Midnight awaits many a PGA Tour player at this week’s Wyndham Championship, a hard deadline for all manner of professional benchmarks, not to mention cash flow concerns for those who end up on the wrong side of the season-ending points crunch.
Gone is the ambiguity of a regular season followed by a post-season followed by something called a fall season. The rolling cut off that beset golf with the invention of the FedEx Cup playoffs has been replaced by this week’s regular-season finale in Greensboro, N.C.
For many at this week’s Tour stop there is no tomorrow, at least not without a trip through the circuit’s new qualifying system, but that’s a column for another day.
The top 125 in FedEx Cup points following Sunday’s final round will advance to the playoffs and secure their Tour card for the 2013-14 season. In the past, if you didn’t make the playoffs you went home and waited for the fall series, a collection of events adrift in the post-Tour Championship haze that gave new meaning to the concept of competitive confusion.
Now, those events begin the 2013-14 season, which leaves only the Wyndham and a surprisingly deep field this week at Sedgefield Country Club.
In this case, one man’s crossroads is another’s keepsake.
Along with players vying to secure their spot in the top 125 in points – players in the top 125 in earnings will also earn exemptions for the 2013-14 season – there are those trying to pad their position heading into the playoffs or meet their Tour-mandated minimum number of starts (Martin Kaymer), or in some cases, like with Hideki Matsuyama, just secure a future.
Matsuyama, the Japanese phenom who has four top-10 finishes in six Tour starts this season, has earned enough this year ($676,240) as a non-member to rank 113th in earnings and requested a sponsor exemption into the Wyndham to assure his status for next season.
Kaymer, who is exempt next year via his victory at 2010 PGA Championship, added the Wyndham to assure he plays his Tour minimum of 15 events.
“If you are a member and you don’t fulfill your 15 (event minimum) you lose your card,” said Kaymer, who made his 14th start of the season last week at Oak Hill. “I don’t know where I’m going to end up on the points list and if for whatever reason I don’t get in all the playoff events I wanted to make sure I had my 15.”
Whatever myriad reasons that draw players to the Triad area, the result is one of the deepest fields in years for Wyndham tournament director Mark Brazil.
“There are some big stories now with money, we’ve always had the FedEx Cup points story, but now it’s about money as well,” Brazil said. “I love counting big names, household names, that’s the way I gauge it. I don’t gauge it on rankings. You get a Fred Couples here, he’s not ranked, but he’s still one of the top draws. A guy like Padraig Harrington, name recognition is huge.”
The Wyndham field has been improving since the Tour began the playoffs in 2007 thanks to its position just before the post-season opener next week in New Jersey.
In 2010, just 10 of the top 30 players from the previous year’s points list played Sedgefield, but that turnout has gradually improved to 11 of the top 30 in 2011, 12 of the top 30 in 2012 and half of last year’s Tour Championship field this week.
“It’s been a gradual uptick over the last few years, as players began to focus on getting into the playoffs and for those in the middle of the pack it’s an opportunity to solidify their spot in the playoffs,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations. “Players have latched onto the idea they have to do whatever they can do to get into the playoffs. It’s even more compelling this year because it’s the last opportunity to keep a job for next year.”
And if playing for one’s job or a better spot in the playoffs isn’t enough to draw the golf world’s gaze to Greensboro, this year’s race to the Presidents Cup has also added another level of urgency to the regular-season finale.
Tim Clark (No. 10 on the International points list), Brendon De Jonge (No. 16) and Ryo Ishikawa (No. 36) are all in the field in an attempt to make this year’s team, which will be announced on Sept. 2.
“If one of these guys plays well, (International captain Nick) Price or (U.S. captain Fred) Couples is going to look and see a hot player as far as picks go,” Brazil said.
As difficult as the Tour’s transition to a split-calendar schedule has been – limited starts for many in 2013, the likely loss of at least one long-time stop (Disney), the loss of direct access to the Tour with the new qualifying system – the Wyndham has emerged from a relative afterthought on the Tour calendar to something approaching an “A” list stop.
For Brazil & Co. it is a simple equation, this year’s hard deadline equals a deeper field.