Since it’s a light week in the golf world, this newsletter is going to be a bit different. Today, we’re going to see what a full season of FedEx Cup data would look like if FEC points were weighted using the Official World Golf Ranking Strength of Field metric.
This might sound complicated, but the questions we’re asking are actually pretty simple: Are all PGA Tour events actually worth their weight in courier points? Who benefits from the current system? Should they? Let’s find out.
Fixing the FedEx Cup
The current FedEx Cup system divides PGA Tour events into four tiers and awards FEC points based on those levels. Major championships and the Players Championship are in the top tier, WGCs and elevated-status events in the second, regular PGA Tour tournaments in the third, and alternate-field events bring up the rear.
This system is good in theory, but the points scale doesn’t always reflect the quality of the field changes from event to event. For instance, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am features just five top-50 players and has a Strength of Field of 141. Last week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open had nearly two dozen top-50 players and an SOF of 463.
No, the OWGR Strength of Field metric is not perfect. But it does provide a consistent measurement of field quality at professional events, and it’s certainly better than the FedEx Cup’s tier system, which grants the same amount of points to fields as different as those at Pebble Beach and Phoenix.
Using the OWGR Strength of Field metric, we gave each event from the 2018-19 PGA Tour regular season a weighted value. (We chose that season because 2019-20 was shortened by the pandemic.)
In 2018-19, the strongest field rating came at the 2019 PGA Championship (830). So for that tournament, our calculation gives players 100% of the value of the points they earned. From there, we weighted every other event against the PGA Championship. The Players Championship, for example, had an SOF of 807, so we assigned it 97.23% of its original value, etc., etc.
Given how harsh a strict percentage system is on most fields, we also ran the analysis with a tier system, similar to the one the PGA Tour uses today. However, instead of using the Tour’s four tiers, we divided events into six levels, which allowed more ways to distinguish the best from the worst fields. Our tiers are separated by 15% drops, ensuring that top-tier events get the heavy valuation they deserve. Bottom-tier events get 25% of the FedEx Cup points available to majors and the Players.
In our revised rankings, the top 20-30 players don’t end up changing much. Brooks Koepka comes out on top in both scenarios, just as he did at the end of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season. Remember, this is just the regular season ranking.
Further down the list, however, things get interesting. Dozens of players moved more than 15 spots, both positively and negatively, when field strength was factored in. Such movements would have had a significant impact on whether a player advanced to the FedEx Cup Playoffs or even kept his PGA Tour card. Billy Horschel would have improved 15 spots and had a better chance of qualifying for the Tour Championship. Beau Hossler, Jason Dufner, and Seamus Power would have found themselves safely inside the top 125. As it was, all three fell outside that magic number at the end of the 2018-19 season.
Granted, there are some obvious flaws with the SOF system. For one, the OWGR system can’t account for rising stars like Collin Morikawa or Matthew Wolff, so these players tend to be undervalued in a field-strength model. Our calculations are also tough on smaller fields like those at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Tour Championship, regardless of the concentrations of talent in both. Strictly going by SOF, the Sentry would be worth only 43% of the PGA Championship. While we would argue that it should pale in comparison to a major championship, it probably deserves more than 43%.
Something to ponder
Given the significant differences in outcome we see between methods, it’s worth asking whether the FedEx Cup could use some tweaking. The FEC is great at identifying the top 20-30 players in a given season, but in the flabby middle of the standings, there are a lot of players racking up points against weak fields and gaining too much ground on those with better résumés in big events.
Now, weighting points based strictly on OWGR SOF is a drastic change that likely wouldn’t work within the current PGA Tour structure.The Tour has to appease its sponsors, and telling AT&T that its two events barely add up to half of a PGA Championship isn’t going to fly.
But there’s a middle ground here. Points could at least be adjusted slightly to be more in line with field strength. The RSM Classic, for example, gets 89% of a major’s FedEx Cup points despite having roughly 12% of the SOF. There has to be some kind of compromise, some sensible way to make the PGA Tour’s season-long race truly mean something.
Patrick Cantlay made 10 birdies and tied the Pebble Beach course record with a 62 in the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He holds a two-shot lead as he heads to Spyglass Hill for Friday’s action. Leaderboard
Jordan Spieth fired a 65 at Pebble Beach, closing with a 31 on the treacherous back nine. Just so you know, we’re being very calm about it. Very chill. WE’RE BEING EXTREMELY CHILL.
Akshay Bhatia hit all 18 greens at Pebble Beach en route to a first-round 64. The 19-year-old became the first player to hit every green at Pebble since Ryan Palmer in 2008.
2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and 2020 U.S. Women’s Am runner-up Gabriela Ruffels is forgoing her final semester of college to turn pro. No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Ruffels is a first-rate athlete, has experience in big events, and should be a ton of fun to watch.
After missing out on his PGA Tour debut at Torrey Pines, Kamaiu Johnson finally heard his name called on Thursday. He struggled to an opening 81 at Spyglass Hill but will have a chance at redemption on Pebble Beach today. Fellow Associates Pro Golf Tour member Kevin Hall fared much better during his opening round, finishing with a 73 at Pebble Beach.
Who would have thought it would be such a thrill to watch the best golfers in the world play one of the best courses in the world without the antics of celebrity partners taking up air time?!
The Latest from The Fried Egg
Shotgun Start: An Apology Tour, Citrus impacts at Pebble, and Flashback to Johnny “magic”
This Friday episode begins with a prompt apology to the local news industry and to Xander Schauffele on an item unrelated to the local news issue. Then Brendan and Andy get into the early action from Pebble Beach, where Patrick Cantlay went low, Akshay Bhatia dialed in, and Jordan Spieth’s duck tape held up on the coast. They also highlight the significant impact a bad piece of fruit had on Bhatia’s sterling round. There’s also some chatter about the 6th hole and a radical proposal heard on PGA Tour Live to add internal OB there. Then they get to Precision Pro Flashback Friday (promo code Shotgun20) and the subject this week is the miracle 1994 Pebble Beach Pro Am win by Johnny Miller, who’d been a full-time TV person at that point and hadn’t won in 7 years. He’d barely made any starts on Tour in the 90s to that point. The Flashback gets in his struggles with the putting yips that had him playing (and somehow winning) as a ceremonial golfer that week, as well as the tense relationship he had with players (including one now in a TV tower) due to some comments in those early years in the booth. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.