Feinstein: PGA Tour's Point System "A Joke"

Tiger Woods and Shane Lowry both won a major this season; neither qualified for the Tour Championship

John Feinstein
August 20, 2019 - 5:52 pm
Tiger Woods

USA Today Images


There’s an old tradition in sports talk radio: If you have nothing to talk about, bring up Pete Rose. The subject of Rose and his banishment from baseball and the Hall of Fame, will always light up the phones.
For years, everyone on the planet had an opinion on Pete Rose.
Now, though, Rose isn’t the lightning rod he once was, if only because he’s now 78 and has receded—for the most part—from the spotlight.
He’s been replaced as sport’s most polarizing figure by Eldrick Tiger Woods, the performer known to most as, simply, Tiger.
I was reminded of this on Sunday when I sent out a tweet noting that the PGA Tour’s ridiculous points system had knocked both Woods and Shane Lowry—two of this year’s four major champions—out of the Tour Championship, an event the tour likes to tout as the climax of the golf season.
The climax of the golf season in odd numbered years like this one is the British Open (or as Europeans and golf snobs call it, “The Open Championship”), which is now the last of the four majors each year. In even numbered years, the climax is the Ryder Cup.
It is NOT the so-called FedEx Cup playoffs, and it certainly isn’t the President’s Cup, which no one outside friends, families and employees of the Golf Channel—because they have no choice—care about.
The playoffs are a good thing. Because FedEx has coughed up SO much money—three $8-million tournaments plus a bonus pool, which pays the winner $15 million—the top players delay their vacations to chase the money.
Good for them and good for the tour. But the playoffs are seriously flawed. To begin with, the tour tries to sell them as something more than they are.
When the schedule was changed this year to move the playoffs to August in order to avoid going head-to-head on television with the NFL’s regular season, the tour put together a series of promos to remind people that the schedule had changed.
“HISTORY WILL BE MADE!” the promos declared. This is in line with the tour’s continued insistence that the Players Championship—another lucrative event—is some sort of fifth major. It makes the folks in Ponte Vedra crazy that the five events in golf that truly matter: the Masters; the U.S. Open; the British Open; the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup are all run by others.
So, they try to sell the myth that their events are somehow in the same class as the big five. It’s sort of harmless—and kind of amusing—when Golf Channel voices refer to, “golf’s five most important events,” trying to imply that the Players is in the same class as the four majors.
I don’t blame my former colleagues for this because I know they’re under orders from on-high to pitch the Players as a major or at least pseudo-major. Just as they’re under orders to never say a discouraging word about golf in the Olympics.
The problem, though, came when the tour created a points system for the playoffs that makes laughable the whole notion that something important is going on.
In its desperation to make people believe that the “race for the FedExCup,” is somehow close to as important as the majors, the tour has blatantly devalued the majors in its points system. A win in a weekly tour event is worth 500 FedExCup points; a win in a World Golf Championship event is worth 550 points. A win in the Players Championship is worth 600 points—the exact same number of points one gets for winning an actual major.
Ask any player if he’d rather win three regular tour events or one major and 100 percent of them will say the one major because it makes you part of history, not just wealthier—although winning a major is worth a lot more than just the prize money.
Tom Kite put it best, when, after 17 tour victories, he won the U.S. Open at the age of 42: “Now I know what the first sentence of my obituary will say.” Exactly.
But the tour plays this silly game making the Players equal to the majors and giving far fewer points for a win in a real major than it should. A major victory should be worth AT LEAST double what a regular tour event is worth.
Which is where my tweet about Woods—and Shane Lowry—comes in.
Because of the screwy points system, which QUADRUPLES points once the playoffs begin, two of 2019’s major champions aren’t in Atlanta this week. I found this amusing. I know few people outside of Ireland care much if Lowry plays, but I know that the tour, Golf Channel and NBC were gagging on Sunday afternoon when it became apparent Woods wasn’t going to be able to defend the title he won a year ago, a victory NBC’s Dan Hicks called, “the greatest comeback in the history of sports!”
I like Hicks, think he’s really good at what he does, but seriously? Ever hear of Ben Hogan? Or, for that matter, Erik Compton, who came back from two heart transplants—the second after a heart attack nearly killed him—to finish second in the U.S. Open? Woods’s comeback, especially when he won the Masters, was impressive, but greatest in the history of sports? No. Not even in golf.
So, I tweeted that the tour had itself to thank for Woods’s absence because of its dumb points system.
Welcome to Pete Rose world.
The tweets came fast and furious and are still coming.
They were divided, for the most part, into three categories: people who clearly can’t stand Woods; people who love Woods and people who actually understand golf and got my point.
Many said this: “Tell him to play more.” Or, “tell him to play better.” Or, “won’t miss him at all. This way we’ll actually get to see other players.” (That one, for the record, makes sense.)
Then there were these: “You wouldn’t care if Woods hadn’t missed.” Or, “he didn’t play well enough. Get over it.”
Those who thought this had anything to do with any affection I have for Woods have clearly never read anything I’ve written about him or heard anything I’ve said about him. If I’m not public enemy number one to Woods, among the media, I’m damn close.
Then there were those who questioned my questioning of the points system. One guy actually wrote, “the past is past, you want to invite Jack (Nicklaus) too?” Woods won the Masters four months ago—and, for the record, Lowry won the British Open LAST MONTH—Nicklaus won his last major 33 years ago.
There were those who couldn’t resist tweeting: “Since when do you care about Tiger?” I really don’t, one way or the other at this point; the tweet was a shot at the PGA Tour, not a defense of Woods.
There were those who got what I was saying and understood that the tour intentionally under-values majors in its points system because it doesn’t control any of the majors. That’s why the over-hyped (by the tour and TV) Players Championship received the same number of points as the four majors. Who are we kidding here?
There were also a few who pointed out that the Masters field was—their word—“weak.”
The Masters usually has about 90 players—some are older ex-champions who tee it up just to be there and six are amateurs who, based on history, have no chance to win. That still leaves every player in golf who matters in the field and the tournament almost always produces a quality player as champion.
And, for the record, I’m hardly a defender of the green jackets who run the event. Many—if not most—players will say if they could win one title in their life it would be the Masters. Some Europeans say the British Open; some Americans say the U.S. Open. But the Masters probably wins a poll pretty easily.
My point, though, is this: Woods is about as polarizing an athlete in the world today. Only a few matter enough to be polarizing: LeBron James; Barry Bonds;—when he was still playing—the long-retired John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors; Mike Krzyzewski, who seems to be polarizing because he wins too much in the eyes of his detractors.
There are, I’m sure, others, but not many.
Woods tops the list. Many golf fans adore him and have long-forgiven him for the self-created scandals that ruined his personal life. Others can’t forgive him or are tired (justifiably) of the media’s cloying coverage of him. There are certainly some who will never embrace him because he’s African-American (or Cablinasian or whatever he wishes to identify as).
I’ve seen comments sent to Golf Channel blasting people for simply reporting that he shot 74 on a given day. “Why don’t you report it when your beloved Phil (Mickelson) shoots 74?” For the record, they do.
And then there are those, like a couple of my tweeters, who will say things like, “(Francesco) Molinari gave him the Masters. It was a fluke. He’s not a real champion.”
Put aside the other 14 majors he’s won, the bottom line is the bottom line: Doesn’t matter how you win, it matters IF you win.
Personally, I won’t miss Woods in Atlanta this week. It WILL mean seeing and hearing more about other players. We won’t see downright silly headlines like, “Tiger, rest of field tee off.” That one’s pretty common.
But the simple fact is this: both Woods and Lowry should be playing. They didn’t get enough credit for their major wins and others got too much credit for playoff success. Nothing against Abraham Ancer, but he didn’t win on tour this year and he’s tenth on the points list. And yet, two major champions couldn’t crack the top 30.
The system’s a joke. And it isn’t just because Woods is at home this week. Not even close.
John Feinstein’s new Young Adult novel, “Benchwarmers,” debuts next Tuesday, August 27th, in bookstores and online. His most recent non-fiction book “Quarterback—Inside The Most Important Position in Professional Sports,” is out in paperback next month. His website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com