As Spieth departs Texas, is a trend developing?

Jordan Spieth left Texas despite no guaranteed starts on the PGA Tour.

Jordan Spieth left Texas despite no guaranteed starts on the PGA Tour.

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Jordan Spieth’s announcement that he’s turning pro came quietly on a Friday afternoon, heralded only by an email news release from the University of Texas. Spieth’s departure is a big deal, though, and not just for those with an interest in the success of Texas golf. It may be the continuation of a trend in college golf.

This is the second consecutive season during which a first-team All-American has turned pro at the midseason break. Peter Uihlein did so last year, departing Oklahoma State for a global schedule on the European and Challenge tours. Now Spieth has left, six months after leading Texas to the NCAA title.

Spieth and Uihlein likely won’t be the last ones to leave early, either. The PGA Tour’s new qualifying structure gives players more incentive to turn pro in December. Players used to be able to turn pro in August or September, then roll the dice at Q-School. Now they need to get starts on the PGA and Web.com tours before the Web.com Tour Finals, which begin in late August.

A big-name amateur now has a big incentive – namely five more months of potential PGA Tour starts – to turn pro in January instead of waiting until after the NCAA Championship in early June. Turning pro in January also allows a player time to detour to the Web.com Tour if he doesn’t succeed in his PGA Tour starts. A player must finish in the top 200 of the FedEx Cup points list or top 75 of the Web.com Tour money list to earn a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals.

Spieth was a first-team All-American in 2012 and No. 4 in the current Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He is the only player, other than Tiger Woods, to win multiple U.S. Junior titles. It was Spieth’s performance in pro events that earned him attention, though. He contended in the 2010 and '11 Byron Nelson Championships. He was the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Open (T-21).

Spieth will have to rely on sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers for starts after missing at the second stage of this year’s Q-School.

Spieth’s agent, Jay Danzi, said that no sponsorship deals or sponsor exemptions have been finalized. Spieth obviously would like his pro debut to happen as soon as possible, with hopes that it will come on the West Coast Swing. Sponsor exemptions will be hard to come by in 2013, though. Tournaments have been given fewer exemptions to hand out so that more spots can be given to PGA Tour members in this condensed season that runs only from January to September. The standard Tour event will have just two unrestricted sponsor exemptions (invitations that can go to non-members) in 2013. Non-members are limited to seven sponsor exemptions per season.

Turning pro in January ensures Spieth will be pro for the PGA Tour’s Texas Swing, where the Dallas native seems likely to receive exemptions. He’s received sponsor exemptions to the Byron Nelson Championship (2010, ’11) and Texas Open (2012), and made the cut in all three starts. He also received sponsor exemptions to the Northern Trust Open (MC), AT&T National (MC) and John Deere Classic (T-58) in 2012. This year’s Northern Trust is scheduled for Feb. 14-17 at Riviera, where Spieth helped Texas to the 2012 NCAA title. He has made the cut in five of eight PGA Tour starts, including two top-25s. A T-16 at the 2010 Byron Nelson is his best career Tour finish.

Spieth’s future as a pro has plenty of questions. One thing seems certain, though. He won’t be the last star collegian to turn pro midseason.

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