All sports are in competition with each other for TV viewing figures, and nothing stays the same forever. Whether we like it or we don’t, the rules and custom of any commercial sport will be adjusted occasionally to make things more entertaining for a television audience. Soccer fans have been complaining about this already this month, with the introduction of the increasingly unpopular Video Assistant Referee system. Golf fans haven’t been quite as vocal in their criticism of the new format for the PGA Tour Championship finale – but should they be? 

Golf doesn’t often hit the headlines in the same way that soccer does, so it’s possible that there will be fans who are reading this who aren’t aware that there are significant differences with this week’s tour, but the changes will quickly become apparent as the week progresses. Crucially, they could result in someone deserving missing out on the top prize. Most worryingly of all, they could, in theory, result in the trophy and the prize money going to someone other than the player who posts the lowest score during the competition. 

A New Way Of Ranking

On the surface, there’s nothing obviously wrong. Justin Thomas kicked things off at the top of the board, ten under par, and based on his victory in Medinah, he appears to have earned that right. That’s because sports fans sometimes have short memories – and so, now, do the PGA. Only the results of the playoff tournaments are taken into account when ranking players for Tour Championship 10, so Thomas’ recent upturn in fortune places him at the head of the field. If you asked Thomas how he felt about his season as a whole, he’d probably tell you he’s been a little disappointing. 

Contrast his fortunes with Brooks Koepka, who’s arguably been the best and most consistent performer this season. Koepka won the PGA Championship proper, and added a second-place finish in both the US Open and the Masters to that achievement. Despite all of that, Koepka started the week third overall, and three strokes back from Thomas. Thomas came up trumps late in the season, and so Thomas gets the best seat in the house when it matters the most.

If the situation Koepka is in feels harsh, Rory McIlroy has had even worse luck. McIlroy is finishing up a season in which he’s managed no less than thirteen finishes inside the top 10, but didn’t find his best form at the playoffs. Because of that, he’s down in fifth, and therefore with a five-shot disadvantage compared to Thomas. Now, the issue with the new format becomes obvious. It’s great for providing the audience with a winner outside the field they’d normally expect to see, but from a purely logical point of view, it renders the remainder of the season almost pointless. 

An Unsatisfying Spectacle? 

This new ranking system would be confusing if it was brought in at any time (despite the fact it was ostensibly brought in to make the tournament format easier to follow). There’s an added wrinkle to all this though – this year, whoever wins the Tour Championship also walk away with the Fed-Ex Cup prize money – fifteen million dollars. That’s a huge prize – one of the richest in the sport – and yet it might not be won by the player who performs best on the way. Rory McIlroy could complete the week three strokes below Justin Thomas, but Thomas would be the man picking up the trophy on account of the advantage given to him by the new system.  

From a sporting point of view, this doesn’t make any sense. From a gambling point of view, it might make all the sense in the world. As well as taking odds on who walks away with the trophy, they can also offer odds on who cards the lowest score of the week. There are now more betting permutations involved in this golf tournament than there are in betting on mobile slots. When it comes to mobile slots on website like Late Casino, no matter how many individual players walk away with winnings, it’s always the mobile slots website that ends up in profit. No matter how much fun mobile slots can be to play, it’s always more profitable to own a mobile slots game than to play one. Given the hold that sponsors  – gambling companies included – have over the sport of golf in the current era, it’s hard not to feel that the changes bring more benefits to sponsors than they do to viewers or players. 

Changes Will Continue

This isn’t the only major change we’ve seen within the sport of golf recently. It isn’t even the only one that’s made headlines this week – with the news that slow players might be penalized on European Tours going forward, we might even see the invention of speed golf in the near future. In the same way that one day cricket was seen as a way to make the sport more attractive to audiences (and sponsors), it would appear that there are some officials who believe that the length of time it takes to play the game might be putting TV audiences off. 

Whether making players go faster or penalizing their starting positions based on the most recent few rounds of results will turn out to be smart moves in the long term remain to be seen. If audiences go up, and the profile of the sport is raised, it will be hard to judge the changes as anything other than a success no matter what traditionalists feel about it. If there’s no measurable change in the public’s level of interest in the sport, though, then many will say that the basic principles of the sport are being sacrificed in the name of trying to make a quick buck. 

Changing the format of this one tournament isn’t necessarily the end of the world when it comes to golf. The classic ‘big’ tournaments – the PGA, the Masters, the US Open, and all the rest – will remain unchanged. Whoever completes those tournaments with the lowest overall score will win, and the game will play out largely the same way it has done for decades. It just won’t have any bearing on who gets to contest the Tour Championship, and how the playing field will level up for the event. If nothing else, we should probably think that’s a shame.