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Should the PGA update its playoff structure?

Well, another PGA Tour regular season has come to an end, and it is time to turn our attention to the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the 10 million dollar check that goes to the winner. The PGA added this playoff run over a decade ago in an attempt to keep golf interesting after the final major of the season. It has been met with relative success (certainly the ratings were improved over the years before the playoffs) but we still think there are some changes the Tour could make to improve it even more.

You may already know that the entire schedule is changing next season, with the PGA Championship moving to May and the playoffs are moving into the month of August. This should improve the ratings again, as the events will no longer be competing with the NFL and College Football in September. We think the timing is perfect to add some twists to make the whole system even more engaging.

The field

Let’s start with the field itself. Currently, players accumulate FedEx Cup points during the season, and the top 125 in the points race qualify for the first playoff event. However, some years there are some notable exceptions, and this year is no different as Sergio Garcia did not qualify for the first time since the playoffs began. That got us thinking – is there a more interesting way to get the final players into the field?

Here’s one suggestion – have a smaller number of automatic qualifiers (say 120 instead of 125) and have the next 25 spots play a one-day, 36 hole event on the Monday and Tuesday of the first playoff week. From that small field, the top 5 players get the final five spots in the playoffs. This would give players who are coming back from injury or are getting hot late in the season a chance to qualify at he last minute and would make for great television on the days leading up to the first event.

Wildcards? Play-in?

Change the format so players MUST play the events.

Right now, the way the system is set up, some players can opt to skip the first one or more playoff events, with an understanding that they are going to still be in the hunt. Tiger Woods rarely plays all the events when he is qualified, and since he is the biggest draw on tour, the system should be set up in a way that forces every player to want to play each week.

One way to accomplish this is to reduce the priority seeding that applies to the top-ranked players. Yes, it means they may not make it all the way to the finals, but that is the added risk that would make each event even more compelling.

Change the final event

The Tour Championship is held with the final 30 top point earners after the playoffs are complete. Here, a winner is determined, but ultimately it comes down to the top few players going into the event. A complete train wreck would have to take place for the 30th ranked player to win the event. So, why not change the format? Allow the same thirty players to qualify, but make it a match-play event! The top two seeds could receive byes, thus giving them a better chance to win, but it would all come down to each individual match. These matches could be held in prime-time, and would create far more drama, especially with $10,000,000 on the line!

The excitement of the Phil Mickelson/Tiger Woods match in Vegas in November is a clear indicator that viewers, especially casual ones, want to see more of these matchups. Tennis determines their champions this way, as do most of the major team sports. IT seems only logical that the PGA also crown their champion this way. Also, with the added impact that regulated sports betting is going to have on the sport, a match-play format could lead to significantly more viewers who are making wagers on the outcome of individual holes as well as the overall champion.

Baby Steps

Let’s be clear – we don’t expect any of these ideas to be tabled by the PGA anytime soon. At the very least, they have changed the dates of the playoffs, and that is going to make for a better viewership. However, the game is in decline, and most people simply don’t have the time to invest in watching these playoff events. A change in the structure of the events would not only make it more interesting for the competitors, but the impact will also be felt across the sport, media and gambling worlds. We think there is some merit in at least looking at changing some of the rules, and we hope that articles like this one will encourage a healthy debate on the topic.

For now, …we’ll see who comes out on top in the FedEx Cup this year!