Every year, while many of those who pay attention to golf are mesmerized by the end-of-season battles for player of the year and other honors, I look way down the money list to where the REAL drama is: Which players will be able to return to the Tour next year, and which won’t? The top 125 earn fully exempt status; the next 25 (through 150) earn partial status that probably will enable them to enter 15 or 16 tournaments (most pros play about 25 per year). Below 150 and, unless you are exempt through other reasons (a win less than two years ago, a major less than five years ago, etc.), the player must return to grueling “Q school” or else lose his playing privileges altogether. These are guys fighting for their chosen livelihood — and there’s always some real drama.
Here’s what I pieced together. The most dramatic events were on the 9th hole on Sunday at the tourney at Disneyworld, which was the 18th and final hole of the day, and the tourney, for golfers D.J. Trahan and Bobby Gates. Trahan needed a 22-foot putt for a birdie… and made it, to finish tied for 46th at five-under par, earning $12,569. Gates reached the green in two and needed to two-putt for par from 38 feet, 4 inches. He three-putted, falling back into a tie for…yes, 46th place. If he had two putted for par rather than bogey, or if Trahan had two putted for par rather than birdie, Gates would have finished in 125th and final fully exempt spot on the money list. Instead, Trahan edged Gates for that final spot, $668,166 to $666,735. That’s excruciatingly close for Gates, but no cigar.
At least he’ll be partially exempt. Fabian Gomez won’t be, and neither will Henrik Stenson. On a course yielding very low scores, both of them played three good rounds and entered Sunday in line to move from well out of the top 150 into the top 150 with ease. But Gomez played the final found plus five, to fall back out, and Stenson played it plus one, whereas a half-decent minus-one would have done the trick. Also falling back out was Bio Kim, whose final round 76 (plus 4) dropped him for the week from 3rd to 20th, costing him nearly $200,000. If he had finished in the top 10, he would have kept his partially exempt status; instead, he finished 162nd.
The heartbreak for these guys is immense.
Who benefited? Former British Open champion Ben Curtis, who missed the cut and entered the final day unable to help his own fate, but apparently on the outside looking in. But when Kim, Gomez and Stenson all fell back, Curtis’ earnings for the year remained enough to finish 149th on the money list, just barely good enough to keep his partially exempt status.I imagine he was gnawing his cuticles to a nub just watching.