1981 Pensacola Open, the Forgotten Season-Ending Championship - A Personal Commentary - Frank's Humble Abode at FrankoSite2020.com, formerly known as frankosport.com

Sources: 1982 TPA (PGA) Tour Media Guide    Golf Digest Magazine, February 1982
!! DISCLAIMER: This web-page uses publicly obtainable information. No rights infringement intended. No commercial benefits suggested or sought.

Links herein are blue-colored underlined text.    Many will open in a new window or tab.

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Fed Ex Cup - Alternative Top 30 Scenarios   (2007 - Present)       1975-76 PGA Tour "Wrapped" Season



Introduction

There was once a time when U.S. PGA Tour players did not play for such things as Official World Golf Rankings,
Fall Finish Series or a Grand Prix Series by Seiko or Nabisco. And certainly not a series like the Fed Ex Cup
Playoffs, which started in 2007.    Nor did PGA Tour players compete in season-ending events such as the
Tour Championship.


Instead, players competed for such coveted end-of-the-year titles as the Vardon Trophy {Scoring Average} and
the Arnold Palmer Award {annual Leading Money Winner}, titles that are still valued today - depending on the
player, of course! The Vardon and Palmer awards shared the spotlight with the PGA of America's Player of the
Year award, which is still awarded today, but whose significance has been diminished because of the PGA Tour's
own Player the Year award.


Before 1987 and the arrival of the Tour Championship, the PGA Tour's final official event of the season was not
some big-money, limited field type of championship, but rather just a regular Tour event, with a small purse
as well as a less than stellar field of players.


For a period of nine years, from 1976 to 1984 {except 1982}, the last official event on the PGA Tour's schedule
was the Pensacola Open. For just about every one of those years, all major end-of-the-season honors were
already decided by the time the Tour rolled into this small Florida Panhandle town. Usually, the only noteworthy
thing at stake was a chance to finish among the Tour's Top 125 Money Winners {Top 60, prior to 1982} and thus
be fully exempt for the next PGA Tour season.


However, on a mid-October weekend in 1981, the Pensacola Open was transformed into a major season-ending
event, with many of the most well known golfers of that time competing for some of the year's biggest honors.



1981: A year when Season's End really meant something

1981 was a mixed bag season, with no one player dominating either the Major Championships or the whole PGA
Tour itself. In terms of events won, Bill Rogers had emerged as the clear leader here, posting official Tour wins in
the Heritage Classic, World Series of Golf and Texas Open. Rogers also won the tournament of his life, the 1981
British Open Championship at Royal St. George's.


At this point in time, the PGA Tour did not count the British Open as an official Tour event! However, the PGA
of America had just revised its Player of the Year award criteria, and now treated wins in the British Open and
the Masters the same as with wins in the US Open and PGA Championship. A win in each of the majors was
worth 30 points. 20 points was given for wins in the Players Championship as well as the World Series of Golf.
All other wins in official PGA Tour events, including the Pensacola Open, were worth 10 points apiece. On a
descending scale {20 for 1st, 18 for 2nd, and so on down to 2 for 10th}, points were also awarded for best
scoring averages and for most official prize money earned.


Rogers thus led the Player-of-the-Year race by eight points over two pursuers -- Ray Floyd, who had wins at the
Players Championship, Doral Open and and Westchester Classic; and Tom Watson, victorious at the Masters,
Atlanta Classic and New Orleans Open.


In addition to the Player of the Year title, the Leading Money Winner title was also up for grabs. In spite of
winning a $100,000 1st-place check at the World Series of Golf, Rogers was not in the running for the Leading
Money Winner title. If the $50,000 1st prize from his British Open win had counted as official, Rogers would
have been right in the thick of the Money Leader Race.


Floyd and Watson, however, both had great shots at Leading Money Winner. Two more players were also in
contention for Leading Money Winner -- Bruce Lietzke {wins at the Bob Hope Classic, San Diego Open and
Byron Nelson Classic}   and Tom Kite, the PGA Tour's Official Money Leader at that particular point.
Kite had recorded only ONE tour win in 1981, the AMC-Inverrary Classic. But he also posted a gaggle of
Top-5 and Top-10 finishes {including a solo 2nd to Rogers at the World Series, worth $55,000} which helped
elevate him to the top of the Official Money List.


Kite's brilliant play also put him in solid position to take home the PGA of America's Vardon Trophy, which
was awarded for the year's best scoring average. In fact, the Vardon would be Kite's for sure at season's end.


So to recap, these were the stakes for each of the various contenders going into the 1981 Pensacola Open --

»»» Bill Rogers: Player-of-the-Year

»»» Tom Watson: Player-of-the-Year and Leading Money Winner,
      both of which would be for the 5th straight year.

»»» Ray Floyd: Player-of-the-Year and Leading Money Winner

»»» Tom Kite and Bruce Lietzke: Leading Money Winner

ALSO: Here are the Top Five Money Winners going into the 1981 Pensacola Open --

  1: Tom Kite ... $ 364,099     2: Ray Floyd ... $ 354,927     3: Tom Watson ... $ 345,660

  4: Bruce Lietzke ... $ 336,146     5: Bill Rogers ... $ 315,411



The Battle in the City of Five Flags

Bill Rogers, in the middle of a heavy late-season schedule, elected to skip the Pensacola Open, leaving
Watson, Kite, Floyd and Lietzke to fight on their own for the various golfing spoils.


Tom Watson got off to a great start, taking the first round lead with 64. But a 2nd round 76 knocked
Watson back into the pack. He never re-emerged, eventually finishing in a 4-way tie for 22nd.


Ray Floyd's first three rounds of 70-68-67 put him in position to grab the Pensacola title. A final round
73 dashed his hopes. Floyd wound up finishing in a 6-way tie for 10th.


Bruce Lietzke started well with opening rounds of 67 and 68. However, weekend rounds of 71 and 70 were
nowhere near good enough, and Lietzke would finish in a 3-way tie for 5th.


Tom Kite would not claim the Pensacola title, but he did finish ahead of his rivals, doing so in remarkable
fashion. His opening rounds of 72 and 70 for 2-under-par 142 were just barely good enough to get him into
the weekend, for 142 WAS the 36-hole cut mark! Kite then fired a third round 64, and then a fourth round 69.
Kite's efforts over the final 36 holes would place him in a two-way tie for 3rd with tour rookie Fred Couples.


A most interesting happenstance occurred as Vance Heafner and Mike Holland tied for 10th place. These
two would get together the following week and win the Walt Disney World Team Championship.


When everything else was all said and done on Sunday afternoon, Jerry Pate had claimed the 1981
Pensacola Open title. Steve Melnyk finished second.

1981 Final Scores and Earnings
click-on to view full 72-hole results for all in the field (opens in new window/tab).

Despite sitting out the Pensacola Open, Bill Rogers earned 1981 PGA of America Player of the Year Honors.

Meanwhile, Tom Kite took home both the Arnold Palmer Award as 1981's Leading Money Winner, as well as
the Vardon Trophy for having 1981's best scoring average.

The other players were left to ponder on what might have been in 1981.

Incidentally, here are the final Top Five Money Winners of 1981 ....

    1: Tom Kite ... $ 375,699     2: Ray Floyd ... $ 359,360     3: Tom Watson ... $ 347,660

    4: Bruce Lietzke ... $ 343,446     5: Bill Rogers ... $ 315,411


Lastly, the golf fans of Pensacola emerged as the real winners. Their tournament, site of several
important PGA Tour milestones, had for a moment in time become almost as important as any major
golf championship. That moment was gone now, leaving fans everywhere with great memories.



Beyond 1981

The Pensacola Open

The Pensacola Open was on the PGA Tour schedule up through 1988. Since then, the Senior PGA Tour,
(now, Champions Tour),    as well as the Nationwide Tour (now, Korn Ferry Tour) has hosted events
in and near Pensacola. For many years, Gary Player always enjoyed coming to the Senior Tour events
contested in this part of the Florida Panhandle.


Besides being the place where 1981 season-ending honors were decided, the Pensacola Open was
also the place where, in 1974, Lee Elder won his first PGA Tour event in a play-off with England's
Peter Oosterhuis. With the win, Elder became the first African-American to earn an invitation to
the Masters Tournament in Augusta, GA.


Suggesting Something New

Both the 1981 Pensacola Open and the entire 1981 PGA Tour season suggested that perhaps future
PGA Tour seasons could benefit from a meaningful season-long competition. Such a competition
could employ the use of either the existing money list or perhaps a separately maintained points
list. Then, at season's end, a special event could be held to decide several season honors.


What follows in the next paragraph is strictly the personal opinion of this author --

Participants for such a season-ending finale event might include any or all of the following ... (1) the top,
say, 40 money or points leaders; (2) regular PGA Tour members who win events during the season but
are not among the top-40 money or points leaders; (3) regular members not otherwise eligible who finish
solo or tied 2nd in a tour event won by a non-member pro or amateur; (4) if not otherwise eligible, winners
from the previous year of the #1 money or points title as well as the season-ending finale event.

Such suggested invitational categories may have been discussed, if at all, but only the first one, the top
money or points leaders, trimmed down from top 40 to top 30, was adopted.


The Tour Championship

Beginning 1987, the PGA Tour introduced a season-ending championship, The Tour Championship, with
the intent that it would be the event where major season-ending honors might be settled. For the 1987
season, a points system was used to determine the field of 30 players. In 1988 and after, the field of 30
would be determined by the PGA Tour's Official Money List.


The only qualification for the Tour Championship was to be among the Top 30 Money Winners (or, in 1987
only, points leaders). No provisions were made to accomodate PGA Tour event winners outside the Top 30,
including anyone who might win one of the four major championships, the Players Championship, or the
World Series of Golf. Also, no provisions were made to account for any vacant spots among the Top 30.
If you were not among the Top 30 Money Leaders, then you would not qualify for the Tour Championship.


For the first 11 years of its run, the winner of the Tour Championship would be awarded a standard two-year
PGA Tour winner's exemption, the same as any regular tour event.   Beginning 1998, the winner of the Tour
Championship would receive a three-year tour exemption, which would be honored at all regular open and
invitational events. The three-year exemption essentially made the tournament a mini-season championship
unto itself. If you could not claim the title of Leading Money Winner, worth a five-year exemption, then a
Tour Championship win, along with the three-year exemption, would be a nice consolation prize.


The Tour Championship may have been conceived to provide season-ending drama, but other than the
years 1989 and 1996, very little of that type of drama would occur.


In 1999 and 2000, the Tour Championship's status as a season-ending championship would be nullified
by the tournament that was scheduled one week later and contested over in Europe, the American Express
World Golf Championship (now know as the WGC Mexico Championship). Beginning 2001, the WGC Amex
would be contested on earlier dates in the fall, giving season-ender status back to the Tour Championship.


In 2007, the Tour Championship became part of the Fed Ex Cup playoff series, serving as the finale event
for this season-long competition. The Fed Ex Cup section just a few lines down will have some more details.


Beginning 2019, the Tour Championship format was revised. Now, a tournament victory would still be official,
but there would no regular tournament purse !! Instead, the event now exists solely to determine the winner
of the annual Fed Ex Cup title. This status change resulted in the loss of the Tour Championship's status
as a mini-season championship unto itself, because a tournament win will no longer award a three-year
exemption. Only the Fed Ex Cup title will award an exemption, which is for five years.


The Fed Ex Cup

In 2007, the PGA Tour launched the Fed Ex Cup. It is a season-long points race that reaches a climax in late
summer with a playoff series, orginally four events from 2007 to 2018. The Tour Championship was moved
from November to September in order to serve as the final play-off event. The Top 125 Fed Ex Cup Points
Leaders qualify for the play-offs, and then players are eliminated after each playoff event until only thirty (30)
are left to compete in the Tour Championship. As was the case from 1987 to 2006, only those players who
were among the Top 30 points leaders would play in the Tour Championship. No other categories would be
created to accomodate players outside the Top 30.


The Fed Ex Cup competition offers a Grand Prize of $10 million ($ 15 million, 2019-) from a bonus pool of
$35 million ($ 60 million, 2019-), along with a five-year PGA Tour exemption. There are only two (and only
two) conditions necessary in order to win the Fed Ex Cup Grand Prize -- (1) be a regular PGA Tour member;
and (2), have more Fed Ex Cup points than any other player after the Tour Championship.


A key major flaw of the playoff series setup was exposed to a small extent in 2007, and to a grossly larger
extent in 2008. The playoff events preceding the Tour Championship offered at least twice as many points
as offered by regular season events. In combination with the reset of player points before the playoffs, the
winner's share of points made for very large leads and very large differences between the #1 player and all
other's down to #30 by the start of the Tour Championship. The problem was further compounded by this
key fact -- the points offered at the Tour Championship, as well as at the three playoff events, were
pre-determined at least ten months before the playoffs would even start.


All of these issues could have been very easily and quickly solved if the PGA Tour had thought to have a
policy in place that would allow for custom adjustments of the Tour Championship points distribution before
play in that event would begin. Such adjustments could have compensated for unusally large points leads,
while also giving all 30 Tour Championship competitors a more than fair chance to win both the tournament
and the Fed Ex Cup title.


No such custom adjustment policy has ever been adopted. Since 2008, several revisions of the playoffs have
occurred, but all have failed to properly resolve the issue of large points leads and large points differences
between any and all players.



Honors Are What Have Value And Count The Most, Right?

At the 1981 Pensacola Open, just a simple regular stop on the PGA Tour, players were competing for honors
and titles, which meant something to each and every competitor. What does any of this mean for today's players?

Is it wrong to be chasing after a huge cash prize, or is it that the manner of the chase as it exists today does
not approach the spirit of what took place in a small Florida Panhandle city so many moons ago?

You may decide whatever you will.

This author most kindly thanks all readers for their time.



1981 Pensacola Open, the Forgotten Season-Ending Championship - A Personal Commentary - Frank's Humble Abode at FrankoSite2020.com, formerly known as frankosport.com

Sources: 1982 TPA (PGA) Tour Media Guide    Golf Digest Magazine, February 1982
!! DISCLAIMER: This web-page uses publicly obtainable information. No rights infringement intended. No commercial benefits suggested or sought.

Links herein are blue-colored underlined text.    Many will open in a new window or tab.

Golf Stuff Page      My Home Page    About Me    Contact Me

Fed Ex Cup - Alternative Top 30 Scenarios   (2007 - Present)       1975-76 PGA Tour "Wrapped" Season


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