This pressure-packed FedEx Cup playoff format would make *every* shot count

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Kevin Na at the Tour Championship last week.

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Ed. note: The unsigned email below, by all appearances from the Office of the PGA Tour commissioner, was shared with GOLF.com on an anonymous basis. Its contents could not be independently verified.

Gentlemen:

Congratulations, again, to all of you who finished the 2020-‘21 season among the top 125 players in FedEx points. As you know, that qualified you to play in the first round of our new-for-’21 12-round FedEx Playoff Series (TM), which was decided by players’ aggregate scores for the three Playoff events.

Our new system of eliminating the worst-performing players proved to be popular with our core demographic group, according to an early analysis of a variety of metrics.

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As you know, after each of the first three rounds of the first two events, the players shooting the 10 highest scores (and ties) were eliminated from the Playoffs, with one significant caveat:

All players who finished in the top-30 on the FedEx points list at the end of the regular season qualified to play all 12 rounds of the Playoffs, no matter what they shot on a daily basis. They had our special State Farm Protection (TM) status.

We thank our friends at State Farm for their support of the PGA Tour and this new program.

To give one quick example of its effectiveness, Kevin Kisner shot a first-round 76 at The Northern Trust at Liberty National in northern New Jersey. That was one of the worst 10 scores that day. But because of his Top-30 State Farm Protection (TM) status, he kept on playing, right through the remaining three rounds of The Northern Trust, the four rounds of the BMW at Caves Valley near Baltimore and the four rounds of the TOUR Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.

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Roger Sloan (79), Matt Jones (79), Wyndham Clark (78), Brandon Hagy (78), Brendan Steele (78), J.T. Poston (76), Matt Wolff (76), Richy Werenski (76) and Hank Lebioda (76) were less fortunate.

These are the 30 players who were, to use the phrase made popular by Steve DiMeglio writing in USA Today, made “bulletproof” by our new system:

     1.  Collin Morikawa

     2.  Jordan Spieth

     3.  Patrick Cantlay

     4.  Harris English

     5.  Jon Rahm

     6.  Abraham Ancer

     7.  Bryson DeChambeau

     8.  Louis Oosthuizen

     9.  Justin Thomas

     10. Sam Burns

     11. Viktor Hovland

     12. Jason Kokrak

     13. Xander Schauffele

     14. Hideki Matsuyama

     15. Brooks Koepka

     16. Cameron Smith

     17. Dustin Johnson

     18. Joaquin Niemann

     19. Stewart Cink

     20. Daniel Berger

     21. Scottie Scheffler

     22. Patrick Reed

     23. Tony Finau

     24. Kevin Na

     25. Billy Horschel

     26. Rory McIlroy

     27. Max Homa

     28. Corey Conners

     29. Kevin Kisner

     30. Si Woo Kim

Our ratings for the three events were excellent. For the first time, the three events that comprise the FedEx Playoff Series (TM) were decided in a playoff.

In the first week, Tony Finau and Cameron Smith shot 264 over four rounds at Liberty National, and Finau beat Smith in the first hole of their sudden-death playoff.

In the second week, at the BMW Championship, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay each shot 262 over four rounds at Caves Valley. Cantlay won on the sixth hole of their sudden-death playoff.

Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay had a memorable duel at Caves Valley.

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In the third week, at the TOUR Championship, Kevin Na and Jon Rahm each shot 266 over the four rounds at East Lake. Na defeated Rahm on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff to win the TOUR Championship title.

As for the mother of all events, our 12-round, 216-hole FedEx Playoff Series, there were at least seven players with a realistic chance of winning the Series and with it the FedEx Cup and the Player of the Year title: Tony Finau, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Kevin Na, Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau. In the end, both Rahm and Cantlay played the 216 holes in 802 shots. Amazing.

They returned to East Lake on Monday morning, per our plan to settle ties, for a nine-hole stroke-play playoff. They played the back nine. Cantlay shot a 33 to Rahm’s 34, with an eagle 3 on the last to Rahm’s birdie 4. It was stunning.

Cantlay won $10 million.

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Rahm won $5 million as the runner-up.

Na won $2 million for his Tour Championship title.

In victory, Cantlay said, “As silly as it sounds, the money is not what’s really important for me,” Cantlay said. “The money is not what drives me to play this game. Winning golf tournaments, playing golf under pressure, and hitting quality golf shots under the gun — that’s why I’ve practiced my whole life, and [this is] the best feeling in the world, winning golf tournaments. The money is just a consequence of that.”

For the 2022 FedEx Playoff Series (TM), we expect to have a  playoff at the end of each day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the first week, and then do the same again the second week. If there are ties for the 10th-worst score, those players will play in a sudden-death playoff and the winner of that playoff will continue in the tournament, while the loser (or losers) will be cut.

Yes, playoffs can be brutal. As other sports have discovered, they work best when they unfold over a period of weeks, as the tension, excitement and fun build. 

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.