2001: PGA Tour - PGA Tour revises rules of eligibility

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The PGA Tour Policy Board on Sept. 5 passed two new eligibility rules related directly to the success of 2000 NCAA champion Charles Howell III and preliminarily approved an age limit of 18 for members that could affect new professional Ty Tryon, 17.

The Policy Board ratified a new regulation at a meeting at the Bell Canadian Open that, starting next year, will allow nonmembers to play in as many as 12 Tour events a year via sponsor exemptions and top-10 finishes instead of the current seven (Golfweek, Sept. 7). Under the new arrangement, nonmembers will be allowed up to seven sponsor invites, as is the case now, but can get into five additional events through top-10 finishes.

The success of Howell in 2000-01 was the impetus for the change. Howell has posted several top 10s over the last two years, but they counted toward his seven events before he became a special temporary member entitled to unlimited sponsor exemptions. Thus, other young up-and-comers, such as Bryce Molder and Luke Donald, can thank their onetime college rival Howell for paving their way to more Tour starts if they do not get their cards through Q-School.

At the meeting, the Tour also passed a rule that could benefit Howell this year. The board modified the Tour Championship eligibility to include special temporary members whose official and World Golf Championship earnings equal or exceed 30th on the official money list. That’s provided the player applies for membership next year, which Howell would. Under the old rule, only the top-30 full members could qualify for the Tour Championship.

Howell has earned $1.088 million, which would put him 41st on the money list. By finishing in the top 70, he’s eligible for Tour invitationals next year. It is uncertain whether his year-end money total as a nonmember would be honored by the Masters (which takes the top-40 official earners), U.S. Open (top 30) or British Open (top 20).

“I can’t imagine those three majors would exclude him because the PGA Tour isn’t excluding him from the Tour Championship and the invitationals,” said Rocky Hambric, Howell’s agent. “Plus, he has a chance to get in those majors if he moves up the world ranking.” Howell is ranked No. 73 in the world and No. 59 in Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.

Also, the board preliminarily approved an age limit of 18 for members, subject to ratification at a Nov. 27 meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The board followed the lead of the Player Advisory Council, which recommended the limit in July, more than a month before Tryon turned pro.

Should Tryon get through three stages of Q-School and get his Tour card, he would start 2002 as a nonmember. He would become a member when he turns 18 on June 2. If he fails to get his card, he could play on sponsor exemptions before he turns 18, and as a nonmember could get into up to 12 events via sponsor exemptions (seven maximum) and top 10s.

The Q-School finals are Nov. 28-Dec. 3, starting the day after the board vote.

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