New PGA Tour card system shows flaws early

Davis Love III as a player sees first-hand the conflict between what might help players under the new PGA Tour card setup vs. what might help tournament organizers.
Davis Love III as a player sees first-hand the conflict between what might help players under the new PGA Tour card setup vs. what might help tournament organizers. ( Associated Press )

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

For all this talk of the PGA Tour’s first wraparound season, some will stick to the old-fashioned way and wait for January to roll around.

Not by choice, mind you, but Jim Renner said it doesn’t do any good to sit around and mope about the new landscape. True, he’s got his PGA Tour card for 2013-14, but for Renner and nearly a dozen of his colleagues, that has meant very little.

They’ve remained on the sidelines for the first five tournaments of the season and next week at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba probably will be the same story. Too many players for too few spots.

“People kept telling me, ‘You’ll get in maybe four tournaments, but likely two.’ But no one told me it would be zero,” Renner said.

He was driving through the late-autumn dusk, headed to his home in Orlando, Fla., from Brunswick, Ga., where he had failed to make it through a Monday qualifier for the McGladrey Classic. “These Monday qualifiers are not very fun. It’s not the way you want to play the Tour,” Renner said.

But the 30-year-old refuses to dwell on the negative. It’s been frustrating, yes, “but I’m doing everything I can this winter to set up my year, and I’ll go from there. I’m just going to try and be ready.”

That Renner finds himself as sort of a poster boy for critics who bemoan the way PGA Tour cards were distributed at the end of 2013 is not something he wants. Fact is, “I don’t disagree with the big picture of the whole thing. I understand the thinking that went behind it.”

At the end of the Tour regular season, the top 25 money winners were guaranteed PGA Tour cards for 2013-14, but their priority ranking would be determined by how they fared in a four-tournament series that would include the top 75 on the Tour money list and Nos. 126-200 from the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings.

Having finished 17th on the Tour money list, Renner saw his standing crash when he played poorly in the four tournaments – two missed cuts, a T-60 and a T-41. When all was done, he had sunk to 44th on the priority list, though his wasn’t the biggest fall.

Kevin Tway was fifth on the the money list, but tumbled all the way to 46th on the priority list thanks to a poor Tour Finals. It was bad for Mark Anderson (eighth to 45th) and Will Wilcox (seventh to 49th), too, and also for Alex Prugh (11th to 41st).

But if the immediate aftermath of the Tour Championship was tough, it worsened when the 2013-14 season commenced and these players found out that it was like having Game 7 tickets to a series that ended in six. Of the 50 players who earned cards through the Tour Finals, the bottom 12 (Nos. 39-50) have yet to get into a tournament on their number.

True, Renner got into the Open via a Monday qualifier, and a sprinkling of sponsor exemptions have gone to Tway, Prugh, Wes Roach (40th) and Jamie Lovemark (39th), but mostly it’s been a lost cause. “A lot of guys on the Tour go the huge part of the summer playing 13 in a row, 10 in a row, so this is frustrating,” Renner said.

But, again, he appreciates how this all came down. It’s the first year the PGA Tour adopted this system, awarding cards through the Tour Finals and not through the annual qualifying tournament. And before the wraparound season, the fall events at Frys and in Vegas had not been huge draws, “but with big purses, full FedEx Cup points, a lot of guys decided they wanted to play in them,” Renner said. “Fine. Can’t blame them.”

Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations, concedes that after all the analysis “in two of the four tournaments (on U.S. soil) we felt comfortable that the entire list would all get in.”


“At the Shriners,” Pazder said, “we had 25 more exempt players in the field from a year ago. It was shocking.”

Shockingly good for the Tour and the tournament officials, for these early tournaments have been stronger and better. But it’s been shockingly bad for the guys with cards but no tee times.

Compounding the problem is the fact that with daylight at a premium this time of year, the fields are kept to 132, and even then it’s a challenge to get everyone in. Davis Love III suggested to the PGA Tour that two courses be used to accommodate fields of 144. Then in the next breath, Love, who helps run the McGladrey, conceded the problems that would create.

“It would add a lot of stress to tournament organizers, add financial expenses, and TV might not like it,” Pazder said. “But maybe it’s something we can look at.”

Chances are more likely, however, that the Tour will look at how some players crashed down the priority list and consider tweaks to a system that is quite reasonable and sensible, just not perfect. Then again, what in golf is? Guys in the past had miserable Tour seasons, caught fire in the final stage of Q-School and rode into the PGA Tour season high up on the priority list. Was that fair? No.

So Renner remains upbeat. He has penciled in the Sony Open in Hawaii, hopeful that he’ll get in on his number for that one. A nice place to be in early January, for sure, and riding optimism that he’ll eventually get a chance to play in 20-22 tournaments, Renner said, “it will be 100 percent on me.”