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A New Year

The first event of the 2015 PGA Tour season ended yesterday, on October 12th, 2014.

We are still trying to wrap our heads around what is now known as the wraparound season on the PGA Tour, nonetheless, the first event of the year is in the books.

The Frys.com Open was hosted by the Silverado Resort and Golf Club in Napa.  Silverado was bought by a group headed by golf icon, Johnny Miller, who has had a home there for many years and who is breathing new life into the golf courses.

After the grueling schedules that most of the Tour’s top players have had over the past 10 weeks that included 2 Majors, a WGC event, the FedEx Cup series, and for many, the Ryder Cup, they take a break from playing.  We may not see some players again until the event in Hawaii in January and a handful more until February.

The hiatus by those players gives others the chance to shine.  It was at the Frys.com last year when Jimmy Walker claimed his maiden win on Tour and followed that win up with two more in the next 4 months.  Walker’s 3 wins would propel him to a place on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and a 7th place finish in the FedEx Cup, which he led for the majority of the year.

The Tour has a fairly complex ranking system that determines a player’s status and their ability to enter an event.  If a player finished in the previous season’s Top 125 on the money list, they can basically pick and choose what events they want to play.  If a player has won an event in the last two years (even though they many have finished out of the previous years’ Top 125) they also enjoy fully exempt status.

Next up in the hierarchy are the players who finished in the Top 25 of the yearlong Web.com Tour money list.  They are joined by the 25 players who qualified in the Web.com Tour finals which are the year ending 4 events which reward the top 25 money earners (in those events only) with their cards.  Essentially those two groups are alternately staggered (Money list winner #1, Finals winner #2 etc.) into a group of 50 players who qualify for the PGA Tour via the Web.com Tour.

With the exception of elite and Invitational events like the Masters, most PGA Tour events allow for a field of between 132 and 144 players.

If a player’s status is between #35 and #50 range from the Web.com Tour’s qualifiers they may only have the opportunity to play in a handful of events.  While it might be nice that they have earned their Tour cards, the reality of it is that they are long-shots to retain that card unless they catch lightning in a bottle and record high finishes in the few chances that they get.

For players on the periphery of becoming a star, a victory at the Frys may propel them to that next level in the game.

This week both things took place.

After a rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2014 that saw him finish a disappointing 146th on the money list, Hudson Swafford was one of the players regaining his card in the Web.com Finals.  The 27-year old Floridian had very little status so it was imperative that he perform well. Swafford would do exactly that as he closed with a 5-under par 67 in his final round to be 11-under for the tournament and in a tie for 7th place.  Small steps forward in a very long road.

25 year old rookie, Tony Finau, who has made all of 3 starts on the PGA Tour before this week, also acquitted himself nicely, and finished in a tie for 12th.  The long hitting Finau who graduated to the PGA Tour by finishing 8th, on the Web.com Tour’s 2014, money list.  Until now, Finau has been best known for his appearance on the Golf Chanel’s hit show, “The Big Break” but he may very well be a player to watch.

South Korea’s, Sang-Moon Bae who has one PGA Tour win in his resume, at the 2013 Byron Nelson Championship, had taken a stranglehold of the tournament when he birdied his 3rd hole on Sunday giving him what seemed at the time, an insurmountable 5-shot lead.  Things change quickly in the world of professional golf but despite some shaky moments during his back-9, Bae was able to hang on and claim his second win on Tour finishing 2 shots clear of Australian, Steven Bowditch at 15-under par for the week.

The subtle twists of Fate play tricks with us all, but on this day and for this week, Bae was best.