For professional golfers, earning a spot on the PGA Tour is the ultimate goal, if even for one week.
The path to precious PGA Tour and Web.Com Tour exemptions is murky. There are the regular PGA Tour exemptions for members, sponsors exemptions, earned exemptions and Monday qualifiers.
For most professional golfers, the only viable option to earn exemptions is through Monday qualifiers and earned exemptions through developmental tours.
There are Web.Com exemptions up for grabs at this week’s NGA Tour Classic at Achasta Golf Club presented by Ace Wiring Systems and next week’s TimberCreek Golf Classic.
The increasing number of PGA Tour and Web.Com Tour exemptions available to developmental tours — the total number of exemptions awarded this season on the NGA Tour is seven — gives them a different route to the best events, rather than playing in Monday qualifiers.
Monday qualifiers are intense. For PGA Tour events, players must play in a pre-qualifier on Thursday — unless they are exempt, which few are — just for the right to tee it up in the Monday qualifier. After the pre-qualifier, roughly 70 to 100 players battle it out typically for four spots.
Web.Com Tour events don’t have the Thursday pre-qualifiers and there are usually 14 spots available, but they are still difficult to advance through.
The trouble with the Monday qualifying system is that it requires players to shoot ultra-low to advance. With a plethora of quality players at every qualifier, a few are bound to shoot extremely low rounds.
Is a one-round birdie-fest really the best way to decide who gets life-changing exemptions? Deciding who plays in PGA Tour and Web.Com Tour events through one round is like deciding who moves from AAA baseball to the majors based on one at-bat.
Just this week, NGA Tour players Clayton Rotz , Ken Looper, Greg Sonnier and Austin Gutgsell attempted to qualify for the True South Classic in Mississippi on the PGA Tour. Sonnier and Gutgsell were able to earn exemptions, but the other two were not so lucky. Looper was the medalist in the pre-qualifier with a 63, but his 5-under 67 in the Monday qualifier left him on the outside looking in, two shots back.
“I feel that [Monday qualifiers] are really tough to get through,” Looper said. “It’s not necessarily a good measure of who should be in the event. You shoot one low round and you’re in.”
In four attempts, Looper has never advanced through a Monday qualifier.
“It’s like playing a four-round tournament and the winner comes off the first round,” Looper said.
If the PGA Tour and Web.Com tours want to add players that have proven themselves in competition, it would be prudent for them to give more exemptions through developmental tour events rather than through Monday qualifiers, where players can get on a roll over a short period. The quality of the fields on the PGA and Web.Com Tours would be improved in this fashion.
Rotz finished one shot out of a 5-for-1 playoff in the Monday qualifier for the True South Classic when a player in the final group came in and bested his 6-under 66. He agrees that it would be beneficial if more exemptions were given to proven NGA Tour players.
“It would be advantageous [to have more exemptions given to NGA Tour players], because you would be giving them to guys who have proven themselves out here for almost an entire year, instead of maybe a guy who just goes out and plays good on one 18-hole round,” Rotz said.
Adding exemptions is exactly what the NGA Tour has tried to do this year to give its players a shot at playing on the biggest stage. The tour has been given an exemption to the Reno-Tahoe Open on the PGA Tour and exemptions to six Web.Com events.
Monday qualifying is unique in that it gives anyone a chance to qualify. NGA Tour players Randall Hutchison and John Hurley were able to Monday qualify for the John Deere Classic earlier this season, where Hutchison made the cut. Bo Hoag, another NGA Tour regular, played in the Honda Classic after advancing through a Monday qualifier. One of the difficulties of the Thursday and Monday qualifiers is that players on a tight budget have to wait around all weekend, and it is far from guaranteed that they will make the field.
“If you’re out of town, it means travelling on Tuesday, playing a practice round for the pre-qualifier on Wednesday, hopefully making it through, hanging out Friday and Saturday and then playing another practice round on Sunday for the Monday qualifier,” Hoag said.
Not only that, but if a player makes the field, they are there all week. Hotel costs and expenses can add up quickly and it is an extra strain on players.
NGA Tour member Hudson Johnson realizes the opportunity available at every Monday qualifier, but doesn’t believe it should be the only way for players to play in big events.
“If Monday qualifiers become the sole way to get out there, man you are a doing a disservice to a lot of people that have grinded their way through developmental tours for a long time” Johnson said. “There should be more reward [other than money] for somebody like Brandon Brown. It’s great that they win the money, but they deserve more as far as moving up.”
The NGA Tour has been home to many players recently that are able to compete on the Web.Com and PGA Tour. Nine NGA Tour players moved up last year to the PGA Tour and Web.Com Tour through qualifiers and earning status, including 2012 Greenbrier Classic winner Ted Potter Jr.
Golf is in a unique position as an individual sport. There is no draft. 18-hole qualifiers are a short-term solution for most players, and it can be difficult to move up for anyone but those on the Web.Com Tour, especially with the new system of PGA Tour qualification beginning in 2013.
“There are no scouts out here like there are in other sports,” Johnson said. “If you are not on the Web.Com Tour it is difficult to move up, even if you are very deserving.”
Increasing the number of exemptions for developmental tours would create a better avenue for players to advance to higher levels in their careers. Ideally, the top money leaders on developmental tours such as the NGA Tour would be given some sort of status on the Web.Com Tour. Earning tour exemptions this way would be a strong overall test of a player’s ability to compete week in and week out in four-round events.
Until that happens, exemptions awarded to high finishers on developmental tours are helpful in getting stronger players into Web.Com and PGA Tour events.