AVONDALE, La. – As the headline writers might say in the English tabloids, Ian Poulter is one happy chappy. One week after the feisty Englishman lost his PGA Tour card upon missing the cut at the Valero Texas Open, he received a call from PGA Tour executive vice-president and COO Andy Pazder late Friday with the unexpected news that he was fully exempt for the remainder of the 2016-17 season.
The price for the best news that Poulter has received all year? He owes fellow Tour player Brian Gay an expensive bottle of bubbly. The good stuff.
“Well, it’s unexpected, isn’t it?” Poulter said Saturday after the third round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. “So I would just have to say it’s a nice surprise, is what it was.
“It’s obviously a good surprise, you know, to hear good news when you’ve been under an awful lot of pressure to play golf, you’ve come under a lot of tricky media questions in the last month, and being somewhat subjected to some social media abuse. It’s been tough. The last month has been hard to deal with.”
Poulter and Gay each had been attemping to secure a Tour card for 2016-17 through a limited number of starts afforded them through the Tour’s Major Medical category. Poulter, 41, who missed four-plus months with a foot injury last season, had 10 events to earn $347,634, or 218 FedEx Cup points; he fell short of both marks in his 10th start last week at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.
Gay, 45, has been in a similar position. Having missed 2014-15 with a back injury, he had 14 available starts this season to earn $461,851 or secure 309 FedEx Cup points. Gay, who tied for sixth in each of his last two starts (RBC Heritage, Valero Texas Open) has surpassed the earnings threshold. But he failed to get to 309 points, which meant he was not eligible for the lucrative Players Championship May 11-14.
Gay did some numbers crunching, though, and found a discrepancy in the way points are doled out this season compared with a year ago, which was the season against which he was being measured. He brought the issue to Pazder, had a lengthy discussion, and Pazder then brought Gay’s findings to his staff and eventually the Tour’s four player directors that sit on the board. (Poulter on Saturday declined to divulge that it was Gay who brought the points discrepancy to the Tour, saying it was someone else “in a position that they weren’t exempt for an event and they potentially had to earn a few more points.”) Gay needed 29 points in three starts to reach the 309 he needed, but had only next week’s Wells Fargo event to secure a spot into the Players.
When approaching his staff and the Tour’s player directors, Pazder said he did not name the two players who were most affected, simply framing the conversation by saying that players on medicals could be adversely affected under the new system. Once the player directors gave the change unanimous approval, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan approved the move to apply last year’s points system as the measuring standard. That gave Poulter his card, and earned Gay (and Poulter) a start at the Players, as well a spot in this summer’s Quicken Loans National.
Basically, the modified Fedex Cup points curve in place did not reward players finishing 15th on down in Tour events with the same number of points that the previous system did. (Points were modified as the Tour did away with using the top 125 in earnings as a standard to keep a card, moving solely to FedEx points from here forward.)
“In the final analysis,” Pazder said of the modified status of Poulter and Gay, “the commissioner felt it was a fair and equitable thing to do.
“We moved the goal line on them, right? We didn’t realize the impact it (the modified points system) would have on medical extensions.”
Poulter, for his part, was delighted with the news. Being fully exempt allows him to have control over his own schedule, something that playing from the 126-150 category (which he was readying to do) would not.
“Being in kind of no man’s land, not knowing whether you’re going to play golf, is very tough, and it’s very hard to book anything,” he said.
“It’s a drastic change from yesterday morning before I teed off to the position I stand today … Everyone’s happy, right?”
Poulter has 2.33 million followers on Twitter, and he said he hopes some of the social media fires that have been stirred as he chased his card the last few months now can be extinguished.
“Hopefully, it might quiet down some of the interesting people on social media,” Poulter said, “and I won’t have to block quite so many people.”