Sobel: The BMW Championship Holds Some Secret Importance

Sobel: The BMW Championship Holds Some Secret Importance article feature image

Catalina Fragoso, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Tony Finau

  • The BMW Championship starts Thursday at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa.
  • At the end of the BMW Championship, the 30-man field will be set for the PGA Championship at East Lake.
  • Any player that qualifies for the PGA Championship automatically qualifies for the 2019 Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship.
  • That makes this weekend's tournament a potential career-changer, as we saw last year with Tony Finau.

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Raise your hand if you’re sick of the TV networks shoving projected FedEx Cup standings down our throats this time of year.

Look, I get it. That’s a directive from the title sponsor, which is ponying up a lot of dough to put its name on a season-long series about which most people are pretty meh.

In order to increase awareness and understanding, it’s obvious that those producing the broadcasts have been prodded to explain specific scenarios to the point of exhaustion.

The result is what we witnessed Monday afternoon. Toward the end of the Dell Technologies Championship telecast, instead of continuing to analyze Bryson DeChambeau’s sudden rise to elite-level prominence with a second straight victory, we were treated to the endless possibilities of Abraham Ancer’s potential plight after hitting his second shot into the hazard on the par-5 final hole.

(Spoiler alert: If he made par, he’d still advance to the BMW Championship; if he made bogey, he’d still advance, but fall slightly lower in the standings; and if he made double-bogey, he’d still advance, but fall even lower. It was a truly breathtaking breakdown.)

Like most observers, I want my FedEx projections in neatly digestible portions over the first two events. Tell me why/how DeChambeau can still lose the whole thing. Let me know if/when Tiger Woods has qualified for the finale. Inform me about the big-name players who have failed to advance.

This week, though, that all changes.

That’s because I now care about the projections — and so should you.

It has much less to do with which players have the inside track toward winning the $10 million first-place prize than which players are hovering on the verge of making or missing the field at East Lake.

There are plenty of perks to reaching the 30-man field at the season-ending tourney, but the biggest one might be this: Every player is guaranteed entry into the following year’s Masters Tournament, U.S. Open and Open Championship (and usually the PGA Championship as a residual effect).

Sure, that won’t matter much for guys such as Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas. They’ve already qualified for those majors five different ways.

For others, simply reaching the final field can be a career-changer.

Don’t believe it? Let me tell you a little story…

On Tuesday afternoon of last year’s Tour Championship, I walked a nine-hole practice round with Tony Finau, speaking with his father, Gary, as we strolled around East Lake.

They were both beaming. Making it into that tourney was the culmination of two decades of hard work, from first hitting balls at a par-3 course near their house to scrounging up enough money for junior tournaments around the country to the long and winding path that Tony’s professional journey had taken.

Even the final steps were wobbly. Finau entered the final round of last year’s BMW outside the top 30, but chipped in for birdie on his final hole to post a 7-under 64 and get inside the number.

“It was really a special round on Sunday, kind of an 11th-hour thing to get in,” he said at the time. “I knew what I had to do, and to make it happen was pretty cool — something I’ll remember for the rest of my career, for sure.”

Finau knew that just getting into the final field had opened doors he’d only dreamed about. Without prior qualification, that got him into the Masters for the first time, meaning father and son would share the joy of driving down Magnolia Lane together.

Oh, and if that alone wasn’t career-changing enough, Finau wound up finishing in the top 10 at all three of those majors he qualified for that week. He’s now considered the type of player who brings his best stuff to the biggest events, firmly on the short list of candidates to win a first major in the next few years.

All of that might’ve happened anyway. But it can be directly traced to that furious finish at the BMW.

So, that’s why I care about the standings this week. Not so I know whether Thomas or Johnson will be directly behind DeChambeau on the list or whether Koepka will be fourth or sixth entering the finale.

I care because I want to know which players will have the potential of a Finau-like breakthrough based on those perks of finishing top 30.

That’s why this week holds some sneaky importance.