Atlanta — Here’s one argument against the notion that money is ruining golf: The PGA Tour is playing for $69 million over the final month, and all anyone seems to care about is an exhibition that doesn’t pay a dime.
Maybe it would be different if the Americans had won the Ryder Cup more than twice over the last 20 years.
They have stopped at nothing this time in a desperate bid to get it right, even though the outcome can easily hinge on a 45-foot putt like the one Justin Leonard made in 1999 at Brookline and Justin Rose made in 2012 at Medinah.
All the while, an important part of their season is being overshadowed.
The FedEx Cup ends Sunday at East Lake, where the winner gets a $10 million bonus. A total of $35 million in bonus money is awarded — even the players who didn’t qualify for the playoffs received $32,000 last year — after four tournaments that each offer $8.5 million in prize money.
Let’s be clear: Four tournaments comprising the FedEx Cup playoffs don’t compare to three days of the Ryder Cup, and it’s not even close. Not in history or passion, not in ticket sales or television ratings. No one this side of PGA Tour headquarters will argue that.
The Ryder Cup might be second only to the Masters in terms of pure theater in golf.
Still, the process of making the U.S. team is over the top. The Americans have asked for four weeks to get 12 players. Europe had its team in two days.
The Ryder Cup has been as much a part of the conversation as the FedEx Cup.
The Barclays was the final tournament to earn one of the eight automatic spots on the U.S. team, and the story out of Bethpage Black was as much about Patrick Reed playing his way onto the team as it was winning for the first time in nearly 20 months. The Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship might as well have been auditions for Davis Love III before he made three of his four captain’s picks.
And before getting to East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale, Love invited potential picks such as Bubba Watson, Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas to play practice rounds with part of the U.S. team at Hazeltine over the weekend and into Monday.
Thomas is No. 12 in the FedEx Cup, well in range of a prize that would pay more than his career earnings. Berger is No. 24 and has a longer road to the $10 million, though it’s worth noting Bill Haas won the FedEx Cup in 2011 from the No. 25 seed.
Watson, the No. 7 player in the world, already is stung by not being chosen thus far. He must feel like every shot will determine whether he flies to Minnesota on Sunday night or has time to check on his new candy store in Pensacola, Florida.
Jordan Spieth doesn’t have this problem. He easily qualified for the team and is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of the FedEx Cup. He was at Hazeltine on Monday playing with whom he described as the “three hopefuls” — Watson, Berger and Thomas.
Spieth figures his best chance to play well at Hazeltine is to play well at East Lake. The matches don’t start until Friday, anyway.
“Now that I’m here,” he said Tuesday at East Lake, “I’m only thinking about this.”
And those three hopefuls?
“I think it’s challenging. I think it’s tough,” he said.
Spieth and Thomas have been friends since they were 14. He said Thomas has told him he’s been so consumed with the Ryder Cup that it has hurt his game. Thomas missed the cut at the TPC Boston and tied for 32nd in a 69-man field at Crooked Stick.
“They all know that if they come in here and if they can somehow block that out and focus on this tournament, it will help all of them,” Spieth said.
Tim Finchem, in his final year as the PGA Tour commissioner, managed to take it as a compliment that the PGA of America was taking so much attention away from what Tour marketing officials once described as their Super Bowl.
“The way the Ryder Cup approaches this has really changed because of the FedEx Cup,” he said Tuesday. “It says that players are gearing their game to be at the top of their game during this period of time.”
Nine of the 30 players at the Tour Championship are assured of being in Hazeltine next week.
Russell Knox of Scotland is part of the 21 who will not. He was left off the European Tour team despite two PGA Tour victories in the last year and a world ranking (No. 19) better than seven players for Europe. Once he was overlooked as a pick, Knox has thought about only one cup.
“There’s four or five U.S. guys this week still hoping to play well to make the Ryder Cup,” Knox said. “The position I’m in, I’ll take the $10 million.”
Course: East Lake GC (7,385 yards, par 70), Atlanta
TV: Golf Channel — 1-6 p.m. today-Friday, 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, noon-1:30 p.m. Sunday. NBC — noon-3:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:30-6 p.m. Sunday
Purse: $8.5 million ($1.53 million winner)
Defending champion: Jordan Spieth
Pacific Links Championship
Course: Bear Mountain Resort (6,925 yards, par 71), Victoria, British Columbia
TV:Golf Channel — 6-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Purse: $2.5 million ($330,000 winner)
Defending champion: Paul Goydos