PGA Tour expanding opportunities for grads


ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Etched into the metaphorical signpost that is the domestic portion of the PGA Tour’s fall schedule is an evolving reality – Pardon our dust.

In the second year of the Tour’s split-calendar era many of the assorted pieces seem to have dropped into proper order with the lone exception being the circuit’s fall matinee.

If there was a single blind spot the Tour needed to address following the initial wraparound season it was a severe lack of playing opportunities for the freshly minted Tour graduates.

“It was really the only [issue with the new schedule],” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on Wednesday at Sea Island Resort.

The answer has come in a wave of nip/tucks to the fall lineup, including the addition of the Sanderson Farms Championship, which was historically played opposite the Open Championship, and the expansion of the fields at the Open and Shriners Hospitals for Children Open from 132 players to 144.

On Wednesday the Tour went a step further when it confirmed that the policy board had approved a move to add a second course to the McGladrey Classic rotation and expand the field size to 156 players from 132.

“You don’t have to tee off at 7 a.m. You don’t have to fight daylight,” said Davis Love III, the host of the McGladrey Classic, which will move to the third week of November on next year’s schedule. “This would be a win-win for the PGA Tour and for our tournament. We need to get more spots for the young guys in the beginning of the year.”

McGladrey Classic: Articles, videos and photos

All told, the Tour has added up to 180 new playing opportunities next fall and the circuit’s moves have already started paying off. Last week in Las Vegas 13 more players from the Tour category received a spot in the field compared to last season and this week at Sea Island 25 more are on the tee sheet.

“We’re looking at everything to get more Tour guys into tournaments top to bottom,” Finchem said. “We are doing some things and will watch it for a year or maybe two and see where it comes out.”

The Tour also plans to adjust the major medical exemption category to increase access for the Tour graduates. Beginning with the 2014-15 season, medical exemptions will be capped at three seasons unless there are “extreme circumstances” which should, over time, reduce a category that has grown to 14 players this season.

“It will be a slightly altered breath of medical exemption access. It kind of builds up over a number of years and all of a sudden you’re eating up a lot of playing opportunities,” Finchem said.

Playing opportunities for the Tour graduates has become a buzz phrase on Tour, particularly after last season when the players who finished Nos. 41-50 in Tour qualifying averaged just 15.4 starts, one of the lowest totals for that category in years.

At the Tour Championship, Finchem said alleviating those issues was a priority and the new-look fall schedule suggests the circuit isn’t done tinkering. It’s all part of an ever-evolving fall lineup that, unlike the rest of the Tour’s dance card, continues to be a work in progress.