Rule 78 Causes Controversy

Last weekend’s Sony Open marked the debut of “Rule 78”, a new policy on the PGA Tour that affects who plays on the weekend.

Under the rule, whenever more than 78 players make the cut on a weekend, only those whose score is nearest 70 will actually play. The remainder get credit for making the cut, FedEx Cup Points and the last place share of the purse. But they don’t play.

The rule was precipitated by tournaments in which large numbers of players tied for the final spot on the weekend. Last year, for example, 89 players made the cut at Disney. There also were eleven other instances in which ties led to oversized weekend fields. The problem of scheduling (especially for tv) is obvious; this leads to threesomes, two-tee starts and slow play times—all sore spots with the PGA Tour.

So at the Sony, eighteen players were cut out of weekend play as Rule 78 went into effect. Among those: John Daly, who was playing in a sponsor’s exemption and who complained loudly. In fact, a lot of players are not happy, including such big names as Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Jerry Kelly, Paul Azinger, Carl Pettersson, Jay Williamson, Daniel Chopra and Patrick Sheehan. All have spoken out against the policy.

Their belief is that even if you make the cut on the numbers, you should have a chance to move up the leaderboard on the weekend, when pressure may cause others to collapse. They may have a point. At the Buick Invitational in 2002. Jose Maria Olazabal tied for the final spot in what turned out to be a weekend field of 85. He ended up winning the tournament.

More curious is that a good many players have said they weren’t aware of the policy. I wonder if any of these guys read their mail. This policy was adopted by the Player Advisory Council and was unanimously approved by the Policy Board. Notices about the change were sent to the players last November.

I can see where you might get overwhelmed by fan mail (although only a few guys surely are). But if a letter shows up with a PGA Tour postmark, you’d think they would read it. I know that I make absolutely certain to open any mail from my employer immediately.

As a fan, I like the policy. The potential for smaller weekends means stronger play on Thursday and Friday, a little bit of uncertainty about the actual cut line and tighter, quicker play on the weekend. I especially like the cut line uncertainty; a guy making the turn on Friday has to worry about whether making the cut on the numbers is going to be enough. That may result in some bold play … and some spectacular crashes.

In fact, maybe the Tour should just lower the cut line in general. It probably would result in some more exciting golf.

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