Web.com grads begin journey of staying on PGA Tour

By Will GrayOctober 4, 2014, 8:20 pm

Two weeks ago, 50 men left the Web.com Tour Championship with newly-minted PGA Tour cards for the 2014-15 season.

Over the next 10 months, they’ll put those cards to use – inevitably with varying degrees of success. Some will follow in the footsteps of Seung-Yul Noh, who captured a Web.com Tour Finals event in 2013 and went on to lift the trophy at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April.

A select few may even reach the heights of Brendon Todd, who went from Web.com finalist to PGA Tour winner in the span of eight months, finishing the regular season 12th on the FedEx Cup points list.

The majority, though, will likely return to the minor leagues after this season. Only 16 of the 50 Web.com graduates in 2013 retained their PGA Tour cards last season, and many at the bottom of the priority list had difficulty earning starts, let alone checks.

With a new crop of players eager to stake their claim on the PGA Tour, who should fans expect to become the next breakout star? The answer, as is often the case, starts with the young guns.

While his driver’s license lists him at 21 years old, Justin Thomas could probably still pass for a teenager. The fresh-faced rookie will be one of the youngest players on Tour this season, and only 16 months removed from winning a national title at Alabama he could soon become a household name.

Thomas had only two rounds over 72 all year on the Web.com Tour, and his 69.08 scoring average ranked third for 2014. After breaking through for his maiden professional win during the Web.com Tour Finals, Thomas will begin the season fourth on the priority list and should not struggle for starts this season.

Adam Hadwin finished the Finals atop the priority rankings, and as a result the 26-year-old will be fully exempt this season as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Mike Weir and Graham DeLaet as Canada’s top golfing export. Hadwin had three top-10 finishes, including a win, during the four-event Finals, which allowed him to pass Carlos Ortiz in the overall standings – another rising star who won three times during the regular season.

While players near the top of the priority standings will have an easier time getting starts, the list is not the sole predictor of success – Todd began last season No. 13 on the list, while Russell Knox started at No. 20 and nearly cracked the field at the Tour Championship by season’s end.

Further down the priority list are a pair of players who will begin their rookie seasons on the PGA Tour with no shortage of confidence. Jon Curran counts Keegan Bradley among his close friends after growing up in New England, and following a 2014 campaign that included a win in Brazil, he’ll begin the new season at No. 24 in the rankings, with plenty of experience battling against some of the more prominent members of the PGA Tour’s youth movement.

Daniel Berger turned pro last year after his sophomore season at Florida State, and the 21-year-old has quickly adjusted to a new level of competition. Berger easily earned his card after five top-10 finishes on the Web.com Tour, and in between starts he qualified for the U.S. Open, where he finished T-28 after a final-round 66 at Pinehurst. He’ll start the new season at No. 28 in the rankings.

The list of new graduates is not comprised entirely of golf’s next generation, though, as several veterans survived the Finals gauntlet to return to the main circuit. Jason Gore, now almost a decade removed from his near-miss at the 2005 U.S. Open, will play the PGA Tour on a full-time basis for the first time since 2009.

J.J. Henry missed the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list for the first time since 2000, but bounced back to earn his card at Finals. Heath Slocum, who missed a four-foot putt to keep his card at the Wyndham Championship, cracked the top 50 with a T-4 finish at the Web.com Tour Championship.

The storylines among newcomers this season also extends to Blayne Barber, who makes his rookie debut two years after disqualifying himself from Q-School, and Sam Saunders, whose grandfather – Arnold Palmer – knows a thing or two about playing on the PGA Tour.

The probabilities dictate that most of the newest PGA Tour members will struggle to keep pace. Gaining access to events remains an issue, and last year Tim Wilkinson was the lowest-ranked player to retain his playing privileges after starting the season at No. 38 on the priority list. Still, some will thrive and at least one will likely hoist a trophy by season’s end.

Fifty men have reached (or returned to) the pinnacle of the game, with the arduous journey to the PGA Tour now behind them. Beginning next week, each will take on an even more difficult task: staying there.

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Garcia 2 back in storm-halted Andalucia Masters

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 7:08 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Ashley Chesters was leading on 5-under 66 at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters when play was suspended because of darkness with 60 golfers yet to complete their weather-hit first rounds on Thursday.

More than four hours was lost as play was twice suspended because of stormy conditions and the threat of lightning at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

English journeyman Chesters collected six birdies and one bogey to take a one-shot lead over Gregory Bourdy of France. Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia was on 68 along with fellow Spaniards Alvaro Quiros and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, and Australia's Jason Scrivener.

''It's a shame I can't keep going because the last few holes were the best I played all day. Considering all the delays and everything, I'm very happy with 5 under,'' Chesters said. ''The forecast for the rest of the week is not very good either so I thought I'll just make as many birdies as I can and get in.''

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Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.

Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”

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PGA Tour Latinoamérica moving season finale to Doral

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 2:36 pm

PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.

“We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.

The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.

“We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.

The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.

PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.

A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.

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Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

“My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.