Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Shane Bacon and national columnist Jay Busbee take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by hitting us on Twitter at @shanebacon and @jaybusbee. Today we take a look at the FedEx Cup playoffs that begin this week at the Barclays.
Bacon: It's that time of year again! No, not college football starting or the NFL getting going, but the FEDEX CUP PLAYOFFS! It's crazy to think that this is the eighth season of the FedEx playoffs, and while most were skeptical at first at the reasoning behind an end-of-season playoff in golf, it really has made the post-major PGA Tour season interesting. Am I alone here, or do you think the playoffs have become a success?
Busbee: I am totally biased here because the TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP (you'd better use ALL THE CAPS) is right in my backyard, virtually, and I'm all in favor of covering events where I get to sleep in my own bed and not some college friend's couch. But personal biases aside, yes, I think that the playoffs are doing what they're supposed to do: bolster interest in a late-season event for a sport that otherwise would effectively shut down until April in the public eye.
Now, I'm curious as to your perspective: do you think this is a legitimate full-season excitement, or is it more about getting fired up over these last few weeks?
Bacon: It seems more and more as the purses grow and the interest in the European Tour increases, it's really tough to get all the top names in the same field for non-majors, so that is the reason I get the most excited. We call the big four "majors" because someone long ago named them as such, but isn't a "major" really just the best in the world competing against each on the same stage? That's the thing I find cool about the playoffs. Rory and Bubba were paired together at the PGA, and they're paired together again this week. Justin Rose, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Sergio ... they're all in the field, and to me, that constitutes a big event. And for all of it to come together as we head to the Ryder Cup, that's pretty cool.
We do always ask this question, and I'll bring it up again — is there something that can change about the playoffs to get non-golf fans interested, or is this just going to be an insurmountable problem considering all the other sports that are coming back at the same time?
Busbee: The way that golf structures its calendar, this is a flat-out impossible problem to get around. You've got college and pro football firing up, and that's going to consume the attention of all but the fans who could tell the difference between Zach Johnson and Dustin Johnson. It's just the way it is, at least until another golfer breaks through into the cultural mainstream the way whatsisname did a few years back.
Rory is close. Rory's already a must-watch player in the golf world, and if he plays well all the way through to East Lake, you can expect him to rate high in the highlight shows. (Not above SEC football and Johnny Manziel, of course. Let's not get crazy.) But absent him, it's just impossible for anybody to move the needle with the casual fan.
Which makes me think that golf should probably not spend so much time worrying about this mystical, perhaps mythical "casual fan." Focus on the people who truly care about the sport, who are around Tiger or no Tiger. With that in mind, what changes, if any, do you think are needed to maintain the attention of hardcore fans?
Bacon: To me, it's all about the level of competition. If it's Steven Bowditch versus Troy Merritt down the stretch in Atlanta, I'm not sure the casual golf fan is going to be setting their DVR for Sunday, but if Rory continues to play well and we see Rickie Fowler snag a title or two during the playoffs (something I think he really needs to complete his fantastic year), it'll get sports fans interested.
I will say, a rivalry would be nice in golf. Tiger and Rory are buddies. Rory and Sergio had lunch together before the final round of the Bridgestone. Rory and Rickie seem totally chummy. I'm not saying we need guys to hate each other, but the fact that Tiger and Phil weren't best friends made the rivalry that much more interesting (not to mention Tiger and Garcia).
I just ... these golfers don't really need the controversy. It does "their brand" no good, and when they aren't on the golf course playing practice rounds, they're flying private jets together and sending congratulatory tweets back and forth. Again, that is very much how the game of golf has evolved, but two guys really wanting to kick the heck out of one another would at least give people a side to pick.
Busbee: Man, what a great point. Golf, and indeed all sports, has evolved into a fraternity with a select few chosen to compete for the rest of us unwashed to watch, and those in the circle feel a bond and a connection to their colleagues that transcends competitiveness. Sure, it's lovely for them, but for us? Come on, fellas, this isn't an exhibition.
You almost wish Bubba had erupted at a fellow player, not his caddy, over the last few weeks. At least then we'd have a bit of beef to work with. But you're right, anybody who tries to start anything now will be accused of pushing some agenda, or will get buried on social media, so why even bother?
So we're left with great golf, if not necessarily great stories. Is that a good enough tradeoff?
Bacon: I think so. The British, Firestone and the PGA were all must-see golf events, if not for the people involved for the golf at hand. What Rory is doing is fantastic, but we have a lot of big names (Fowler, Sergio, Scott) all playing great golf at the same time.
I think golf is in a better place than most might think, and I expect the battle for that $10 million bonus in your neck of the woods to be an exciting one from this Thursday up until that last round at East Lake.
Real fast, give me your FedEx Cup champion.
Busbee: I'd love to see Rickie jump up and grab it, but I'm going older-school: Sergio Garcia FTW. And you?
Bacon: Fowler seems like the pick if you are going to go with SNNR (someone not named Rory)! Now we have both the guys that probably will finish 2-3 to McIlroy!
Busbee: And you know what? I'd be fine with that too.
And now your turn ... do you think the FedEx Cup playoffs work, and are you excited for the next four weeks of golf?