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In the swing: FedEx Cup is worthwhile, but it's just not the same as a Major

As the end of season playoff series rolls into view, Neil Cullen takes a look at its place in the golf world.

Jim Furyk celebrates with the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship trophy last year.
Jim Furyk celebrates with the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship trophy last year.
Image: John Bazemore/AP/Press Association Images

WE’RE AT A strange point in the golf season. The four Majors are over, yet there is still a huge amount for play for on both tours.

The FedEx Cup playoff series gets underway in America on Thursday, just two weeks after the final Major of the year, the USPGA Championship.

In terms of viewership and appeal, there will undoubtedly be momentum carried over from the last few weeks on tour, which took in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational as well of the final Major of the year. Even the previous two Majors weren’t far apart in the calendar.

It’s hard not to get a sense, however, that the hype surrounding the playoffs is somewhat false. After all, the playoff format is only in its fourth year of existence. It lacks the enormous tradition and history of all the Majors.

It’s a shoot-out for a massive financial prize, rather than a player’s quest to write his name into golf’s history books.

“An afterthought throughout the season”

Everyone knows the Majors are the biggest events in the world. At the beginning of the year, the Majors will be the priority of every good player on tour. The FedEx Cup is one of those things that the top players shouldn’t have to worry about until they actually happen, whereas many players will visit Major Championship venues long before the week of the tournament to familiarise themselves with the course and try and get a slight edge on the field.

The reason I write “shouldn’t” have to worry, is exemplified by the case of Padraig Harrington.

In Harrington’s best season (2008), he finished in fourth position on the regular season rankings having only played in 12 events. Such was his form that qualification wasn’t an issue. The FedEx Cup was probably just an afterthought throughout the season until the playoffs themselves actually began.

Harrington’s 2009 season is also an interesting case in point. He didn’t have the best season, but finished in the top 6 in all of the playoff events and qualified for the big finale, the Tour Championship

Such is the heavy weighting of points in the playoff events, that if a player shows form at the right time, it can be extremely rewarding.

A mediocre season can be turned into a very successful season with just one or two high-place finishes.

The FedEx Cup differs to the Majors in that it rewards different kinds of form. As we have seen, players who have a good season and players who have a good playoff series do well in the Fed-Ex Cup while Majors reward form over one week of play.

The Majors, however, are played under far more intense pressure than the FedEx Cup. There is far more on the line in the context of a player’s overall career and reputation due to the history and tradition of Majors that’s already been mentioned. Majors are also generally played over much tougher golf courses than the FedEx Cup events.

“It matters more when there’s more money on it”

So which produces better winners?

Some would argue that anyone can have a lucky week in a Major, whereas you have to play consistently well to win a FedEx Cup, be it over the course of a season or the playoff series. Other would say that only the best players have the talent and mentality to succeed under the most difficult of circumstances in a Major Championship.

There’s also the question of money. Jim Furyk took home $10million for winning the FedEx Cup last season, far more than what’s on offer at any Major. Many fans would be of the opinion that it matters more when there’s more money on it.

But golf, while being commercialised and modernised, has managed to retain most of what makes it a special game, and that’s arguably why the Majors will always be prioritised by players and why we’ll look forward to them more than any FedEx Cup or Race to Dubai.

Every April we have Augusta National and all the mystique that goes with it. Every June we have the US Open on Father’s Day. Every July we experience links golf at its finest and think back to the days of Old Tom Morris and his contemporaries. Then, finally, in August we have glory’s last shot.

The FedEx Cup gives us something to keep us interested at the end of the season, and we’re far better off with it than without it, but it’s not the same a Major.

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