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A Year Early

The PGA Tour began a new year, a year early.

If that puzzles you, consider us befuddled also but it’s correct. The first event of the 2014 PGA Tour happened over the last four days at CordeValle in San Ramon, California. October 10-13 were the first dates for the 2014 schedule.

The field resembled a cross between a very ordinary Tour event and a Web.com (the Tour’s secondary circuit) given that the only player that numbered among the Rolex World Top 30 rankings was Hideki Matsuyama.

The Frys.com Open is the first event of the PGA Tour’s “Fall series” which are four events that kick start the 2014 season and are played in 2013. Still confused? Yup, so are we.

To the players competing in the event though it has a very significant meaning. Many of these players have limited status (meaning that they can’t pick and choose their schedule) and have to play the second tier of events on the PGA Tour schedule. Often times they may be the first or second alternate for a tournamnet which necessitates having to travel to the event and hope that another player will have to withdraw at the last minute. Doing well in these early tournaments increases a players’ ability to be the master of their own schedule. Winning one changes everything. For the better.

Jimmy Walker has been one of those players for many years. Once earmarked as a rising star after being the Web.com Player of the Year in 2004, Walker has bounced from Tour to Tour in the ensuing years. This would be his 188th career start on the PGA Tour and he was still in search of that elusive first victory.  

Another category of player is one that has no status at all and is a sponsor’s exemption (the primary sponsor can invite 2 players otherwise not entered into their event) or a Monday qualifier (the Tour has one day shoot-outs on the Monday preceding each tournamnet in which 100 or so players compete for what is usually four places in the field.

One such player this week was Brooks Koepka. Koepka had no status in 2013 and played the Challenge Tour in Europe. The Challenge Tour is the European version of the Web.com Tour. The three time All American from Florida State acquitted himself brilliantly as he traversed the globe and won 3 Challenge Tour events which give him exempt status on the 2014 European Tour.

Heading into Sunday’s final 10 holes, Koepka held what seemed to be a commanding 3 shot lead over Walker but then Koepka started playing like a young man making only his fourth start on the PGA Tour. He missed a 3 foot putt for par on the par-5 ninth hole and several more as he limped to the finish line. Koepka would finish the tournament at 14-under par which was good for a tie for third place, a check for $240,000 and a place in next week’s event (a top ten finish qualifies a player to play in the next event). It also exposed the extremely talented Koepka to a lot of people which may mean more sponsor’s exemptions in the future. And his future looks just fine.

A closing round of 5 under par, 66 was the magical number for Walker to realize a life-long dream and become a PGA Tour winner. His victory is worth far more than the $900,000 first place check. It gives him a 2 year exemption on Tour, entry into the biggest tournaments (World Golf Championship events, the Masters etc.) and the ability to pick the events that he wants to play. Like Christmas in October.