The FedExCup's ultimate prize is best kept out of mindMatt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson are close to a $10 million payday. They would just rather not think about it.September 21, 2011
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
ATLANTA -- Final hole on Sunday at East Lake. One putt to win. A $10 million bonus -- not to mention the winner's check of $1.44 million -- hangs in the balance.
Can you forget about the money? Can you remain focused on the shot, read the line, make a solid, confident stroke as you've done thousands of times before?
Or does the enormity of the prize -- it truly is like winning the lottery -- rattle your nerves, turn your mouth dry and make your hands twitch at the most inopportune moment?
This could be the challenge one of the 30 players in the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola faces at the end of this week. Being able to deal with the high stakes may very well be the single most important factor in determining this year's FedExCup champion.
"That's part of the appeal of the FedExCup," said Geoff Ogilvy, who calls the bonus "that carrot dangling at the end."
For some, the best way to deal with the huge amount of money will actually be to ignore it. The numbers are too big to comprehend. PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem pointed out this week that while "everybody talks about the $10 million, the average winner of the Cup has won through the Playoffs and the bonus about $14 million."
It's a "crazy amount," said Matt Kuchar.
Of course, as Justin Rose said, the $10 million bonus "doesn't help you play better golf." So it's best not to even think about it.
"The key and the strategy still is to do what you do best," Rose added. "To use all your skills, to stay in the moment, to keep it one shot at a time.
"I think that's what makes winning the FedExCup a huge challenge is to deal with the pressure of the $10 million and keep your game in shape and in check."
Most players, certainly the established ones, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. On Wednesday when the subject of the $10 million came up, Luke Donald noted his career earnings of just over $24 million ... and that's just on the PGA TOUR. He mentioned his two nice houses. "It's not like I can't afford to buy things," he said.
If Donald is standing over that putt on the 72nd hole Sunday, he'll be thinking about winning for the second time this year. He'll be thinking of being FedExCup champion, of solidifying his spot atop the world rankings, of possibly getting the Player of the Year vote from his peers later this year.
"The money is really the last thing I'm thinking about," Donald said. "It's not really the important factor for me."
That's how it is with elite athletes in all major sports. When you're in the heat of battle, when it comes to winning or losing, the money is not the motivation at that point.
"It's less, I think, about what's going to end up in your bank account and more about the principle of holing a putt," said Ogilvy, who worked his way into this week's field with a third-place finish at last week's BMW Championship.
"... The money is obviously really nice, but it's like beating your friend for $2 on the putting green. I mean, it's better to beat him for $2 than it is just to beat him for the fun of it, you know what I mean?"
Dustin Johnson said he will take the same approach into the TOUR Championship as he does for other events, meaning he only wants to play at his best and hope that's good enough to put his name atop the leaderboard.
And if it comes down to the final putt, with the highest prize in golf on the line?
"All you're really trying to focus on is making a putt or hitting it where you're looking," he said. "Not really making it but just hitting it where you want to hit it.
"And if it goes in, it goes in."
Last year, Jim Furyk came to the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead. But his tee shot at the par-3 18th found the bunker. He needed to get up and down in rainy conditions to win the tournament.
His marvelous bunker shot left him with a two-foot putt for $10 million. After holing the putt, he hugged his wife Tabitha. Only then did he ask, "Did I win the bonus?"
It won't happen to Furyk again this week -- he didn't qualify for this year's TOUR Championship -- but maybe it will happen to someone else. Maybe the tournament and the FedExCup will come down to a single stroke.
If it does, then it's best not to think about the money.