Aug. 26, 2002
Each month, former Baylor golfer and current PGA professional Jerry Smith writes a column for the official Baylor athletic web site describing various aspects of the PGA Tour. For past columns, please browse our archives.
The final major concluded this past weekend with a grand finish and signaling to all those players not present that the 2002 PGA Tour season is rapidly coming to a close. With 11 events left to play, you will see a lot of jockeying for position entering 2003. Everyone always makes a reference to the Top 125 and its importance, but there are several other milestones of great significance as well.
Unlike any other professional sport, players must perform at a certain level each and every year or face the possibility of being demoted. To that end, I thought offering insight as to what to watch for during the remainder of the season would be of interest.
As of this writing, I sit at 142nd on the Money List, some $80,000 short of the 125th position. Last year, I was in a very similar position and was able to put together a run of three Top 10s and three other Top 20s to climb to 85th by season's end. I feel my game is taking on a similar pattern having made my last five cuts and knowing that I'm playing as well as I have all year. I truly expect to make a major move in the weeks ahead.
Though the 125 number is important, those that fall between 126-150 do receive some status for next year. They can expect to play in 10-20 tournaments and spend the rest of their time competing on the former Buy.com Tour (new title sponsor to be named in 2003).
Players who are well within the 125 number are competing just as hard for positions that grant much bigger perks than merely keeping your job. Those players ranked in the Top 70 will see themselves playing in Wednesday pro-ams and receiving bigger bonuses from the manufacturers.
The perks for playing on Wednesday are the possibility of getting home for a night or two (Sunday & Monday) and padding your retirement with a few extra dollars. Several players will use the pro-am as their practice round to spend some additional time with family at home. Financially, credits are awarded to those playing on Wednesday and making the cut on Friday. At the end of the year an amount is set for the value of each credit depending on how many credits are accumulated. That figure is put into a PGA managed retirement account.
The PGA Tour, without a doubt, has the best potential retirement package of any professional sport. One key to maximizing your retirement is staying on Tour for at least five years accumulative, not necessarily consecutively.
The next level that holds importance is being in the Top 40. Not only have you banked well over $1,000,000, but you have earned a trip down Magnolia Lane for The Masters. It used to be that a win automatically would earn you a spot, but that was taken away a few years back. So now when you win your first Tour event, you can't stop there for you must play well for the entire season to earn this trip. However, a win does get you a trip to the next season-opening Mercedes Championship played in Hawaii.
The final number that everyone wants to be a part of is the Top 30 which earns one a trip to the season ending Tour Championship. This obviously signals that you have had a great deal of success and that you sit at the top of your profession. You have probably won an event or two, competed in all four majors and all four World Golf Championships.
There is one level above the Top 30 every other year that holds importance on a different level and that is a point system that determines our Ryder Cup team. The Top 10 are automatically in and the final two members are chosen by an appointed captain. With this event approaching next month, there is no greater excitement in golf than to watch the United States' best compete against Europe's best.
Once the Tour concludes the first week of November, two things take place: Qualifying School and the so-called "silly season." It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Q-school is for those who have fallen outside the Top 125, those not on the Top 15 of the Buy.com Tour's final money leaders, and those who dream of joining the PGA Tour ranks. To graduate, simply finish in the Top 35 (including ties) after six rounds.
The "silly season" consists of several made-for-TV events to help our marquee players add a little Christmas cheer to their stockings. These events include the Hyundai Team Championship, Franklin Templeton Shootout (Shark Shootout), Skins Game, Williams World Challenge (Tiger's event), Grand Slam Championship (pitting the four major winners) and the Wendy's Three Tour Challenge.
Though the PGA Championship provided its usual excitement with Tiger mounting an Arnie-type charge yet falling one shot shy of former electronics salesman Rich Beem, there is much to keep your eye on before the glasses are raised toasting a new year.
Sic 'em Bears,