[PHOTO: Tracy Wilcox]
The new pressure point on the PGA Tour starts at 50. It is the new 125. It’s the thing to play for because it enables a tour player to play in more things worth playing for.
The stakes at this week’s FedEx St Jude Championship have changed this year. Only the top 70 on the FedEx Cup points list qualified for the first of three playoff events, and only the top 50 advance to next week’s BMW Championship. And finishing in the top 50 opens up a different world, one that guarantees access to bigger purses, smaller fields, and more points in the FedEx Cup and world rankings.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that 50 is really a very big deal now,” said Sam Ryder, who enters this week at TPC Southwind in 63rd place in the standings. “We were talking about this – yeah, we made the playoffs, but the top 50 sets up everything in a way the top 125 didn’t in the past. It dictates your schedule. It’s 100 percent the goal.”
In March, the PGA Tour announced that the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup standings will be exempt into limited-field designated events – now known as “signature” events – in 2024. The eight tournaments are The Sentry, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Invitational, Memorial Tournament and the Travelers Championship. Each will offer $US20 million purses and an elevated points structure, with 700 FedEx Cup points going to the winner. Five of the eight will be no-cut competitions; only the invitationals – Genesis, API and Memorial – will have a cut of low 50 and ties, plus a 10-shot rule.
The top 125 in the standings at the end of November retain their tour cards for 2024. They will have a chance to play their way into signature events next year through their performance in “swing” weeks. They also qualify for the Players Championship.
“Hey, we’re always told to play better, and now you have to play really well,” said Beau Hossler, who is 66th and chasing that top-50 spot. “There’s a huge difference between 50 and 51. There’s definitely a different vibe to this week. You see it with how hard guys are working.”
With quadruple the points available during the playoffs, a player on the outside has a realistic chance of making a big jump. Which could lead to some big jumps in status and income bracket. “Not just bigger purses, but guaranteed income with no-cut tournaments. And a better chance of moving up in the world ranking,” Ryder said.
Lucas Glover, who won last week’s Wyndham Championship to move into the top 70, was critical of the new playoff structure that lopped off 55 players. At 49th in the standings, he’s near the cutoff and didn’t think too much of the top-50 gravy train, either. “I’m sure it’s great for the sponsors of those other tournaments,” he said. “I haven’t given it much more thought. I’ll just play most of what I usually play.”
“I was on the bubble at 70 and lived with that, so now it’s on to another bubble at 50 and then another at 30,” Ben Griffin said with a laugh. “You just have to take it one step at a time and not think about it too much because it’s a big week.”
Speaking of the bubble, Nick Hardy is right on top of it at 50th in the standings. A winner earlier this year with Davis Riley in the team competition at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Hardy is savouring rather than sweating his position. But not only does the second-year player want the bounty of top-50 status, but he also is playing for a chance to compete in the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, near Chicago, which constitutes a home game of sorts.
“It’s certainly important to me for a lot of reasons, but I’ve had such a great season that I’m not putting any more pressure on myself,” Hardy said. “Would I like to be in that top 50? Yeah, that’s a pretty good group of guys to be included with. You’re in everything you’d want to play in. It’s new, and it’s a big deal, and let’s face it, the payoff is incredible. It sets you up in so many ways.”
“It’s a good reward for good play,” Ryder said. “It’s a heck of an incentive.”