This weekend marks the end of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season with the third and final event in the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. The seeding of the remaining 30 players is based on their performance throughout the year and the first two playoff tournaments in Memphis and Chicago. Since 2021 the reward for such performance has been what can only be called a reverse handicap. The #1 seed (Scottie Scheffler) tees off this afternoon at 10 under par. This advantage is reduced for the other participants based on their seeding with those in the 26-30 positions opening their round at even par. In other words, for a fan favorite like Jordan Spieth (#29 seed) to take down Scheffler, he needs to outscore Scheffler by 11 strokes, a tall order to say the least.
In one more Carl Jung moment of synchronicity, I realized it was no coincidence that the finale of the current PGA season is ending the weekend after the first debate among eight of the contenders for the Republican nomination for primary. Consider the parallels. First, on the same day the PGA Tour elite tee off in round one, Donald Trump has an 8:00 pm tee off time at the Fulton County jail to begin a judicial contest which may determine whether he spends four years in the White House or more in prison.
Second, for both the debate and the Tour Championship, the elephant(s) in the room are those who are not on the stage. Trump and Brooks Koepka. For non-golf aficionados, Koepka was among those who abandoned the PGA Tour for the Saudi funded LIV Tour. Yet he remains #13 in the Official World Golf Rankings and solidified that status by winning the PGA Championship (the second of four major championships) in May. [Note: The PGA and PGA Tour are two separate entities which is why he was able to play in the PGA Championship.] The only difference between Trump and Koepka is the fact Trump, having “qualified” for the RNC debate, chose to sit it out, while Koepka was banned from playing in the FedEx Cup playoffs even though he was “high enough in the polls” to qualify.
Third, and most important, the race for the presidential nomination, as it stands today according to the FiveThirtyEight.com average of polls, is comparable to the seeding system for the FedEx Cup. The bottom tier based on their inability to meet the RNC criteria to participate in the first debate–Doug Burgum, Will Hurd, Perry Johnson, Francis Suarez and Larry Elder–begin their quest at even par. Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie make up the next tier and start the election cycle at three or four under par. Vivek Ramaswamy is seeded third at 10 under par. Ron DeSantis is second at 15 under. The prohibitive favorite Trump tees off at 52 under par. Just imagine if Scottie Scheffler had a 37 stroke advantage over second place Victor Hovland and even more over the rest of the field.
But these two events differ in one very important aspect. The presidential contest is actually two contests, one for the nomination and one for the White House. The PGA Tour equivalent would require players seeded #2 through #30 holding a tournament to decide who takes on #1 seed Scheffler or “incumbent” FedEx champ Rory one-on-one for the FedEx Cup. Which explains why non-Trump participants in the race to be crowned the ultimate winner next November are boxed into a corner.
To win the nomination championship they need to convince a significant portion of the 35 percent of GOP primary voters who are always-Trump to see one of them as the heir to MAGA-dom. That explains why six of the eight participants in last night’s debate raised their hands in the affirmative when asked, “If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, would you still support him if he is convicted of a crime?” That same response, however, makes them less acceptable in the general election to independents and anti-Trump Republicans who view anyone who says Trump is innocent as living on Earth2 and a continuing threat to democracy.
For a political party that prides itself on playing the long game as evidenced by their engagement in state and local elections and control of the Supreme Court, it is shocking no one took the advice of former and disillusioned Republicans who suggested viable presidential aspirants wait until 2028. Their realistic chance of future success depends on letting Trump take the wind out of his own sails before leaving port to navigate the national political seas.
For what it’s worth.