Thursday, September 24

Math Plays Through in FedEx Cup


Help! Math will determine the FedEx Cup winner.
(Marvin/Flickr)


GOLF IS A SIMPLE GAME. The player with the fewest strokes wins. Hand him or her a shiny trophy and one of those oversized checks, snap some photos and everything’s good.

Unless it’s the FedEx Cup.

Then it’s a points race, sort of like NASCAR, I guess. And, from what I’ve been able to gather, a points race can’t be a simple game. It’s more like a math game, which is way over my head.

As we’ve learned, this is problematic. Two years ago Tiger Woods won. That seemed OK with everybody. Last year Vijay Singh won the FedEx Cup before the last event, the Tour Championship. That was all wrong, so the PGA Tour and mathematicians went back to the FedEx Cup chalkboard.

We won’t know until Sunday who will win the Cup this year, but I wonder if folks will question the legitimacy of the result because they don’t have a clue about the math. (Unless Tigers wins, of course.)

Maybe this weekend we’ll need a PGA Tour equivalent of Tim Russert, who explained the Electoral College with a mini whiteboard and markers during election night earlier this decade.

I’m not trying to be a rain cloud. I’m in the FedEx Cup camp. It does create some additional interest in pro golf. I’m all for that. It’s just unfortunate that it has a Jekyll and Hyde quality. As Globe and Mail columnist Lorne Rubenstein recently wrote, “The FedEx Cup is in its third year and the world’s best players are playing each of its four tournaments. That’s good.”

But there’s also Mr. Hyde, according to Rubenstein.

“The FedEx Cup is in its third year and hardly anybody, including the world’s best players, understands the points system, notwithstanding the tweaking that’s occurred since its inception. That’s bad.”

I don’t know if that can ever be fixed. I do know this: If golf is more complex than the fewest strokes wins, we’re probably all in trouble.

−The Armchair Golfer

5 comments :

Lancer said...

Great post...I think there ought to be a better way to pick the winner but I don't have a clue as to what the best method might be. I think it's better now but it still needs some work.

Vince Spence said...

The perfect system has some combination of math and common sense. As such, it will NEVER be perfect.

So far, all three Sunday afternoons have been fabulous. Isn't that what we really want, great golf on the back nine on Sunday afternoon regardless of who it is (but, especially if it is Tiger)?

Jeffrey said...

And you thought the BCS was complicated! There is just something wrong with any system that needs to be continually "tweeked". Living things get adjusted all the time, but creating a formula to determine the best of human effort over time has to be biased. That is not to say bias is wrong, we do it all the time. The problem happens when we see what our original bias resulted in, and then re-bias to "correct" for that.

Which simply means we are setting the outside edges such that we narrow the result. Have we decided that the top 5 are more deserving of winning that the following 25? Yes.

My question would be, why? Number 4 is just as deserving as 5, but six is less so? And we use huge numbers (2,500; 1,500; 850, etc.) simply because it looks more exciting? Transparent? Opague?

Too much wackeyness for my tastes.

Jeffrey said...

And you thought the BCS was complicated! There is just something wrong with any system that needs to be continually "tweeked". Living things get adjusted all the time, but creating a formula to determine the best of human effort over time has to be biased. That is not to say bias is wrong, we do it all the time. The problem happens when we see what our original bias resulted in, and then re-bias to "correct" for that.

Which simply means we are setting the outside edges such that we narrow the result. Have we decided that the top 5 are more deserving of winning than the following 25? Yes.

My question would be, why? Number 4 is just as deserving as 5, but six is less so? And we use huge numbers (2,500; 1,500; 850, etc.) simply because it looks more exciting? Transparent? Opaque?
A little too goofy for my tastes.

Rich said...

They have to find a way to make the final run for the cup to be more exciting. ALL 30 players should have a chance to win it. One way is to use their dumb points system to get the top 30 and then it's winner take all. OR....reset the points after the regular season so the 125 who qualify all start at zero. Use a point system to cut to 70 players. Then it's two no cut tournaments with 70 players to get the top 30. They can still use points but it would be a four tournament playoff. This "seeding" they do is nonsense. In a playoff they should all start off even. The Fedex cup part of the Tour Championship was a yawner.