Driving Into The Future

NASCAR, by and large, has not been a trendsetter among professional sports leagues.

Until now.

The world of professional golf is implementing a point system similar to the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup in an effort to make its somewhat arcane point and ranking systems more mainstream.

This new system, though not yet complete, is expected to be implemented in time for the 2007 season-though just what constitutes the professional golf season has always been somewhat of a mystery.

It is interesting in the extreme that the system which has spawned so much debate among NASCAR fans and competitors is being held up as the saving grace of professional golf. Not that the Chase hasn't done a lot for NASCAR, don't get me wrong. It's got interest at an all-time high and the last 10 races of the season are something to look forward to now, as opposed to when Jeff Gordon or Matt Kenseth simply walked away from the rest of the field.

Perhaps the similarities in the two sports-after all, a lot of NASCAR people actually play golf-might make this a positive for the PGA.

"They have more to overcome than just a new format," said Kyle Petty, who has seen a few format changes in his day. "They are kind of like NASCAR in they have tried a lot of points systems but rarely had one anybody could understand well. I think Winston tried it for awhile with Vantage (cigarettes) but nobody followed it. The Vardon Trophy is something like that - it's like average (per-round) score but only certain tournaments or certain days or when the wind blows from the South or something."

But, Petty noticed that NASCAR had an advantage over the PGA in that the road to the "playoffs" was one that was fairly well-defined.

"Putting together an understandable points system is their first trick," Petty said. "If they can do that and get fans to follow it, then a Chase at the end might make some sense. Putting the playoffs together first and then trying to decide how players are going to get there doesn't seem the way to go."

Now that the Chase has been around for two seasons and we're in the middle of the second straight bite-your-nails points race, the format is just about natural. If it was an effort to make the sport more "mainstream"-Lord, do I hate that term!-then it's been successful. Mainstream is what the market says it is, not a handful of eggheads who think mainstream is merely agreement with a narrow point of view defined by the eggheads themselves, but I digress.

More interest leads to better TV ratings. Better TV ratings leads to more sponsor dollars. More sponsor dollars means more teams, or at least more cars (legislation pending on that score). Heretofore, the PGA couldn't get picked out of a lineup in the TV ratings, unless it was one of the four majors or there's absolutely nothing else to compete with it on TV that weekend.

Maybe this will help. Who knows?

According to Busch Series driver T.J. Bell, it will be a project, that's for sure.

"It might work but I'm thinking, 'tough sale,'" he said. "Golf is just different. How much excitement can you generate in a sport where the announcers whisper and it's considered impolite to boo anyone? Maybe if they threw in a few 'gotchas' for each golfer - you know, where the guy is standing over a putt and, like, two or three times a round you get to scream on his backswing. If 'rubbin' is racin'' then maybe 'gotchas are golf.

"They still need to build some sort of passion around their players. Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh . . . who else is out there? Guys like Tony Stewart - fans might love him or pull against him, but no racing fan is ambivalent. Dale Earnhardt was that way. Jeff Gordon. Look at the New York Yankees. Love 'em or hate 'em, you have a feeling about them."

Too bad they don't use carts in professional golf. I’ve got an idea for those...

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