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$10 million FedEx Cup check changes minds as Northern Trust approaches

Jordan Spieth tees off on the 17th hole

Jordan Spieth tees off on the 17th hole during the Pro-Am Day at The Northern Trust at Glen Oaks Golf Club on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jordan Spieth was not sure about taking the plunge and buying a spacious new home in Texas. Then $10 million happened to come his way two years ago and his choice was simple.

Rory McIlroy enjoyed the same bump in his bank account last fall, which occurred just in time. “I had a wedding to pay for,” he said.

The point is, $10 million can be life-changing even for someone who has a very nice and comfortable life. That, in a nutshell, is what drives the four-event FedEx Cup playoffs, the 2017 version of which begins Thursday on Long Island. Even though no golfer ever grew up dreaming of hoisting the FedEx Cup the way he thought of raising the claret jug from the British Open, the playoffs have become a huge deal for PGA Tour players.

“As players, these are massive weeks for us,” Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, said Wednesday at Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury on the eve of the Northern Trust, the first of the annual playoff tournaments.

Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, said, “Outside of the majors, this is big. It’s not a major, but it’s as close as we get. Winning the FedEx Cup, a lot goes with that.”

Most conspicuously, it is the $10 million first prize, which comes on top of the money from each individual tournament. Aside from the check, though, there is a stature that accompanies the FedEx Cup, which drew a lot of skepticism, even among players, when it began 10 years ago.

“I think in the beginning, everyone probably didn’t really know how it was going to work,” said Oosthuizen, who never has won the Cup. “I think it’s fun and it’s a lot of entertainment to play these events. If you have one or two great weeks, you can jump right up there and you’ve got a chance to win it. So, everyone will put a little more effort in over the next five weeks.”

Whether the public shares the enthusiasm is an open question. The opener, then known as the Barclays, was not a good draw last year at Bethpage Black even though the field included the same top players the major championships attract. Also, there is speculation that the PGA Tour is looking to scale back the playoffs from four tournaments to three, moving them earlier in the summer so the climactic Tour Championship does not go up against the NFL.

But as long as the players keep showing up, fans and TV networks are bound to keep noticing. Spieth has entered every playoff event for which he has been eligible. “We don’t take it lightly,” he said.

McIlroy decided to fly back here from Ireland despite having a nagging rib injury. “When players are setting their goals for the year, it’s definitely something that’s on their radar. They want to be FedEx Cup champion,” he said, adding that even though he has four major titles and won the PGA Tour money title more than once, he felt a void on his resume before last year. “Regardless of the big paycheck, you just want to be able to call yourself the FedEx Cup champion. It’s definitely a bigger deal [now] to the players.”

The venue matters, too. Golfers on Wednesday continued to praise Glen Oaks, a first-time host. Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, said: “Fairways are generous but you’ve got to hit the fairways. The rough is pretty gnarly out there . . . It’s a really good golf course and good condition. I’m a big fan.”

Spieth said it reminded him of Congressional, a U.S. Open site, and Muirfield Village, site of Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.

Whenever he pulls in his driveway, he is reminded what a big deal the FedEx Cup is.

“I was up in the air about buying that house, and then that [win] kind of pushed it,” Spieth said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can justify this move now.’”

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