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.
Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie
While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.
There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.
According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)
Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.
McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1
They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.
McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.
Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.
On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.
Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:
10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm
12/1: Tony Finau
14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler
20/1: Francesco Molinari
25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner
30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka
40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day
50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar
60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate
80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na
100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman
Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience
Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.
It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.
Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.
A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.
“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.
“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”
Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.
At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.
Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.
“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.
“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”
Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.
“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”
After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.
“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”
Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.
“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.
“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”
On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.
Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.
“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”
Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.
At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.
At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.
Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.
“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”
Her overall assessment of her day?
“It was a great experience,” she said.
Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage
NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:
Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)
Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.
1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.