KUALA LUMPUR: It’s being billed as “Ultimate August”, with an eye-popping US$15 million (RM62m)
awaiting the new FedExCup champion. For someone like man-of-the hour Brooks Koepka, it could mean collecting an eye-popping US$18 million in bonuses alone by the time the dust settles down.
Welcome to the conclusion of PGA TOUR’s 2018-19 Season where every stroke matters and every missed shot could mean disaster. The stars know they have everything to fight for as one of the richest prizes and most prestigious accolades in sports await the FedExCup champion.
Four tournaments remain out of the 46 this season which have seen the TOUR’s bandwagon traversing the United States, Latin America and Asia in the past 11 months highlighting another epic season which has cemented a golf legend’s stature, established new superstars and heralded the exciting arrival of a new generation of young champions.
Presently, the all-powerful Koepka looks poised to be the season’s biggest winner. Following a third victory of the season at the World Golf Championships- FedEx St Jude Invitational last weekend, he picked up a cool US$2 million bonus for winning the Wyndham Rewards Top 10 with one event to spare. This week’s Wyndham Championship will conclude the Regular Season.
The 29-year-old American has also all but wrapped up the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, another new and innovative competition that highlights golf’s best strategic decision-makers. In short, that’s another US$1 million in the bank for Koepka.
After this week, the top 125 golfers on the FedExCup points list qualify for the make-or-break FedExCup Playoffs, comprising THE NORTHERN TRUST, the top 70 will get through to the BMW Championship and the Playoffs Finale, TOUR Championship will feature the best 30 and use a stroke-based system to determine the 2019 FedExCup champion.
This season’s US$15 million payout to the FedExCup champion is US$5 million more than what England’s Justin Rose earned as the 2018 winner, thanks to a cash boost from FedEx who topped up the overall bonus pool by US$25 million to US$60 million.
Koepka, who also won THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea and PGA Championship this season, is geared up for a strong finish as he enters the Playoffs as the No. 1 ranked player on the points list.
“It’s incredible. To look at what I've done this year, just show consistency, try to take my game to a new level and I've done that. To be up there in the FedExCup with a chance in Atlanta, that's incredible,” Koepka said.
Other glory seekers like Rory McIlroy, who is trying to emulate Tiger Woods as the only two-time FedExCup champion, will be aiming to pull the rug from beneath Koepka’s feet. “You want to be as high up in the rankings as you possibly can. Obviously there’s a lot to play for. Every year, the FedExCup is getting bigger and bigger, and it’s more of a target on all the guys’ radar. There’s a lot to play for in August,” he added.
Why August is being billed as the ultimate in professional golf has very much been due to the vision of PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan, who has advocated strategic changes to the TOUR Schedule and pushed for greater rewards to capture and expand the imagination of players, fans, TV and mobile viewers.
As previous FedExCup champions include current greats such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Vijay Singh, winning the season-long competition has become a priority for the new generation of golfers. In short, the FedExCup is now woven as part of the modern game fabric.
The 25-year-old Xander Schauffele encapsulates the importance of the Playoffs succinctly. The reigning WGC-HSBC Champions and Sentry Tournament of Champions winner said: “We have so much to play for - the Wyndham Rewards and FedExCup. Everything’s on the table. It’s just as big as a major championship. I’ll go to sleep thinking about those things.”
Rose, the first Englishman to taste FedExCup glory last year, added: “Obviously the Playoffs are all about volatility and bringing your game when you really, really need it. We've all bought in and love that concept.”
Asia will have keen interest in the Playoffs with Korean rookie Sungjae Im currently ranked as the highest Asian on the Points List in 25th position, followed by countryman Sung Kang in 28th place and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama in 29th place. Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan sits in 34th position, another Korean Si Woo Kim is 53rd while Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat lies 74th.
Kiradech, whose recent form has been affected by a niggling knee injury, said he will take it one week at a time during the Playoffs. “I don’t look at the money, just look at it week after week. I’m always trying to win one event which is the goal … winning the FedExCup is the dream.”
For many, getting to the TOUR Championship means a shot at winning the FedExCup, the ultimate prize on the PGA TOUR.
* Chuah Choo Chiang is Senior Director, Communications, PGA TOUR and is based in Kuala Lumpur