News & Opinion

The ties that blind: PGA Tour and FedEx

Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson at 2020 U.S. Open
Bryson DeChambeau (left) and Dustin Johnson have had exceptional years, but who’s to say that Johnson’s was better than DeChambeau’s? The PGA Tour, that’s who, and the decision was premature, John Hawkins contends.

To appease its main sponsor, the PGA Tour prematurely delivers its year-long top prize, denying Bryson DeChambeau the honor

There’s a pretty good chance you missed last week’s announcement that Dustin Johnson was named 2019-20 Player of the Year in a vote among his peers. The PGA Tour chose to release this information on the same day the NFL was wrapping up Week 1 of its empty-stadium season, not 24 hours after professional tennis completed its U.S. Open, while the NBA and NHL moved deeper into the crucial stages of their altered playoff formats.

Maybe the Tour wanted to hide the stupidity of conducting its POY process before two of the year’s three major championships actually had been played, so it went ahead and dropped this breadcrumb of a news item on one of the busiest sports days ever. Nobody would notice how ridiculous a decision this was, how disrespectful it is to carry on as if the U.S. Open and Masters don’t really matter. When it comes to mindless self-absorption, the collection of suits who run pro golf’s mightiest empire would make ideal cast members in a less-animated sequel to “Despicable Me.”

OK, fine. Why get so worked up over something nobody cares about, anyway? Well, because Bryson DeChambeau, who won that big tournament Sunday at Winged Foot and could fill the role previously played by Carell, piled up seven consecutive top-10 finishes in the heart of the abbreviated season and has won twice in 2020, including the biggest event so far. In its very finite wisdom, however, Camp Ponte Vedra decided to include last week’s U.S. Open and November’s edition of the Masters in the 2020-21 schedule.

Ah, creative bookkeeping. Johnson deftly avoided leaderboards all year, grabbed a backdoor triumph in Hartford, then got hot for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer. He’s your 2020 POY even though he spent an extended period of time MIA, which is an LOL even if you don’t have much of a sense of humor.

What are we to think if Xander Schauffele wins at Augusta National in seven weeks? Here’s a guy who won the Tour Championship by three shots but doesn’t get credit for the victory because some courier in Tennessee didn’t like the idea of two champions being crowned on the last day of the season. The 30-man finale in Atlanta has become nothing more than a few tin cans rattling off the street from the back end of the FedEx Cupmobile.

Thus, Johnson became the only guy since Bob Goalby (1968 Masters) to win a Tour event at which he didn’t beat everyone else. Wasn’t that $15 million bonus enough of a reward for losing to Schauffele by four? Roberto De Vicenzo lost to Tommy Aaron’s pencil. Schauffele was robbed by a purple-and-orange logo on a truck that drops off packages on your doorstep. In becoming pathetically subservient to the whims and wants of its primary business partners, the Tour has completely lost sight of what really matters.

Maybe FedEx can deliver a few more blindfolds to Jay Monahan’s office by tomorrow morning.

As the one and only Peter Kostis recently told me, the Tour originally was run by a former pro golfer (Deane Beman). He was succeeded by a political lobbyist (Tim Finchem), who handed off his commissioner’s badge to a marketer. Monahan was infatuated enough with FedEx to pull the WGC gathering out of Ohio, where it had prospered since the inception of the series, and move it to Memphis, where the world’s largest carrier pigeon parks most of its airplanes.

A sweetheart deal, you could say, except it wasn’t very sweet, and it didn’t have much heart.

At this point, the Player of the Year Award has become nothing more than a silly punchline. Rory McIlroy swiped the honor last year from Brooks Koepka, whose three victories included a major title and that relocated WGC. He was trumped, however, by a long list of fellow tour pros who don’t appreciate his condescending candor. Letting the players themselves choose the POY is a comical conflict of interest. It’s like allowing only White House staffers to vote on the president.

Why get so worked up? Because this makes for back-to-back occasions in which the Jack Nicklaus Award very likely went to the wrong guy. It harkens back to 2007, when Steve Stricker won consecutive Comeback Player of the Year awards, an achievement so inexplicable that the accolade was soon abolished. Popularity contests don’t work in sports. The greatest basketball player who ever lived was a selfish, aloof and utterly obsessed teammate who won six NBA titles in eight years.

Tiger Woods was so damn good that all the men trying to beat him, the ones with POY ballots in their pockets, had no choice but to ignore his myriad flaws and check the box next to his name on an annual basis. Johnson isn’t exactly Mr. Gregarious, and one has to wonder whether he cares all that much about receiving a citation that should have been delivered by FedEx two months from now, but the coronavirus has messed up things a lot more important than a cross-eyed golf season or the designation as its best player.

I hope Schauffele wins the Masters by 10, then hires UPS to haul the trophy home.

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