I was reminded today that not everyone understands this crazy process to become a touring professional golfer. I probably should’ve written this last week…after my daughter asked me to draw a flowchart for her to show to her coworkers…none of whom golf but are trying to follow Tom’s progress. I apologize…sometimes I forget that not everyone loves golf like we do!
The question asked most often is, “what happens if he doesn’t make it through this stage of qualifying? Does that mean he can’t play in any Champions Tour tournaments? Does he have to wait another year to try again?” The other question is, “what happens if he qualifies?” I have to giggle that the 2nd question isn’t the most often asked, but I get it…the answer may seem obvious, but it really isn’t.
The answers are a bit involved, but I’ll try to make it simple and give some background to go with it, so bear with me.
There are 2 stages to qualifying; 1st Stage and the Final Stage. There were also two sites conducting the 1st Stage qualifying; Orlando, FL (where Tom was) and Nippon, CA. There were 67 players at the FL site and 74 at the CA site. 27 players from each of those sites made it through to the Final Stage qualifying (Tom being one of them) which is being held at The Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona. Joining those 54 players are 24 exempt players who did not have to participate in the 1st Stage qualifying; typically these are Senior Tour pros or Senior PGA pros who lost their status somehow and need to qualify to get it back (“status” meaning they were on the Champions Tour but can’t stay because they didn’t earn enough money). You see, in the world of Professional Tour Players, your ability to play in the tournaments without having to qualify is determined by how much you made the previous year (which is directly proportionate to how well you play). This is true of the regular PGA Tour and the Champions Tour. There are other ways to maintain your status; the most obvious of which is winning a major tournament that has exemptions that come with the win. Think Tiger Woods…he didn’t earn much last year playing golf, but since he has won so many majors, he still has exemptions available to him that keep him eligible to play in the Tour events.
Now that you have some background, let’s go back to the Champions Tour & Tom’s prospects as they apply to it.
From the Final Stage of qualifying will come 3 potential outcomes; the top 5 finishers will earn their status on the Champions Tour for 2018. This means they can play in any of the tour events without having to qualify, but that card is only good for the 1st half of the season! This is what all 78 players want. Finishers placing 6-30th will earn what’s called, “provisional status”. More on that later. All of the rest of the players will be left to have to try to qualify for tournaments via a 2-stage process for EACH TOURNAMENT. Kind of a pain in the ass, but there’s a reason the guys playing on the tour are as good as they are. They earned it.
In Tom’s particular situation, regardless of how he finishes next week, he can’t play in any Champions Tour event (or even try to qualify) until he turns 50, which is March 8th. If he were to finish in the top 5, his card would be temporarily given to the next one down (6th place) until he’s old enough to compete. So what does he do until then? Fortunately there’s a mini-tour for mid-seniors (players ages 47+) that is held mainly down South where guys who may not be able to compete with the younger players but who aren’t old enough to play on the Senior Tour can still compete and hone their skills. This is where Tom will probably be competing until he turns 50.
Now to explain what happens if you finish outside of the top 30 from the Final Stage of qualifying. This doesn’t mean you can’t play on the Tour, it just means you have to again try to qualify; on an individual tournament basis. For example; let’s say there’s a Champions Tour event coming up. The Thursday before that event they will have a pre-qualifier. From the pre-qualifier, a certain number of players will earn their way to the final qualifying tournament (I have no idea how many or how they determine how many). That qualifying tournament will be held the very next Monday and from that qualifier, a certain number of guys will earn spots in that actual Champions Tour event being held the next weekend. As you can see, again, it’s not easy…but here’s a kicker; even if you qualify to play in that event, you still may not be able to play! Let’s say they fill a Champions Tour event with regularly exempt players and Monday qualifier players. Then…a past champion (or Champions) decide they want to play in that event for whatever reason. The first ones to be bumped so they can play are the Monday qualifier guys! It doesn’t seem fair, but then again, it’s all about earning your place. One good thing that comes from making it through a Thursday pre-qualifier is that once you do so, you are exempt from future Thursday pre-qualifiers…so basically you earn Provisional Status.
Now to explain Provisional Status and what that means, or at least I’ll try. There isn’t a ton of information made public regarding this whole process, so I’m going to explain it with the information I’ve been given. I apologize if it’s not 100% correct, but you’ll get the idea. Going back to those players from the Final Stage of qualifying who finished 6-30th; they will earn what’s called Provisional Status on the Champions Tour as I stated earlier. This means that they are exempt from having to Thursday pre-qualify for tour events but will still have to Monday qualify.
So I think that about covers it! Simple, huh? People often asked Tom in the past why he didn’t turn Pro. Qualifying for the regular PGA Tour is even tougher – and requires you to earn your way through playing in the Web.com tour & finish in the top of that tour’s money list. Matt Harmon is going through that process now & can tell you how brutal it is to compete at that level…at least Tom gets to compete with old guys – who happen to still play REALLY good golf!