Nick Flanagan’s victory at last week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am not only was a reminder of the talent possessed by the 27-year-old Australian, but also of the inexplicable struggles of the men who preceded him in his path to the PGA Tour.
Flanagan earned his first PGA Tour card via the Nationwide Tour’s three-win promotion, an avenue that allows an instant call-up to any player who claims three Nationwide Tour titles in a season. He earned such a promotion in 2007, four years after winning the U.S. Amateur.
Flanagan lasted just one season on the PGA Tour – finishing 169th on the money list in 2008 – before returning to the Nationwide Tour. “For a few years there, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it,” Flanagan told Golfweek’s Jim McCabe at the Wells Fargo Championship. “But I was doing it because I didn’t really know how to do anything else. That’s not really a good way to play, (so) I didn’t practice like I used to and didn’t do all the right things off the golf course.”
He was the eighth man to earn a three-win promotion – originally called a “battlefield” promotion. His former Arizona housemate, Michael Sim, earned one in 2009, becoming the ninth and final player to do so.
One would expect a player who so dominates the Tour’s secondary circuit to find success on the PGA Tour. That hasn’t been the case. Golf is a fickle game, and it’s shown in the fate of these nine players. Only four have won on the PGA Tour after their promotions. Only two of those nine – Heath Slocum and Chad Campbell – are fully exempt on the PGA Tour. Flanagan’s victory made him only the second man to win on the Nationwide Tour after a three-win promotion.
The first three players to earn the three-win promotion – Chris Smith (1997), Slocum (2001) and Campbell (2001) – went on to win on the PGA Tour, finding the post-promotion success the PGA Tour envisioned when it created that avenue to the big show. Slocum and Campbell have won four titles apiece, the only players to win multiple Tour titles after a three-win promotion.
The most recent players to be promoted haven’t been as fortunate. Five of the past six have failed to win on the PGA Tour after their promotions, many because of injuries that have kept them out of competition altogether.
Jason Gore won the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic just weeks after being promoted in 2005. He’s the exception. Pat Bates (2001), Patrick Moore (2002), Tom Carter (2003), Flanagan (2007) and Sim (2009) struggled after earning a three-win promotion.
Bates played three seasons on the PGA Tour (2002-04) after his promotion. Injuries limited Patrick Moore to just three Tour starts in his post-promotion season. He’s still under a medical extension because of those injuries, having played just 22 events since 2003. Carter lasted just one season on the PGA Tour after his three-win promotion.
Flanagan and Sim, both Australian and former roommates in Arizona, had to deal with high expectations when they got on Tour. Sim won three Nationwide Tour events in 2009 and set the tour’s single-season earnings record ($644,142), thanks to six top-3 finishes in 14 starts. He also was 18th at the ’09 U.S. Open, then finished second in his second PGA Tour start of 2010, the Farmers Insurance Open. Struggling through a variety of injuries last year, he earned just $47,403 in 19 PGA Tour starts. He’s back on the Nationwide Tour, where he has made just two of six cuts.
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Justin Hicks may not have a PGA Tour card this year, but he earned his way into one of the year’s four majors, the Open Championship. Hicks shot 67-63 Monday at Gleneagles Golf Club in Plano, Texas, to earn a tee time at Royal Lytham.
This will be his first Open Championship. Hicks has qualified for three U.S. Opens (2004, ’08, ’11). He was on the Nationwide Tour four years ago when he held the Open’s 18-hole lead at Torrey Pines. He finished 74th that year and 60th last year at Congressional.
Hicks is 15th on the Nationwide Tour money list thanks to three top-10s and six top-25s in nine starts. He earned his first PGA Tour card by finishing 25th on the 2010 Nationwide Tour money list, but finished 179th on the PGA Tour money list last year.
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Tony Finau made a double eagle at the 531-yard, par-5 fifth hole at Thornblade Club during the BMW’s first round. Finau used a 5-iron from 216 yards for his second shot. It was the second double eagle of the year on the Nationwide Tour, after Luke List at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship. Finau finished 65th. … Brent Delahoussaye, the 1999 Thornblade Club champion while a junior in high school, tied for 12th. … Sam Saunders, who had one top-10 in 17 previous Nationwide starts, finished a career-best fifth to improve to 46th on the money list.