There is no question that the path to the PGA Tour goes through Ponte Vedra Beach. The most important tournament of the Web.com Tour, the one where 50 players receive PGA Tour cards, concluded last Sunday on the TPC Valley Course.
Two players, Chez Reavie and Emiliano Grillo, battled all day and were tied until the final hole when Grillo sank a monster putt for the tournament title. But he was not the only winner last week.
The Web.com Championship and the three tournaments leading up to it, collectively called The Finals, were a nerve-wracking experience because of the importance of a PGA Tour card. Without one, it’s nearly impossible to play on the PGA Tour because non-members are limited in the number of events they can play with special exemptions.
The tournament was such a nervous time that Robert Garrigus, one of those trying to regain his PGA Tour playing status, said, “It’s like the first hole at The Masters all four days.”
That’s serious golf, the longest job interview ever, conducted over a four-week series of tournaments. Appropriately, rain or at least dark and threatening clouds filled the forecast every day. Despite the gloomy weather, 50 people walked away thrilled that they had earned either their first shot at the PGA Tour or had regained playing status for another year. For the other 100, it’s back to the Web.com Tour and another year before they can try again.
The three biggest winners were Patton Kizzire, who won the Web.com season money list, Chez Reavie, who won The Finals money list, and Emiliano Grillo, who won the Web.com Championship event.
While all three got PGA Tour cards, both Kizzire and Reavie got what is called the golden ticket, after the Willie Wonka movie, because they are fully exempt, meaning they can enter any non-invitational tournament in the 2015-16 season. In addition Kizzire and Reavie earned spots in The Players.
Patton attended Auburn where he won the 2007 SEC Conference Championship. He lives at Sea Island and is taller than Davis Love.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing in the tournament out here,” Patton said about The Players. “To be so close to home and to get a chance to come out here and compete again, that will be pretty special.”
Reavie won the Canadian Open in 2008. He is also a past champion of the USGA Public Links.
“It’s everything,” said Reavie about getting his PGA Tour card back. “A couple years ago I was hurt and didn’t know where I was going to end up, and here I am playing the best golf of my life, and I’ve got a spot back on Tour.”
Grillo is from Argentina and moved away from home at age 14 to learn to play better golf. At age 16 he entered the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in the U.S. Until now Grillo has mainly played on the European Tour.
“It’s great, my second career victory as a professional, the most important one so far,” Grillo said. “It’s been a great last month. I got married a month ago almost and from there I just started playing good. I’m there. I’m on the PGA Tour and it feels great.”
There were plenty of other stories of former winners who had to return to win their playing privileges back. Included in that list were Kyle Stanley, Dickie Pride, Jonathan Byrd, Roberto Castro, Robert Garrigus and 2009 U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover.
Castro matched the Valley Course record of 62 on Sunday and, interestingly, shares the course record at the PGA Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, which is a 63. He actually had 30-footer at No. 18 for 61 in the final round, but it stopped about an inch away from the hole.
Arnold Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, earned his PGA Tour card for the second time.
“I felt coming into these Web Finals that I should be one of the top players. I hope that’s not an arrogant statement, it’s just an experienced statement,” Saunders said. “I’ve kind of paid my dues at this point.” He turned professional in 2009.
The four events called The Finals take the place of what used to be Q- School. Those who finished 126-200 on the PGA Tour in FedEx points and the top 25 money winners on the Web.com Tour are allowed to participate. It’s the only way to get to the PGA Tour, outside of winning a major championship.
When it comes to awarding cards, the top 50 from the season long money list on the Web.com Tour automatically earn a card. The next 50 cards are based on money earned in The Finals.
Those who already earned a card from the Web.com season can improve their position on the list and have a better chance to enter 2015-16 tournaments with a better cumulative result in The Finals.
Position is important because a typical PGA Tour event has between 130 and 150 golfers, give or take. The first priority for entering tournaments is given to the top 125 in FedEx points plus the two golden ticket holders, Kizzire and Reavie. After that, come the past champions of tournaments, the players who have exemptions from winning other PGA Tour events in the last two years, and then the remaining spots are filled with those who earned their cards last Sunday. Not everyone in the top 125 plays every week, so that opens up spots for the lucky 48.
All who participated and did not get a PGA Tour card are allowed to play the Web.com Tour next season where they have a chance to earn a spot next year. It is a long time to wait. Included in the 100 or so who will not have a secure place on the PGA Tour in 2015-16 are former winners Kyle Stanley, Jhonattan Vegas, Andres Romero, and Tim Herron. LPGA star Lexi Thompson’s brothers, Nicolas and Curtis, are also out of luck and will return to the Web.com Tour for 2016.