When the 2016 Web.com Tour begins this week in Panama, there will be plenty of new names among the Georgia contingent, with some familiar faces missing from the tour’s roster of players with ties to the state.
Patton Kizzire, Henrik Norlander and Luke List, the top three Georgia golfers on the 2015 Web.com Tour, have all moved up to the PGA Tour this year, and several veterans who have played the Web.com Tour for multiple years have either retired (Paul Claxton, Justin Bolli) or have lost their status (Josh Broadaway, Casey Wittenberg).
This year’s Web.com newcomers include the top two players from Georgia Tech’s 2014 graduating class (Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson), along with another ex-Yellow Jacket (Kyle Scott) and a player who has gained a national internet following for his trick shot prowess (Wesley Bryan). There is also a pair of veterans with histories on both the Web.com and various mini-tours looking for a late career shot at a spot on the PGA Tour (Reid Edstrom and Jonathan Fricke).
The 2016 Web.com Tour again includes 25 events, with the first 21 tournaments determining the 25 players who will qualify for the 2016-17 PGA Tour. The other 25 PGA Tour cards will go to the top finishers from the four-event Web.com Finals, which include several new tournament sites.
This year’s schedule includes new tournaments in the Dominican Republic, Chicago, western New York, Springfield, Ill., and Nashville, with the tour losing stops in Chile, Dallas, Nova Scotia, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Charlotte. The latter two events were both part of the Finals, with those events replaced by the long-standing tournament in Boise and a new tournament in Cleveland that will be played at historic Canterbury GC. The event played in Cleveland last year moves to Chicago with the same title sponsor as the 2015 event.
There will also be a new site for the Web.com Finals finale in the Jacksonville area, as the TPC Dye’s Valley course that hosted last year’s tournament is undergoing renovations.
The Web.com Tour Championship will be played Oct. 6-9, the week before the 2016-17 PGA Tour begins in northern California, giving the 50 Web.com graduates no break between the end of one season and the start of the next.
The most prominent newcomer to the Web.com Tour in 2016 is Schniederjans , the former top-ranked amateur in the world. Schniederjans has already made the cut in the U.S. and British Opens (tying for 12th in the latter last year), tied for fifth in his Web.com debut as an amateur, and tied for 15th in his second PGA Tour start as a pro at Congressional. He made the cut in his first three starts on the 2015-16 PGA Tour season, but did not play well in his 2016 opener. He is back in the field in this week’s event in San Diego, but will spend most of the season on the Web.com Tour barring a top finish in one of his remaining PGA Tour starts.
Schniederjans, a metro Atlanta resident, will be joined on the Web.com Tour by teammate and fellow Atlanta suburbanite Albertson, who collected a few mini-tour victories before earning his Web.com status. Both players advanced from the finals of qualifying late last year in similar fashion. Schniederjans, who needed some final round heroics to make it past the next to last stage of qualifying, was among the leaders in the finals until falling to a tie for ninth after a final round 76. Albertson matched Schniederjans’ opening 66, but shot back-to-back 74s the final round to advance on the number, tying for 45th.
Edstrom, who grew up in metro Atlanta before attending Auburn, also tied for ninth in the finals to return to the Web.com Tour at the age of 41. He has played three seasons on the tour, most recently in 2013.
Bryan, a recent member of the golf team at South Carolina and an Augusta resident, was the third Georgian to tie for ninth in the qualifying finals, and will be a rookie in 2016. His brother George, part of the duo’s trick shot act, will be his primary caddie.
Atlanta native Adam Mitchell was a member of the 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team after an excellent career at UGA, but has struggled as a pro, earning exempt Web.com status this year for the first time. He made 14 starts on the tour between 2008 and ’14, with his best showing a tie for 15th in the now-defunct event in Valdosta in 2013. He won his first stage qualifier at Callaway Gardens by eight shots with a 22-under 194 total for 54 holes and tied for 21st in the finals.
Fricke, a two-time Georgia Open champion, has played three seasons on the Web.com Tour, most recently in 2014. As a rookie in 2008, he missed the cut in 13 of his last 15 starts of the season, finishing in the top 10 the two weeks he made the cut. Fricke, a former Georgia State golfer and Covington resident, tied for 34th in the qualifying finals with a 69 in the fourth round.
Savannah’s Mark Silvers is back on the tour this season after finishing 105th on the money list last year. He needed a final round 66 in the qualifying finals to tie for 34th, and earned his spot on the tour for 2015 by closing with scores of 62-69 in the 2014 finals. Silvers had three top-15 finishes on the Web.com Tour last season and won a number of mini-tour events, as well as a Big Break competition at the Greenbrier. Like Bryan, Silvers played his college golf at South Carolina.
Richy Werenski is also a Big Break champion, winning what appears to be the final competition last year. Werenski, a teammate of Schniederjans and Albertson at Georgia Tech, was 79th as a Web.com rookie in 2015, making 14 of 20 cuts with four top-20 finishes. He tied for 34th in the finals of qualifying for 2016, surviving a final round 78.
Scott, also a former Yellow Jacket golfer, made the cut on the number along with Albertson, tying for 45th. He had limited status on the tour last year, making just three starts. Scott, a native of South Africa, has settled in Decatur.
Also making the cut on the number was recent Auburn golfer Michael Hebert, who is living in Powder Springs. Hebert played his first full season on the Web.com Tour last year and placed 84th on the money list with a pair of top-10 finishes.
Trey Mullinax, a member of Alabama’s back-to-back national championship teams in 2013 and ’14, was 60th as a Web.com rookie in 2014, making 14 or 18 cuts with six top-25 finishes and a best finish of T4. Mullinax, a St. Simons resident, was given a sponsor’s exemption into last year’s RSM Classic at Sea Island GC and tied for 25th.
Vaughn Taylor and Troy Matteson have two wins each in PGA Tour careers that both span a decade, but both have lost their status on the PGA Tour other than as past champions. Taylor, an Augusta native and former Augusta State golfer, played respectably on both the PGA and Web.com Tours last year with top-25 finishes in six of 12 PGA Tour starts and six of eight on the Web.com. Taylor won on the Web.com Tour in 2003 and in his first two seasons on the PGA Tour in ’04 and ’05, but is winless since and was last exempt on the PGA Tour in 2012.
Matteson, who played in college at Georgia Tech, won on the PGA Tour in 2006 and ’09 after leading the Web.com money list in ’05. But he has struggled the last three years and made just nine PGA Tour starts in 2014-15. He also made nine Web.com starts and was 119th in earnings with a tie for fifth his best showing.
St. Simons resident Jonathan Byrd has five wins in 14 seasons on the PGA Tour, but has limited status after finishing outside the top 150 in the FedExCup standings last year. He has not played on the Web.com Tour other than two rehab starts in 2013 since 2001, when he won a tournament and was eighth in earnings.
Augusta’s Scott Parel has played on the Web.com Tour since 2003, and was 76th on the money list last year, one spot short of earning exempt status for 2016. Parel won in Wichita in 2013 and turned 50 last year, but failed to qualify for the Champions Tour. He made it into the Web.com season opener as an alternate, and needs a strong start to move up the priority last before the first re-shuffle.
Former Georgia Tech golfer Matt Weibring has played nine full Web.com seasons since 2003. He has placed in the top 50 in earnings four times and had runner-up finishes in both 2012 and ’14, but slipped to 87th last year. Weibring, who has fought health issues in recent years, played on the PGA Tour from 2009-11.
Former Georgia Southern golfer Aron Price, who was also a PGA Tour member from 2009-11, has played seven seasons on the Web.com Tour since ’06. But after placing 18th on the money list with a win in ’08, has not been higher than 60th since. He was 100th last year with a tie for 15th his best finish.
Bryden Macpherson, who played his college golf at Georgia, was 126th last year in his first full Web.com season, but is exempt for 2016 after finishing as the leading money winner on PGA Tour China, highlighted by a pair of victories. Macpherson, a native of Australia and the 2011 British Amateur champion, made nine of 20 cuts last year with a top finish of T18.
Atlanta resident Drew Weaver, the 2007 British Amateur champion, narrowly missed earning exempt status on the Web.com Tour for 2016, coming up one shot short in the finals of qualifying despite a final round 68. Weaver was ninth in earnings on last year’s Canadian Tour including a victory.
The remaining Georgians on the Web.com Tour have limited status after finishing between 93 and 143 in the qualifying finals.
Former Georgia Tech golfer Paul Haley made an impressive debut as a pro, winning his third start on the Web.com Tour in 2012 and finishing 12th on the money list with a pair of runner-up finishes. But he suffered through a difficult season on the PGA Tour in 2013 and has made just five of 25 Web.com cuts the past three years.
Former Kennesaw State golfer Jeff Karlsson was outside the top 100 in the finals of qualifying, but played his way into the PGA Tour event in San Diego. Also Monday qualifying in San Diego was Atlanta resident Casey Wittenberg, who was 113th in his seventh Web.com season in 2015. Wittenberg was the tour’s No. 1 player in 2012 with a pair of victories and played two years on the PGA Tour, and will get a few starts based on his wins in 2012.
Former UGA golfer Keith Mitchell was 19th on last year’s LatinoAmerica Tour, which helped get him a sponsor’s exemption into the season opener in Panama, but he will have to earn any future starts.
Mini-tour veterans David Skinns and Clayton Rask, both metro Atlanta residents, will have to rely on Monday qualifiers to get into any tournaments. Rask has played well in recent seasons in Canada, and enjoyed a decent year on the Web.com Tour in 2011. Skinns enjoyed some success on the Web.com Tour in 2012 and ’14, but made a limited number of starts both seasons. He was in the top 25 in earnings in Canada in 2013 and ’15.
Dawsonville’s Blake Palmer and Albany’s T.J. Mitchell, an ex-Georgia Bulldog, both finished near the bottom of the qualifying finals, and will also have to get their starts in Monday qualifiers.
Duluth’s Brent Witcher has played on the Web.com Tour three of the last four years, but has no status in 2016 after finishing 134 on the money list year. Albany’s Josh Broadaway has been a Web.com member the last 10 years, but also has no status after making just two cuts in seven starts last year.
After two decades on the PGA Tour (four years) and Web.com Tour (16 years), Vidalia native Paul Claxton did not play last year. He was the first Web.com player to reach $1 million in career earnings and collected a pair of victories, and is still second on the tour’s career money list.
Fellow ex-Bulldog Justin Bolli, who grew up in Roswell, won four times in six full seasons on the Web.com Tour and finished between eighth and 11th on the money list those four seasons. Bolli also played four full seasons on the PGA Tour, the last in 2013, but after struggling through 2014 and the early stages of 2015, left his career as a tour pro at the age of 39.