GET INTO GOLF: The PGA Tour Shuffle
Imagine that about six months ago, you were among the top 50 players on the Web.com Tour (a type of minor league system for the PGA Tour). You qualified for the PGA Tour, a lifetime dream.
Well, maybe we should back up a bit to gain some perspective. Up until 2012, the primary path the to PGA Tour was through a multi-round qualifying process. Known affectionately as “Tour School,” the three week event was held each fall to allow up-and-coming players to gain entrance into the following year’s tour events.
For the last several years, however, this path has been the Web.com Tour. Based on annual earnings, it likely produces the best field for next years PGA Tour. It is still the top 50 on that players that advance, but here is where is gets interesting and a little complicated.
First off, it’s not a simple 50 players. There are two sets of 25, a regular season portion and a Web.com finals (similar to the PGA Tour’s FedEx Playoffs) portion. These two sets are then combined based on performance to rank the 50 players.
Next, after a full season playing against hundreds of the world’s better players, it’s time to play. You’re ready to compete. So, you send in your entry form for possibly your first PGA Tour event. But wait, there is no room in the tournament, the event is full. What do you mean full? You just played all year for this opportunity.
Here is the interesting story within the story, the game within the game. Those top 50 players from the Web.com Tour receive their card and are PGA Tour members, but they’re not taking the place of some guys named Phil or Rory or Tiger.
Generally speaking, each week the fully exempt (primarily composed of last year’s PGA Tour top 125) players have until Friday afternoon to declare their intention to play in the following week’s event. Chances are, not all exempt players will opt to participate (family, schedules, low lumbar pain, whatever). This opens the door to those ‘graduates’ from the Web.com Tour, known as “Category 26” players.
There is a pecking order to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. At the start of the season, this so-called ‘priority ranking’ is based on the previously mentioned 50 players. Last year’s Web.com leader is placed first, followed by the runner-up and so on.
This order will remain until their current performance affects their ranking. A certain number of events are played. Then, based on how they finish in these events, the order will be ‘reshuffled’ and reset.
Yes, even though you excelled on the Web.com Tour and have earned your PGA Tour card, you may only be as good as your last tournament.
When the season started, Korea’s Sungjae Im was first on the list. As of this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, Michael Thompson, who started the season as No. 46, is now No. 1 on the list. He and 20 other Category 26 players are in the field. This let’s us know that a significant number of regular tour players are not playing.
The next reshuffle takes place at the end of the month, so these guys need to play well to either get high enough on the FedEx list (PGA Tour) or stay near the top of the Category 26 list in order to get into future events.
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 doing it all over 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 a PGA Professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.
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