By Mike Blum
Since the creation of the Ben Hogan Tour in 1990, the PGA Tour has had two available paths for qualification – one through its developmental tour, which has had several title sponsors, and one through a qualifying process known less than affectionately as Q school.
All that has changed. The Web.com Tour is now the lone vehicle for qualifying for the PGA Tour. Q school will continue, but simply as the path to the Web.com Tour.
While the FedExCup Playoffs are being played this month for the seventh time, the Web.com Finals have begun their initial launch, with the four tournament series concluding the week after the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake.
The top 25 players from the Web.com Tour regular season have already earned spots on next year’s PGA Tour, with the other 25 qualifiers to be determined by the Web.com Finals. The top 25 on the money list will also participate in the Finals, with their ranking among the 50 qualifiers for 2013-14 determined by how they finish in a money list comprising the four tournament series.
The Web.com Finals began just before Labor Day in Indiana, followed by stops in Charlotte (Sept. 5-8) and Columbus, O. (Sept. 12-15). After a week off, the final event will be played Sept. 26-29 near PGA Tour headquarters outside Jacksonville.
The rankings will likely be a little confusing the first time around. The top 25 from the Web.com regular season money list will be exempt on the PGA Tour regardless of how they fare in the Finals. Even if one of the 25 misses all four cuts (each event will include a full field), he will still tee it up on the PGA Tour in 2013-14, but will almost certainly be 50th on the priority ranking for entry into PGA Tour events.
Because the top 25 from the 2013 Web.com Tour are guaranteed spots on the PGA Tour, which begins its 2013-14 season less than two weeks after the Finals end, the money list from the four tournaments will need a little knowledge to correctly decipher.
The top 25 players not exempt from the Web.com regular season will join the 25 leading money leaders from the regular season, and will be ranked by their earnings from the Finals. If 10 of the 25 players already exempt finish among the top 25 in the Finals, the next 10 non-exempt players will qualify, with someone as low as 40th on the money list having the possibility of gaining his PGA Tour card.
The fields will consist of the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and those who finished 126-200 on the FedExCup money list. As many as a dozen or so players from the PGA Tour will be exempt for the 2013-14 season despite missing the FedExCup Playoffs, with just over 130 players eligible, among them eight players competing on medical exemptions. .
Georgia will be well represented in the four events, beginning with four 2013 Web.com winners who played their college golf in the state. Chesson Hadley (Georgia Tech), Will Wilcox (Clayton State) and former UGA teammates Kevin Kisner and Brendon Todd placed 3rd, 7th, 13th and 20th respectively during the regular season.
Wilcox and Todd won on consecutive weeks in the tour’s two Georgia stops, with Wilcox a winner in Valdosta’s South Georgia Classic and Todd becoming the third straight Bulldog to take the Stadion Classic at UGA. Wilcox and Hadley will be PGA Tour rookies in 2013-14, with Kisner returning for his third season. Todd split 2013 between the two tours, playing primarily on the PGA Tour after his victory in Athens.
In the opener in Indiana, Kisner tied for 3rd just two shots behind former Masters champion Trevor Immelman, while Todd closed with a 66 to tie for 15th.
Joining them in the Finals from the Web.com Tour are veterans Scott Parel of Augusta and Scott Dunlap of Duluth, along with recent UGA golfer Hudson Swafford and Aron Price, a former standout at Georgia Southern. Dunlap, who turned 50 in August, could be playing on as many as three tours in 2014, as he is eligible (but not exempt) for the Champions Tour.
Parel was one of just three tournament winners who failed to finish in the top 25, ending up 31st after a mid-season victory in Wichita. Unfortunately for Parel, who would have been the oldest rookie in PGA Tour history (48), he did not have a finish higher than 33rd other than his win and fell more than $7,000 short of the top 25.
After placing 4th and 6th in two of his first four starts of the season, Dunlap had just one more top 10 the rest of the year and wound up 51st in earnings. He is exempt for the Web.com Tour for 2014, which he has played since 2003 after six years on the PGA Tour. He split time between the two tours in 2012.
Swafford won the Stadion Classic at UGA as a Web.com rookie in 2012, but finished outside the top 25 on the money list. He was 61st in earnings this season, with four top-15 finishes, but none of them higher than 9th.
Price, who has played on either the PGA or Web.com Tour every year since 2006, was 68th in earnings and will have a shot at a fourth season on the PGA Tour, where he played from 2009-11.
Among the Georgians who played on the Web.com Tour this season but failed to finish among the top 75 was Vidalia native Paul Claxton, who has 15 seasons on the tour along with four as a PGA Tour member. Claxton, a former member of the UGA golf team who now lives on St. Simons, ended the season 81st in earnings, among his poorest showings in his long career on the tour, where he is 2nd in career earnings.
Others who finished outside the top 75 included: Albany’s Josh Broadaway (95); ex-Georgia Bulldog and St. Simons resident Richard Scott (102); Atlanta resident Kyle Reifers (103); recent Georgia Tech golfer James White of Acworth (105); Reid Edstrom (119), who played his high school golf in Atlanta; St. Simons’ Michael Sims (123); and ex-UGA golfer Ryuji Imada (141), who suffered through a terrible season on both tours.
White is one of the few Georgians going into qualifying for the 2014 Web.com Tout with any momentum, tying for 2nd in the next to last event on the ’13 schedule in Knoxville. White, who reached the qualifying finals last year but had very limited status on the Web.com Tour this season, shot a final round 66 to end up only one shot behind the winner in a 4-way tie for the runner-up spot.
There are a number of formerly prominent players who finished outside the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list this season, included several Georgians who are multiple PGA Tour champions.
Alpharetta’s Heath Slocum, whose four PGA Tour wins include the 2009 Barclays and inaugural McGladrey Classic in 2010, struggled on both tours this season and will need a strong showing in the Web.com Finals to earn a 13th season on the PGA Tour. In 20 combined starts in 2013, Slocum did not have a finish better than 30th and barely finished inside the top 200 on the PGA Tour.
Augusta native Vaughn Taylor enjoyed eight straight successful seasons on the PGA Tour, including two victories and a 2006 Ryder Cup appearance. But Taylor has struggled each of the last two seasons, although he managed to record five top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour this year playing a limited schedule. He finished 155 in points.
Former Georgia Tech golfer Troy Matteson has played the PGA Tour since 2006, winning as a rookie and in 2009 in the Frys.com Classic. But Matteson finished outside the top 125 for the first time this year (167), scoring only two top 25 finishes, with a tie for 16th in Phoenix his best showing.
Other Georgians in the Web.com Finals who played the PGA Tour this season are Justin Bolli, Will Claxton, Luke List and Henrik Norlander.
Bolli, who played his high school golf in Roswell and made the UGA team as a walk-on, has played his way onto the PGA Tour four times with strong showings on the Web.com Tour, but has never been able to retain his exempt status. He had his best season on the PGA Tour this year, notching ties for 4th in both Puerto Rico and the Byron Nelson Classic. But he made just one cut the last three months of the season and ended up 150 on the points list. A win in the Web.com Championship saved Bolli’s season last year, and he will need a similar finish this month.
Claxton, a Swainsboro native, was 169 in his second season on the PGA Tour, retaining his card after his rookie campaign in 2011. The former Auburn golfer did not have a top 25 until a late season tie for 16th in Reno. He played well in the opener, tying for 7th in Indiana with a 16-under total, four behind Immelman.
List grew up in metro Atlanta before moving to the Chattanooga suburb of Ringgold and playing his college golf at Vanderbilt. After enjoying an outstanding season on the Web.com Tour in 2012, he endured a disappointing rookie showing on the PGA Tour, with only three productive weeks all year, highlighted by a T16 in Charlotte. After shooting 66-67 the second and third rounds in Indiana, List plummeted to a 77 the final day to finish T65.
Norlander, also a rookie, was a teammate of Patrick Reed on Augusta State’s two national championship teams in 2010 and ’11. He was 159 in points, with a trio of top-20 finishes, including a T16 in the regular season finale in Greensboro. He started the Finals with a T24 showing.
Among the other 2013 PGA Tour players in the field are: Ricky Barnes, Chad Campbell, Bud Cauley, Glen Day, Chris DiMarco, Ryo Ishikawa, Robert Karlsson, Kevin Na, Seung-yul Noh, Sean O’Hair, Nick O’Hern and D.J. Trahan.
The players competing on a medical exemption includes Warner Robins native Kris Blanks, who worked as an assistant at The Landings in Savannah before moving up from the mini-tour ranks to the PGA Tour.