A summer of superlative playoff golf has been fun, memorable and maybe even replicable

The summer of playoffs rolls on. In the span of two months we’ve seen the longest playoff in PGA Tour history, the biggest playoff in PGA Tour history and maybe the most unique playoff in golf history.

The week after the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Harris English and Kramer Hickok went eight holes deep at the Travelers Championship in a playoff that felt like it lasted long enough to be considered a different event altogether than the first 72 holes of regulation. This tied eight other PGA Tour events that included eight holes of playoffs and was just the second such instance since 1983. There was a playoff in 1949 that went 11 holes, but it got dark so co-winners were declared.

At the beginning of August, seven golfers found themselves in a playoff for the bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In the middle of the night here in the United States, a combination of Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa, Sebastian Munoz, C.T. Pan and Mito Pereira played four playoff holes with players dropping off on every hole and Pan eventually emerging as the medal winner. It doesn’t take a lot for something in the genteel world of golf to qualify as chaotic, and having 14 humans on a single green at the same time during an actual professional event certainly qualifies. Even more so since many of us were watching it happen just a few hours before the sun rose in our part of the world.

Then Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, Russell Henley missed a short putt on the 72nd hole that would have broken the record for most golfers in a single playoff in PGA Tour history. Instead, Branden Grace, Si Woo Kim, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Na, Adam Scott and Roger Sloan, tied the record of six players in a single playoff (last set in 2001 when the broadcasting days of Brandel Chamblee, who was in that playoff at the Nissan Open, were still a future possibility).

PGA Tour playoff party

There have been 12 PGA Tour events this season decided by a playoff.

Tournament Winner (Holes) Also in playoff
Wyndham Championship Kevin Kisner (2) Si Woo Kim, Adam Scott, Roger Sloan,

Kevin Na, Branden Grace
WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Abraham Ancer (2) Sam Burns, Hideki Matsuyama
Barbasol Championship Seamus Power (6) J.T. Poston
Rocket Mortgage Classic Cam Davis (5) Troy Merritt, Joaquin Niemann
Travelers Championship Harris English (8) Kramer Hickok
Memorial Tournament Patrick Cantlay (1) Collin Morikawa
Zurich Classic of New Orleans Marc Leishman/
Cameron Smith (1)
Louis Oosthuizen/
Charl Schwartzel
The Genesis Invitational Max Homa (2) Tony Finau
Sentry Tournament of Champions Harris English (1) Joaquin Niemann
The RSM Classic Robert Streb (2) Kevin Kisner
Bermuda Championship Brian Gay (1) Wyndham Clark
Shriners Children’s Open Martin Laird (2) Austin Cook, Matthew Wolff

The PGA Tour leaned into the absurdity and let all six golfers all play as a single group, which was amazing and led to some inevitable comparisons of the busiest fairways in recent golf history. Kisner went on to win on the second playoff hole, and the ensuing congratulatory bumps and hugs from everyone in his group truly looked like a Stanley Cup Playoffs postgame handshake line. It doesn’t take much to get those of us who follow the minutiae of this sport exhilarated on a Sunday afternoon.

“I kept saying this afternoon coming down the last few holes and even on the playoff, I was just remembering Russell Crow and Gladiator: ‘Are you not entertained?'” said Sloan, who was one of the five upended by Kisner’s birdie on the second playoff hole. “It’s so cool to be a part of this. Great finish and a lot of great players here in the playoff. Congrats to Kisner for pulling it out, but man, that was a lot of fun.”

And while the concept is humorous (and certainly entertaining), perhaps there is something more there. Coming off a 2020 Tokyo Olympics that contained every sport imaginable, why could we not incorporate knockout golf like this more often? There are so many variables, so many concurrent things to keep track of and so much unintentional comedy. It’s great theater because it’s so different. Even if just for the next made-for-TV exhibition, there’s something about four or more (!) golfers desperate for the lowest score on a single hole in a format they’re so unaccustomed to.

This summer’s three outlier playoffs highlighted that. Though few golfers we would call stars or superstars played in the three playoffs, they were all memorable. With carts ferrying professional athletes around the field of play, golfers in different groups standing greenside with their bags like a college event and other pros scurrying out of the clubhouse to watch, how could they not be? I’m not saying the 2022-23 PGA Tour schedule needs to include a knockout event featuring 20-golfer pairings, but I’m not saying it doesn’t either! At the very least, it’s a fun concept to consider implementing in the next The Match and an enjoyable game to stow away when a PGA Tour All-Star-type weekend is implemented at some point in the future.

Also — you’re not going to believe this but — it’s now time for more playoffs. The FedEx Cup Playoffs are on deck as the final three events of the season unfold, culminating in a $15 million winner at the Tour Championship. These playoffs will be a bit different than the playoffs we’ve been talking about and have experienced so far this year.  But perhaps all of this was simply foreshadowing for what would be the most intense playoff of the season. Perhaps the only way the summer of playoffs can end is with yet another knockout round of golf, this time with a handful of golfers going at each other with eight digits on the table three weeks from now at East Lake.

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