If you’ve ever worked, say, for a website, chances are the maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still brings about a cold sweat. Don’t evolve, don’t change, we like things just the way we are, or even the way they were. How very Britain 2018.
The trouble is, of course, that change is fundamental to growth, to progress, to competing in a globalised world. Stand still for a minute and you have a minute to make up. Usually it is not a case of fixing what isn’t broken but improving what can always be improved. Granted, not always does it go to plan.
Perhaps then we should be open-minded when it comes to the announcement that next year’s FedEx Cup finale will be revamped so that the leader entering the TOUR Championship will begin not with a points lead, but on 10-under-par.
That’s right: professional golfer begins tournament on 10-under. Everyone in the 30-man field will be allotted a score within 10 of the lead, with the final qualifier beginning on the good and proper score of level, and it’s winner takes all: whoever wins the TOUR Championship also lands the FedEx Cup and with it an increased $15m jackpot, according to reports.
If it sounds gimmicky, that’s because it is gimmicky and it’s at the cost of a working alternative. While the FedEx Cup had its detractors early on, there has more recently been widespread praise of a system which is not necessarily simple, but need not be simple and appears at least to marry fairness and volatility. Golf is a deep and complex sport and if we must familiarise ourselves with rules which differentiate between burrowing and non-burrowing animals, we can manage a little maths, can’t we?
Maybe that’s not the appeal for you, maybe your idea of a perfect swansong is based on simplicity, and if that’s the case then the idea might appeal as a good one. No longer do we have FedEx Cup projections interrupting the broadcast, at least not at East Lake, and every player in the field knows exactly what it will take to win. There can be no doubt that any veneer of complexity has been removed.
The trouble is, this supposed benefit to one event comes at the cost of those before it. Grouping 30 players on 10 scores from level to 10-under means segmenting the leaderboard, removing the difference between, say, 15th and 17th place going in. It therefore undermines the preceding tournaments, of which there will now be just two. The impact of The Northern Trust and the BMW Championship will be greatly reduced and the Dell Technologies Championship is disappearing altogether.
In the eyes of the PGA Tour, all of this is a worthwhile trade-off to avoid clashes with the NFL season and to bring their product to a wider audience and perhaps more people will watch next year’s finale because of the schedule, that I can accept.
Changing the scoring system, however, doesn’t strike me as something which will affect who watches and who talks about golf at any level.
This is still just another golf tournament, however absurd the pretext. It’s 30 players who’ve won millions already competing for millions more, over 72 holes, on a course we know. The cast will be familiar, the winner will be exceptional and now there will be only one, unlike last year when Xander Schauffele won the tournament, but Justin Thomas held onto FedEx Cup glory.
The 2017 event was further proof that the system works. Schauffele deservedly won the tournament because he shot the best score, Thomas won the Playoffs because, over the course of them and the regular season which came before, he was the best player. Not quite everyone’s a winner, but everyone who did win actually did win.
In 2018, the player who shoots the best score probably won’t win the tournament and that alone tells you that the PGA Tour have ventured not just into the unknown but the absurd. Not for the first time, a governing body stumbles around in the dark looking for the light switch and thinks they’ve found it in scheduling or scoring, or in the models of sports which are and always will be fundamentally different.
More money, more volatility, more interest and intrigue, apparently. I just don’t buy it.