Feinstein: Koepka, Not McIlroy, Should Have Won POY

Rory McIlroy is great, John Feinstein says, but he couldn't touch Brooks Koepka this season; no one could

John Feinstein
September 17, 2019 - 3:32 pm
Brooks Koepka Rory McIlroy

USA Today Images


There are so many awards handed out in sports nowadays that most of them float by us almost without notice. On Monday, I got a release from the Naval Academy saying that quarterback Malcolm Perry had received FIVE awards for his play in the Mids win on Saturday over East Carolina.

There are watch lists for everything; awards for just about every position in every sport. Heck, there are awards now for the best long-snapper at both the college and pro football levels. I’m fine with that—those guys deserve some recognition—but it does get dizzying.
There are three Player-of-the-year Awards involving golfers who play on the PGA Tour. The PGA of America—which puts on the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup—has a points system that picks a winner. All points systems are arbitrary to some degree but at least there’s no bias when adding up the points.
This year, Brooks Koepka, who won three tournaments, including the PGA Championship and finished in the top FIVE in all four major championships, won the PGA Award. It seemed pretty clear-cut to me and to everyone who follows golf.
But then came the PGA Tour’s award, which is decided by a super-secret ballot of the players. Here’s what the tour tells us about the award: who won. Here’s what it doesn’t tell us—how many players voted; who finished second or third or fourth or the margin of victory between the winner and the runner-up. Was it one vote or 50? Or 100? Sorry, not telling. We are told that—typically—about 45 to 60 percent of those eligible, vote. That’s it.
Last week, the tour grandly announced that the winner of its super-secret vote was Rory McIlroy, who apparently got more votes from his fellow players than Koepka. There may be no athlete on earth I like and admire more than McIlroy. In addition to being a great player, McIlroy is bright, funny, honest and almost always willing to talk to the media AND answer questions honestly, whether in a press conference or one-on-one.
All of that said, there’s no way he’s the Player-of-the-Year. He had a wonderful year: three wins, two of them lucrative events run by the tour: The Players Championship and The Tour Championship—which meant, under the latest of the tour’s faulty points systems, he also won the FedEx Cup and the $15 million bonus that goes with it.
So, if we’re voting for the golfer who had the most lucrative year, McIlroy’s a clear-cut winner. If it’s a popularity contest, McIlroy almost certainly wins. But here’s how the award should be decided: Who had the year other players would most want to have on their CV?
McIlroy’s won four majors already, but none since 2014—including this past season. In fact, in the four most important tournaments of 2019, his best finish was a T-8 at the U.S. Open. His other finishes were T-9, T-21 and a missed cut at the British Open, a huge disappointment for him since it was played in his home country, Northern Ireland, for the first time since 1951.
As I mentioned Koepka’s four major finishes were 1; 2; T-2 and T-4. What matters most is the win at the PGA. Even putting aside the huge difference in their overall record in the majors this year, Koepka adding a major TITLE is his trump card. As McIlroy often says, “When I tee it up at a tournament, I’m not thinking about the money, I’m thinking about winning a title.”
The PGA Tour isn’t even a little bit subtle about trying to sell the media and the public on the notion that The Players Championship is somehow a “fifth” major. The tour will tell you, "Oh no, we don’t do that,” but that’s a flat out lie. In their silly points system, the winner of the Players receives 600 FedEx Cup points. How many points does a major champion receive? You guessed it—600. A major champion received a five-year exemption to play on the tour. Players champion? Yup, five years. Worst of all is the Hall of Fame ballot: Consider the following criteria: “A player must have at least 15 official victories…or at least two victories among the following events: The Masters, THE PLAYERS Championship, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
The caps for THE PLAYERS are the tour’s—not mine. Note that it comes SECOND on the list, just in case anyone thinks it somehow doesn’t belong with the other four.
But the tour isn’t pushing it as a fifth major, is it?
Guys who play on the tour would love for The Players to be considered a fifth major because the more prestige an event has, the more lucrative it is off the golf course. You can bet the tour loved the notion that McIlroy, by winning the two biggest events it runs, had a better year than Koepka, who was dominant in the four events the tour does NOT run.
The tour is famous for being the least transparent major sport in the world. It won’t even announce when players are fined for misdeeds or when they’re suspended for an accumulation of misdeeds—or anything else. Brad Faxon, the former Ryder Cupper, was fined once for telling reporters he’d been fined. Seriously.
When Tim Finchem was commissioner, he defended the secrecy by insisting it might be bad for the tour’s image if it announced fines. Forget being honest with the public by announcing fines or suspensions; let’s protect our image. Everyone knows Tiger Woods was fined for profanity more than any player in golf history, but no one knows exactly how much or how often.
I have always believed if you have the privilege of voting for something—whether it be a Hall of Fame; Player-of-the-Year or an All-Star team, you should be required to tell people who you voted for and who you didn’t vote for and stand behind your vote. I’ve voted in the weekly AP basketball poll for more than 20 years and my vote—along with the other 69—is revealed every Monday by the AP. Do I get hate tweets on occasion from fans of teams who believe their team’s been slighted? Sure. Comes with the job. If I don’t like it, I can give up my vote.
Not only will the tour not reveal individual votes, it won’t reveal the vote totals. This is a joke, and it’s a shame more in the golf media won’t call the tour out on it. But the people with the loudest voice—TV-types—are “partners” with the tour, so they aren’t going to touch anything that resembles an issue—like the silliness of a player being fined for saying he got fined. In TV-golf-world, no one’s ever been fined and everyone who plays on the tour is an absolute shining example of all that’s good in the world.
For the record, the third Player-of-the-Year Award is chosen by the Golf Writers Association of America. As a member, I get a vote. I will vote for Koepka for the simple reason that, among the four men who won major titles this year: Woods, Gary Woodland and Shane Lowry being the others, he had the best year. I do not believe someone should win the Player-of-the-Year award if he doesn’t win a major.
Of course, those who disagree with me will tell you the award should be about consistency over an entire year, not the four majors. No. That’s a tiebreaker, nothing more, if there are four different major champions. The award is supposed to be for GREATNESS, not for consistency.
It should also—in all cases—be decided, regardless of winner—by votes the tour is willing to share with the public.
The tour’s approach to transparency reminds me of a Seinfeld moment. George and Jerry are trying to figure out exactly where they are in Los Angeles. George turns to a passerby and says, “Excuse me, where are we?”
“Earth,” the guy replies.
He should work for the tour.
John Feinstein’s most recent book is, “Benchwarmers,” a Young Adult novel about a girl good enough to compete on a boys sixth-grade soccer team who is being denied the chance to play. His book, “The Prodigy,” which is about a 17-year-old with a chance to win the Masters who has to fight off agents, club reps and his own father, all of whom want to turn him into a human ATM machine, is now out in paperback. His most recent non-fiction work, “Quarterback—Inside The Most Important Position in Professional Sports,”—is also just out in paperback. John’s website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com