John Renslow: The Merrit of tour school |

John Renslow: The Merrit of tour school

Imagine that about six months ago, you were the medalist at tour school.

Well, maybe we should back up a bit for clarification. The “medalist” is the player with the lowest aggregate score in a stroke play (counting all of the shots) golf tournament.

“Tour School” is the affectionate term used within the industry for the PGA Tour’s Qualifying Tournament held annually to allow up and coming players to gain entrance into the following year’s events.

Thousands of players from around the world tee it up at local courses in hopes of moving on to the next stage of qualifying. Each of these local events will host well over a hundred top golfers with only a handful advancing to a regional location.

The final is a grueling six-round odyssey joined by 150 of your contemporaries. From this last stage, 25 earn their PGA Tour cards. This means that you are a PGA Tour member and are eligible to play in the Tour’s events.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming. After a total of 14 rounds against hundreds upon hundreds of the world’s better players, you came out on top. Your name is Troy Merrit and you bested former tour winners, even major champions such as David Duval, Jeff Maggert and Todd Hamilton.

It’s time to play, you’re ready to compete, so you send in your entry form. But wait, there is no room in the tournament, the event is full. What do you mean full? You are the medalist at tour school.

Here is the interesting story within the story, the game within the game. Those top 25 players at tour school, as well as the top 25 money winners on the Nationwide Tour (you might think of this as a minor league baseball system) receive their card and are members, but they’re not taking the place of some guys named Phil or Freddie or Tiger.

Every week the fully exempt (last year’s top 125 on the Money List) players have until Friday afternoon to declare their intention to play in the following week’s event. Chances are not all 125 will opt to play (family, schedules, low lumbar pain, whatever). This opens the door to those who have earned conditional status, known as “Category 24” players.

However, not all of them will be able to play. So, there is a pecking order to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. Initially, at the start of the year, the order is a priority ranking based on their 2009 qualifications. The winner of tour school is placed first, followed by the leading Nationwide Tour money winner, followed by the runner-up at tour school, and so on.

This order will remain through next week’s Phoenix Open, the end of the tour’s west coast swing. Then, the order will be “reshuffled” and reset.

Through last week at Pebble Beach, Troy Merritt has made almost $160,000 in four events and is ranked #68 on the PGA Tour’s Money list. Not bad. Yet, Matt Jones and Rickie Fowler, also tour rookies, have both earned over $225,000 over the same span.

If the reshuffle took place today, Jones would be No. 1 among the category 24 players and Merritt would slip to the middle of the pack. When the tour begins the events on the east coast (starting with the Honda Classic in Florida) they may not have a spot for the medalist at tour school.

Qualifying for the PGA Tour is a huge accomplishment and places you in the “nth” percentile of all golfers, ever. But, it’s not easy to stay out there, more than half of the newbies will be looking at the qualifying tournament again come fall.

Playing golf for a living certainly has its advantages and we celebrate the successes. You just have to keep working hard, or you may get lost in the shuffle.

John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at

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