The Champions Cup doesn’t need a gimmicky format to become prestigious.
February 2, 2021 by Patrick Aubyrn in Opinion with comments
On April 13, 2022, three days after the final putt falls at the 85th edition of the Masters and the winner slips into the green jacket, the world’s best disc golfers will tee off at the venerable W.R. Jackson course for the inaugural PDGA Champions Cup. The beginning of the four-major era in disc golf is upon us, and Wildwood Park, a mere twenty miles from Augusta National and home of the International Disc Golf Center, is an auspicious venue at which to establish a new springtime tradition.
The PDGA should be commended for expanding the slate of majors and for its scheduling decision. It just feels right to have one major in the spring, two in the summer, and one in the fall. Spreading these benchmarks across the full season requires the best to peak early and often. Its symmetry lends the tour functional structure and aesthetic balance.
With that said, I do not like the proposed hybrid format for the PDGA Champions Cup. Its design attempts to manufacture drama rather than allowing it to unfold naturally during a standard run of play, and the match play component strikes me as a less elegant version of the defunct final 9.
Most of the arguments I hear in favor of the hybrid format describe the desire to do something different — to make the Champions Cup stand out from the established elite series events and majors, which are all stroke play events spanning 3-5 rounds. But the simple fact that the overwhelming majority of professional tournaments determine their champion through stroke play is precisely why the Champions Cup should preserve this tried and true format. It is the essential form of disc golf.
At its core, golf is an individual sport pitting an athlete against the course. Neither company nor competition is required. A golfer alone on a dewy spring morning, sweating in the heat of a summer afternoon, or racing against the early autumn sunset measures their success not against another person or even against par, but in total throws.
Stroke play takes the truest measure of the golfer. It epitomizes the maxim to “play it as it lies” because players must complete every hole, tee to green. They need to capitalize on their chances to go under par and recover from errant throws and penalties. Every stroke is paramount because there is no recourse for concession.
Match play, on the other hand, emphasizes gamesmanship. Is it an exciting version of golf? Absolutely. Do I want to see a marquee match play event in addition to the President’s Cup every year? Undoubtedly, yes. Should it be the main format or even a component of a major championship? No.
When it comes to majors, there should be no need to gin up excitement. The Champions Cup will develop prestige as a stroke play tournament if the PDGA establishes the right conditions for its success: Set qualification standards to ensure the best field, use only the best courses, ramp up the amenities for players and fans alike to create a truly professional atmosphere, and pump money into the purse to raise the stakes. If these conditions are met consistently, year after year, it will not take long for the Champions Cup to earn its place at the table.
Take the youngest of the three established majors, the European Open, as a case in point. Assuming it occurs this season, 2021 will mark its tenth iteration and its ninth as a major. However, between 2006-2018, there were eight other majors in Europe under five different banners, and across the Pacific, the Japan Open has crowned ten major champions since 1991, two more than the European Open to date. How did the EO emerge from this crowded field as the international major? It was not because of an idiosyncratic format but because it consistently met the aforementioned qualitative criteria.
In the end, it all boils down to tradition. The PDGA should commit to determining major champions through unadulterated stroke play because every previous major champion earned their title by finishing with the fewest throws. Scoring the Champions Cup in the same manner allows the newly formed quadrumvirate to exist as a cohesive grand slam. When it comes to our majors, the hybrid stroke play/match play format is a contrivance we can do without.