Memphis, Tennessee – The largely manufactured drama of the PGA Tour’s postseason has always undermined the relative success in the playoffs.
Meaningful golf during a time of the year when only football matters is the secret sauce for the postseason, and reaching the Tour Championship always came with all kinds of perks, with the $18 million FedExCup champ being the primary motivator. But the real drama was an illusion.
The top 125 people who have historically qualified for the playoffs have also secured their place in the following season, which means, other than qualifying for the season finale, the only real stress test was working your way up the points list to make more money.
That changed this week as the circuit prepares to move to next year’s signature event schedule, with limited fields and most tournaments without a cut.
Next year’s eight signature events—The Sentry, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship, and Memorial and Travelers Championship—will feature 70- to 80-player courts. Primary qualification for these tournaments will be among the top 50 from the previous season’s points list.
That cut looms on Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude.
Again, there were always bubbles and projections framing the postseason narrative, but the focus on this year’s Top 50 ran deeper.
Keep in mind that exactly 3.11 points currently separate No. 50 (Nick Hardy) from No. 51 (Alex Smalley). That’s the difference between 13th and 14th in the Honda Classic—one stroke, one stroke, one bounce that stayed in the lane instead of engaging. One hit in next year’s reimagined timeline plotter would be huge in quantitative terms.
If the 50th on this year’s points list finishes 10th in all eight featured events in 2024, he will earn 1,400 points. By comparison, the 51st-place finisher on the points list would earn 600 points if he were to finish 10th in eight comparable complete events. That’s the difference between finishing the regular season 14th on the points list—almost guaranteed a trip to the Tour Championship—and finishing 71st (based on this year’s list) and not qualifying for the playoffs.
There is also a financial gap between signature events and their full field counterparts. The eight dedicated events in ’24 will play for $155 million in purses (based on ’23 accounts). The eight comparable tournaments — Sony Open, Farmers Insurance Open, WM Phoenix Open, The Classic (formerly Honda Classic), AT&T Byron Nelson, Valero Texas Open, RBC Canadian Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic — will offer $69.7 million in combined purses.
No one on next year’s Tour, whether they qualify for signature events or not, will go poor, but the gap between the haves and the have-nots has never been so clear.
It should be noted that six of next season’s signature events will not be cut. The three select stations that will see cuts — The Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial — will see the Top 50 and anyone within 10 shots of the lead play on the weekend. The guarantee of four rounds and a pay day is a cushion that cannot be ignored, and this new reality is not lost on players.
“Normally, top 30 is the limit. There’s a lot of rewards for the top 30. That gets you in all the disciplines, all the big events. That’s where you really want to be. That’s still where you want to be. Obviously that gives you the opportunity.” To win the FedExCup, which is what it’s about,” said Justin Rose. “But I think (top) 50 is a really important number. It’s been on my mind all year, just to make sure you’re playing at a level where next year you can build up a schedule to your liking and without compromise. (Top) 50 was a really important number, I think, for a lot of the guys on the tour this year.”
This buildup ends on Sunday, with no shortage of potential gainers and losers.
Saturday’s forecast included just two places to trade: Cam Davis moved into a tie for 12th thanks to a third-round 69, jumping from the 62nd to the predicted 49th and bumping Mackenzie Hughes, ranked 47th to start the week, to the 51st.
“I really don’t want to look at that until after the tour tomorrow. I’m going to try to make as many birdies as I can and see what happens at the end of that,” Davis said of his first 50 ordeal.
Harris English had been projected outside the top 50 all week after a 42 start to the post season, but he rallied late Saturday, playing the last 11 holes on the 3-under-par to move into the predicted 49th on the list. Patrick Rodgers (#42) was also down after the opening rounds from 70-72, but he made his way back into the top 50 with a 66 on Saturday.
Based on last year’s roster, anything close to 960 points should be safe to advance to next week’s BMW Championship and maintain a coveted spot in the top 50. That means every player from around No. 41 (Andrew Putnam with 914 points) and down will be watching the plate. Results carefully on Sunday.
In the history of the playoffs, the consequences have never been greater.