Column: Replenishing PGA Tour pipeline starts in college

Nov 7, 2022, 9:44 PM | Updated: Nov 8, 2022, 11:46 am

Jon Rahm, of Spain, watches his drive off the second tee during the final round of the CJ Cup golf ...

Jon Rahm, of Spain, watches his drive off the second tee during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

              FILE - Tiger Woods tips his hat to the crowd during a match between Serena Williams and Anett Kontaveit, of Estonia, in the second round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, in New York. Woods has won the Player Impact Program on the PGA Tour despite playing only three times. He is likely to play three unofficial events in December.(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
              Jon Rahm, of Spain, watches his drive off the second tee during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Tiger Woods was one college kid who got everyone’s attention on the PGA Tour.

Retired commissioner Tim Finchem recalls being in the players’ dining room at Firestone during the old World Series of Golf in 1996 when Woods, the NCAA champion at Stanford, was going after a third straight U.S. Amateur.

“The television was on the U.S. Amateur and players were gathered around watching. That hasn’t happened since,” Finchem said in an interview 10 years later, and it still holds true. “Everybody wanted to watch every move he made because they knew he was going to be good. The only question was how good.”

It didn’t take long to find out, but not without Woods having to prove it in Milwaukee, Canada, the Quad City Classic and the B.C. Open. It was his tie for third in the rain-shortened B.C. Open — now a PGA Tour Champions event — that gave Woods enough money for limited status and unlimited exemptions.

He won his next PGA Tour event, and then 81 more after that. He was good.

It’s easier now for the best in college to get a PGA Tour card immediately, and they have the threat of Saudi-funded LIV Golf to thank for that.

PGA Tour University was launched in the fall of 2020, back when “LIV” was only associated with the Super Bowl played that year. The program had been in the works for a few years. The carrot was access to the Korn Ferry Tour.

But then LIV Golf started picking off a few college kids — Eugenio Chacarra, David Puig, U.S. Amateur champion James Piot — along with Turk Pettit, an NCAA champion who was playing developmental tours.

And now the PGA Tour is paying a lot more attention to the pipeline, which it probably should have done years ago. And even now, it’s worth asking if the tour is doing enough.

For all the PGA Tour offers — money, history, tradition — it’s hard to compete against a rival league offering guaranteed riches ($120,000 for last place even without a signing bonus, against a 48-man field). Chacarra surely got everyone’s attention when he took home $4 million for winning a LIV event in Bangkok.

Would that have appealed to Woods in 1996? He was a different cat in so many ways, starting with that $40 million Nike contract — unheard of back then — that his late father, Earl, once referred to as chump change (he was right).

But now?

“I’m not going to lie. If you asked me in 2016 and offered me $50 million to play LIV, I don’t know if I could go to my dad and say, ‘We’re going to turn this down.’ I don’t know if I can tell you I wouldn’t have taken it,” Jon Rahm said. “And a lot of players are going to do the same thing when you have nothing and get offered that as a guarantee.”

Rahm’s advice to the PGA Tour was to “start looking at college players and offer them more than you do now.”

PGA Tour University offered the leading five college seniors Korn Ferry Tour cards from June until the end of the season, and the next 15 could go to Canada or Latin America.

That’s why when Rahm was asked what the tour offered, he replied, “Nothing.”

“There’s a lot of lost talent out there in Canada and Latin America,” he said. “Every other major sport has a direct path to the major leagues from college except golf.”

That’s about to change. The PGA Tour board is expected to give final approval Monday to a plan in which the top college senior will get a PGA Tour card after the NCAAs in June. He could play as many as eight events, and if he doesn’t make the postseason, as many as seven more in the fall.

This will be the first time a college player has a direct path to the PGA Tour, much like college stars going straight to the NFL or NBA.

That’s just for seniors. The tour also is planning an “accelerated” university program for top underclassmen who earn enough points through performance (college, tour, elite amateur events), awards and the world amateur ranking.

The idea is to create a path to the tour but keep the bar high enough to avoid getting someone who gets hot. Over the last decade or so, the tour figures players like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Sam Burns — all among the top 12 in the world — would have been eligible.

The balancing act is providing the right amount of cards to college stars for a tour where it’s already tough to get into tournaments. A year ago, the tour had 201 members who played at least 15 times. The typical field in the summer is 156 players. And it’s about to get tighter in 2024.

But if the tour lost market shares when players defected to LIV Golf, and the best way to replenish them is through the college ranks, the tour should consider going further.

Only the top college senior gets a PGA Tour card. The next five can go to the Korn Ferry Tour, and the next 13 go to either Latin America or Canada.

Is there room to offer the top five college seniors a PGA Tour card without squeezing the membership? This is what the tour has to contemplate.

Perhaps one solution is to dedicate four sponsor exemptions to the previous year’s PGA Tour University ranking, instead of being for current PGA Tour members or unrestricted.

The Travelers Championship and John Deere Classic are among tournaments that were ahead of the curve in looking after college stars. That needs to be a stronger focus for the PGA Tour, and its “University” ranking system is a start.

It’s better than nothing.


AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

7 months ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

7 months ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

7 months ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

7 months ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

7 months ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

7 months ago

Column: Replenishing PGA Tour pipeline starts in college