More immediate consequence.
These were the buzzwords used by the PGA Tour in rolling out its rebranded FedExCup Fall, which was billed as both a time for the stars to rest and the rest of the Tour’s membership to shine – or, in many cases, fight for their jobs.
Say what you want about this new-look fall, which officially wrapped up its seven-event slate on Sunday with Ludvig Åberg’s record-breaking win at the RSM Classic. For the most part, it was mission accomplished.
Sure, with the Tour altering its 2022-23 campaign midseason and creating bookended fall portions, there were always going to be some bumps. Three of the first four titles went to players who had already finished in the top 50 of the FedExCup and therefore locked up their places in all of next year’s signature events. The 78-man Zozo Championship – and its 16 top-50 players in the world – certainly broke cadence. There was also the head-scratching priority flaw that saw Dylan Wu, No. 86 in points, on the alternate list to begin the week at the 144-player Shriners Children’s Open.
But was this reimagined fall “total bulls—,” as Jimmy Walker called it back in Napa? Absolutely not.
By the time we got to Cabo, the fall had hit its stride. Forget drama and consequence and high stakes – there was a decent amount of that. What the final three events featured in abundance were stories.
That’s what the FedExCup Fall should be advertising moving forward: Status and stories. The battles for the Next 10, top 125 and top 150 were mostly compelling, especially now that the latter two were removed from the shadow of the playoff race. But nothing tugged at the heart strings more than watching Erik van Rooyen eagle his final hole in Cabo just days before his best friend lost his battle with cancer, or Camilo Villegas looking up to the sky in memory of his late daughter, Mia, after snapping a nine-year victory drought in Bermuda, or Åberg winning the first of what one crazed golf podcaster predicts to be 1,678 PGA Tour victories.
Not that the stars aren’t interesting. They are, though mostly because of their extraordinary talent. Their stories have already been told millions of times. The van Rooyens and Villegases of the world are a nice change of pace, especially during a time on the calendar when football reigns and most big names would rather be vacationing or jumping on another investment opportunity after cashing in their signature spoils.
Think about some of the off-the-course headlines this fall:
- Tiger Woods walking down stairs and wearing a Call of Duty hoodie, which both likely padded as many page views as Woods recently announcing he’s playing the Hero World Challenge
- Rory McIlroy calling Patrick Cantlay a d*ck
- Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa catching strays from Lanto Griffin
- TGL gaining Jupiter Links Golf Club but losing its roof and its 2024 debut season – and the golf world subsequently discovering that TGL was planning on holding its competitions in a bubble that resembles one of the final scenes of E.T.
- More Michael Block content
- The Netflix Cup
It was cathartic to shed a tear or two.
Of course, all this is not to argue that the fall shouldn’t be tweaked. With PGA Tour competition gravitating toward a two-tiered hierarchy after years and years of over-saturation, why not lean into it if you’re the Tour? For much of the season, we will get the majors and the signature events and the star-studded battles and big paydays. During that period, other guys will have a chance to play their way into those lucrative fields. And then once the playoffs are over and football arrives, close off the fall series to the top 50 completely and let everyone else battle for a handful of events to improve or keep their status.
And let us hear their stories, too.
This year offered a glimpse of what the fall could be and the identity it could have.
So, with that, here is a ranking of the seven fall tournaments, using a rating system honoring everyone’s favorite club pro:
7. Zozo Championship
Collin Morikawa began his week in Japan by dining at an ultra-exclusive sushi spot (the type of place where one could make a big dent in that $500,000 advance) and ended it with his sixth career PGA Tour victory but first since the 2021 Open Championship. He won in a blowout, by six shots, thanks to a closing 63 that proved Morikawa is still a top-5 player in the world when the putts are falling. It just didn’t quite have the give-you-chills theatre, perhaps because of the time difference. Rating: 2 out of 5 Blockies
6. Sanderson Farms Championship
Luke List won the prized rooster trophy – and laid the foundation for grabbing a Next 10 ticket on Sunday – in a five-man playoff that also included a jetlagged Ludvig Åberg, who was fresh off a victorious Ryder Cup debut. List’s birdie on the first extra hole – from 45 feet! – quickly ended what could’ve been a marathon battle. Maybe it’s the Rome hangover, but it’s difficult to remember much else about Jackson’s annual Tour stop this year. Rating: 2 out of 5 Blockies
5. Shriners Children’s Open
In a rare feat, Tom Kim successfully defended his Shriners title by a shot over Adam Hadwin to join Byron Nelson as the only two players to win the same event twice in one season. Kim is a burgeoning superstar, but it was Lexi Thompson who stole the early headlines, carding a second-round 69 and missing the cut by just three shots in his Tour debut. Rating: 3 out of 5 Blockies
4. Fortinet Championship
The unofficial golf team rankings of 2023: 3. Boston Common, 2. Crushers GC, 1. Team Theegala. Yes, Sahith Theegala – and let’s be honest, his dad, Murli, too – has captured a lot of hearts since arriving on the PGA Tour a couple years ago. What this event lacked in drama – Theegala bogeyed the last to still win by two – it made up for with the likeable Theegala, after a handful of close calls, finally notching his maiden Tour win. Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Blockies
3. RSM Classic
In six months, Ludvig Åberg has gone from Texas Tech senior standout, world No. 1 amateur and college golf’s player of the year to, well, accomplishing relative successes as a pro: DP World Tour winner; European Ryder Cupper; and after capturing the RSM, PGA Tour champ and No. 32 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. He didn’t just win at Sea Island, either; he dominated, tying Justin Thomas’ PGA Tour record for 72-hole total (253) and closing in 61-61 to set the Tour’s new low mark for closing 36 holes by a shot. It was the perfect conclusion to a spectacular – and even considering Åberg’s expectations, unimaginable – year. So what if it wasn’t close down the stretch. Rating: 4 out of 5 Blockies
2. Butterfield Bermuda Championship
Camilo Villegas stormed past Alex Noren to win by two and notch his first PGA Tour win in nearly a decade. But this one was meaningful for a different reason; the triumph came just over three years after Villegas and his wife lost their 1-year-old daughter, Mia, to cancer in 2020. When Villegas tapped in his winning par, he looked up, later saying, “My little one up there watching…” This tournament also attracted a hefty portion of the Golf YouTube crowd, as the Bryan brothers, Wesley and George, both made the cut. Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Blockies
1. World Wide Technology Championship
There were a ton of storylines to start: Tiger Woods dropping by to check out the course he designed in action; Matt Kuchar taking a six-shot lead and then giving it all back with large help from a third-round quad; Adam Long hitting every fairway; and, of course, Michael Block teeing it up, though not bringing Rory’s driving ability or his world-class short game and finishing tied for last. With Block off to the next promotional event, that left the stage clear for Erik van Rooyen, who sank an 18-footer for eagle on the last hole to cap a back-nine, 8-under 28 and win by two. Afterward, van Rooyen broke down when talking about his best friend, John Trasamar, who was battling terminal cancer. “If you look at my ball … it has the initials ‘JT,’ and it’s for Jon Trasamar, our best friend,” van Rooyen said. “He’s got melanoma, and he’s not going to make it. And every shot out there was for him. And when you’re playing for something bigger than some silly trophy, it puts things in perspective, and at the end of the day whether I won here or whether I lost here, it really did not matter.” Trasamar died the following Saturday. Rating: 5 out of 5 Blockies