It is either the carrot at the end of the stick or the pot of gold at the completion of the rainbow. It is simply a slight difference in perspective.
Either analogy works perfectly well for PGA TOUR Canada’s Tour Championship that takes place next week at Sunningdale Golf and Country Club in London, Ont.
Until this year, a golfer on the former Canadian Tour – now PGA TOUR Canada – who has a solid season and finished in the Top 5 on the tour’s order of merit would simply be given an exemption into the second stage of PGA TOUR qualifying school. It meant avoiding a the first stage – but was no guarantee that the golfer would advance further.
This year PGA TOUR Canada is offering those in the Top 5 a promotion to the Web.com Tour in 2014, with those in the next five spots on the money list gaining conditional status. That’s what makes the TOUR Championship so significant.
For Jim Rutledge, who now plays on the Champions Tour, but spent many years playing the old Canadian Tour, the change is very welcome.
“It is really a better structure for [PGA TOUR Canada] to have a carrot at the end of the year,” Rutledge said during last week's Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary. “You are always playing for yourself out there but now there is something to aim for.”
PGA TOUR Canada’s season ending event has drawn a new presenting sponsor in Freedom 55 Financial, as well as an organizing body in Golf Canada excited to share in the graduation of the Top 5 players to the Web.com Tour. For Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons, expanding their longstanding relationship with PGA TOUR to the Canadian development circuit made perfect sense.
“Investing in player development and helping our top golfers get to the next level has become a big part of Golf Canada’s mandate as the national sport organization,” says Simmons. “We want to be there to share in the moment when the final putt drops and help celebrate the Top 5 players earning their Web.com Tour cards.”
For Canadians like two-time Canadian Amateur winner Mackenzie Hughes, the opportunity is more significant than the cash that comes with it. Hughes says while a Top 5 finish on the Order of Merit will help him financially, he’s chasing a dream. And finishing well up the money list will be a significant step in helping him achieve that.
“There’s a carrot at the end that says if you play well you’re going to move up,” says Hughes, who finished T2 at last week’s Wildfire Invitational. “It is a huge incentive for many guys. It isn’t about the money – it is about the possibility.”
Michael Gligic, from Burlington, Ont., recognizes that as well. Gligic finished second on last year’s Order of Merit, but is well back this year after some early struggles. He says there’s a lot more attention placed on those who hold spots in the the Top 5.
“There’s a lot at stake – everyone in the Top 5 knows where they stand,” Gligic says. “I don’t try to look at the results side of things. But on the other hand you know that one good week is likely all it takes for most guys out here.”
Gligic is right. According to PGA TOUR Canada officials almost any of the golfers who qualifying for the TOUR Championship have a statistical possibility of cracking the Top 5. And that means for those who come to watch the tournament in London in the week of Sept. 9, they have a shot at being close to a golfer who may only be a year away from the PGA TOUR. That golfer could follow other former PGA TOUR Canada players like Matt Kuchar or Graham DeLaet onto the game’s grandest stage.
“The way I see it if you excluded the Top 25 guys in the world – the ones who are right at the top – many of the guys below that are at the same level,” says Gligic. “And if they are playing well there isn’t that much of a difference.”
“It has attracted deeper fields. Guys are coming from all over and sponsors seem to be recognizing it as well. They want to be connected to the PGA TOUR because there are so many possibilities.
For me I’m not sure there is more pressure. I started without any playing privileges and I’ve locked up my card for next year. Everything from here on in is gravy.”
PGA TOUR CANADA ORDER OF MERIT (through Sept. 2nd)
1 Riley Wheeldon (CDN) - $39,937.50
2 Wil Collins (USA) - $39,708.04
3 Joe Panzeri (USA) - $37,355.23
4 Hugo Leon (CIL) - $37,167.00
5 Mark Hubbard (USA) - $35,451.29
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. (USA) - $33,105.75
7 Nick Taylor (CDN) - $32,931.25
8 Stephen Gangluff (USA) - $30,111.31
9 Kyle Stough (USA) - $29,908.75
10 Chris Epperson (USA) - $28,928.75