate, but the Tour and FedEx can’t assume they can go on with business as usual. Players who don’t deserve it would receive a pile of money, and the champion would be saddled forever with an asterisk.

Instead, FedEx could take the opportunity to donate the bonus pool – some $70 million – to some kind of coronavirus relief of its choice. Instead of making a few rich Tour players richer, FedEx would be hailed as a corporate hero that puts the needs of suffering Americans ahead of its own cash-rich marketing initiative.

The players will live princely without the extra millions. No one would question the legitimacy of a FedEx Cup champion. And golf would emerge once more as sport’s unquestioned leader of giving to worthy charities.

This rises miles above golf. If any time in our history is literally begging for such selflessness from a company that prides itself on delivering on time, it is now.

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