Earning PGA TOUR Card Only Half the Battle
Any other year, John Merrick might have taken off the last month to celebrate his season. He won a Nationwide Tour event as a rookie and finished 21st on the money list to earn a promotion to the big leagues. Instead, he kept his game sharp and headed off to Q-school, one of the most grueling weeks in golf.
The idea was to improve his position so he could get into more tournaments at the start of next year.
'It was an easy decision,' Merrick said Monday evening after he tied for fourth.
The tough part is figuring out what the new FedExCup will mean for players like Merrick and 60 other newcomers who earned their cards either through Q-school or through the Nationwide Tour money list, and now wonder how many chances they will get to tee it up.
The pecking order for filling out fields in PGA TOUR events starts with major champions over the last five years and recent winners of big events like the Tour Championship and World Golf Championships. Then it goes to PGA TOUR winners over the last two years, followed by players who take one-time exemptions for career money.
Next up are the players who finished in the top 125 on the money list. Throw in a handful of guys who were granted medical exemptions, the leading money winner from the Nationwide Tour, and then the newcomers finally get their shot.
And there's a pecking order for them, too.
First in line is the winner of Q-school, followed by the No. 2 player from the Nationwide Tour money list. The spots alternate between the two groups the rest of the way down.
And that's why Merrick wisely decided to go back to work when his season was over. He would have been the 40th player on the list of newcomers. Instead, he will be somewhere around No. 10.
That could be the difference between playing in the Sony Open or waiting a month to get his first start. It could be the difference between playing as many as five times on the West Coast or playing twice.
'I was thinking I would only get in two tournaments,' Merrick said. 'The whole system is new to me. I was expecting more than two, but that was the reason I went to Q-school. My swing coach, a few players, my manager, they all said it couldn't hurt. I have no idea where I'll be, but I know I bettered my position.'
What will it mean for the rest of the newcomers?
With 30 days before the 'new era in golf' begins, not even the PGA TOUR brass can say.
The FedExCup is a points race that starts with the Mercedes-Benz Championship and ends a week after the PGA Championship. The top 144 players will head into the 'playoffs' portion of the schedule, and the winner gets $10 million.
There are only 36 tournaments before the playoffs. If more top players are competing against each other -- and that's the idea behind this revamped schedule -- the new guys inevitably will be squeezed out.
'If you look at the last eight or nine years, we've had a steady increase in the number of opportunities for our Q-school and Nationwide players,' said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA TOUR. 'That could change. We just don't know what the FedExCup events are going to do. We can look at the last eight or 10 years and say, 'Here's the trend.' If we weren't doing the FedExCup, we could give a good expectation level. Now ... we have some unknowns.'
Ten years ago, 58 players earned their cards through Q-school or the Nike Tour. They averaged 26.4 starts with 45 tournaments on the schedule. Five years ago, 52 new card members averaged 27.6 starts with 49 events on the schedule.
Next year, there will be 61 newcomers.
And while 47 tournaments are on the schedule, only 36 events determine who qualifies for the big prize.
Before you do the math, consider how many of those 36 events offer a realistic chance for newcomers. For starters, throw out the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship. Only three out of 53 players from the Q-School/Nationwide batch made it to The Players Championship last year. None received a Masters invitation. They will have to qualify for the U.S. Open and British Open, and play great to get into the PGA Championship, WGCs or the three limited-field invitationals.
That leaves 24 'regular' tournaments for those 61 players, and that depends on what the top players do. Maybe they will pace themselves for the end of the year, when they might have to play six times in seven weeks. But if they play more to boost their points in the FedExCup, that could mean even fewer opportunities for the newcomers.
Then again, Q-school and Nationwide grads have never had it easy. The message hasn't changed -- 'play hard' -- but it's louder.
'They have to play at a higher level every year, yet good play is always rewarded,' Hughes said. 'If you have the ability, our regulations and guidelines will not keep you from reaching that level.'
Ultimately, it starts with a chance.
That's the conclusion Cameron Beckman came to Monday night after tying for fourth at Q-school. A former PGA TOUR winner, he spent last year playing for chump change on the Nationwide Tour, and he was determined to get back to the big leagues.
When will he get to play next year? How many starts can he expect?
Those are details to be sorted out later.
'I know one thing for sure,' Beckman said. 'We're playing for a lot of cake, aren't we? I wanted to get in on that.'
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.
Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational
Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.
The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.
Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.
The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump
Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.
Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.
Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.
An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.
Playing with the pros
Tiger, DJ and Faxon
President at the Presidents Cup
Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham
Cart on the green
Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open
Trump golf properties
Reportedly fake TIME covers
Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story
Pros comment on the president