The Oklahoman

FedEx Cup needs more variety

- Doug Ferguson

ATLANTA — Kevin Kisner was one spot out of the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings going into the tournament that determines who makes it to Tour Championsh­ip at East Lake.

All it took was one shot for him to realize it probably wasn’t going to be him.

“The first day, when my ball plugged on 10, I knew it was going to be a long week,” Kisner said before cleaning out his locker at Caves Valley. “Obviously, I putted awful. But top 20 would be about as good as I could do here.”

Caves Valley was 7,542 yards and played every inch of it on rain-softened turf amid stifling humidity that never allowed fairways or greens to get firm.

Kisner ranks 171st in driving distance. He is not Bryson DeChambeau, on so many levels. As it relates to the brand of golf Kisner plays, a long course with soft greens was always going to present some big challenges. That’s nothing new.

Nearly a decade ago, David Toms contemplat­ed a postseason rotation of Bethpage Black, TPC Boston and Cog Hill — all big, beefy courses in the Northeast and Midwest — and wondered what chance he had of getting to East Lake. He didn’t make it past the second stage.

“The 30 players who made it to the finish line here in Atlanta have all thrived on the biggest stages this season,” PGA Tour Commission­er Jay Monahan said Tuesday.

Big stages and big courses. That’s why a rotation makes sense, and the BMW Championsh­ip is now the only postseason event that moves around. It goes from Caves Valley outside Baltimore to Wilmington Country Club in Delaware next year (no word on whether President Joe Biden, one of its members, might swing by).

The plan is to go back to Olympia Fields in 2023, and Denver is in the future (Castle Pines is the leading candidate). And now that Northern Trust has ended its sponsorshi­p, the Western Golf Associatio­n is contemplat­ing tapping the New York and Boston markets. There are plenty of choices to provide different tests.

Variety has been lacking this year, mainly due to the weather.

“We’re an outdoor sport. We don’t get to choose our conditions,” Monahan said.

True, and the evidence is Olympia Fields south of Chicago. A year ago for the BMW Championsh­ip, it was firm and fast, crusty and scary, and only five players broke par. Jon Rahm won a playoff at 4-under par.

Remember, though, Olympia Fields hosted a rain-soaked U.S. Open in 2003. Jim Furyk bogeyed the last two holes and still tied what was then the 72-hole scoring record.

What if it rains next time?

The FedEx Cup playoffs will start next year at the TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, a course that is generally well-received, but certainly will favor certain players. That happens across the PGA Tour schedule.

The TPC Southwind will be the eighth course that has hosted the opening postseason event. The previous locations were three courses in New Jersey, three in New York and one in Boston.

The BMW Championsh­ip already has been held on nine courses since the FedEx Cup began in 2007, four of them in the Chicago area.

That leaves the Tour Championsh­ip at the only site that doesn’t change.

Conversati­ons have started about the possibilit­y of moving around the Tour Championsh­ip, like it briefly did 30 years ago, perhaps with East Lake as the anchor.

It’s too early in the discussion­s to speculate, and whether it’s feasible depends largely on the Atlanta-based support of Southern Company and Coca-Cola, whose deals end in 2022.

Perhaps more important is the relationsh­ip with the East Lake Foundation, which revitalize­d a dilapidate­d neighborho­od around the course. The Tour Championsh­ip has raised some $30 million toward that over the years.

Variety in the most important events can only add spice, if not a sense of equity to the different styles of golf. And with a 30-man field, imagine the historic venues that could be available.

Still, East Lake has become more than just the name of a golf club. It has become a destinatio­n where PGA Tour players want to be at the end of the season.

They don’t say the Tour Championsh­ip. They say East Lake.

Rotating events still doesn’t eliminate the consequenc­es of weather, and that has contribute­d to a sense of sameness for this postseason. About the only question the last two weeks is just how low scores can go.

Tony Finau won a playoff over Cameron Smith at Liberty National after both finished at 20-under par. Patrick Cantlay won a playoff over DeChambeau at Caves Valley after both finished at 27 under. DeChambeau made the wrong kind of history, the first to post 261 without winning.

“I don’t really know where you could go this time of the year where that’s not going to happen without it being over on the West Coast or Northwest or whatever,” Rory McIlroy said.

This is serious business — the PGA Tour refers to the FedEx Cup as the “ultimate prize” — but not as significant as the majors. McIlroy believes the FedEx Cup is more about entertainm­ent than providing the ultimate test, and low scores haven’t taken away from great theater.

The majors move around every year except for one place, Augusta National.

After this year, the FedEx Cup playoffs aren’t moving around except for one tournament, the BMW Championsh­ip.

That should change, especially if it’s more about entertainm­ent.

 ??  ?? Kevin Kisner watches his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the BMW Championsh­ip last Thursday at Caves Valley Golf Club. NICK WASS/AP
Kevin Kisner watches his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the BMW Championsh­ip last Thursday at Caves Valley Golf Club. NICK WASS/AP

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