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FedEx Playoff Math Ain't Easy

FedEx Playoff Math Ain't Easy

Who Likes Math? Not simple stuff like calculus and number theory. We are talking about FedEx Cup Playoff Math. This stuff could make Stephen Hawking feel like Forrest Gump.

Initially, the push for the FedEx Cup Playoffs was to add a NASCAR-like flourish to the end of the golf season.

A season that used to abruptly end, like the stitching on Harry Higgs’ trouser’s button. Adding a cool $10M payout to the playoff winner was the ultimate carrot.

The playoffs were initially four events following the end of the “regular season”

  • the top 144, whittled to 120, then to 70, finally ending at 30 for the Tour championship
  • Convoluted points system - only a handful of players could actually win the playoffs
  • at the Tour Championship, most players were already mathematically eliminated
  • Players moaned about the lack of volatility through the events

In 2009, some key changes were instituted:

  • Still four events as above, but with smaller fields
  • top 125 -> down to 100, then 70, finishing with 30 at Tour Championship
  • Increased points in playoff events - punished those who skipped events
  • Points reset before Tour Championship - mathematical shot of winning for everybody
  • Players in top 5 would win the FedEx playoffs with a Tour Championship win

Complaints kept filing in as there were a few instances of players winning the Tour Championship, but that didn’t always equate to winning the FedEx Cup. (insert: awkward family photos involving Tiger Woods with Phil Mickelson (2009) and Justin Rose (2018) as examples)

The latest revamp took place in 2019:

  • Down to 3 events -> top 125, down to 70, finishing with 30 at Tour Championship
  • Increased points for winning playoffs events (2000 points), higher potential volatility
  • After the second event, the “Points Leader gets a “headstart” at the Tour Championship
  • Starts at 10-under, 2nd place at 8-under, 3rd place at 7-under, 4th place at 6-under, etc.
  • A full four-round championship is then conducted with these staggered starting positions
  • Whoever wins the Tour Championship automatically wins the FedEx Cup Playoffs
  • Also a 50% increase in winner’s payout from $10M to $15M

There has been lots of noise on how to fix the playoffs even further. In its current iteration, it is an imperfect ending to an imperfect season of an imperfect game. We think that’s just par for the course.