The Forgotten Warriors

Well, what a great end to the PGA Tour season. The Tour Championship and FedExCup were a resounding success and a worthy champion was crowned. No dark-horse fluke in Jim Furyk. And now we roll right into the grand theatre of the Ryder Cup, golf’s international, 24-man, battle royale. 

Next week the players will return to their families for extended time not possible during the season, put up the clubs and prepare for next season at a less ardent pace. Oh, there may an occasional foray overseas for lucrative appearance money events or some of the yearend special events like Tiger Wood’s Chevron World Challenge that invites 18 players (comprised mostly of the winners of the four majors and players straight off the Official World Golf Ranking) for a $5 million get together…and a big payday; last place $150,000. 

But that’s it. Aside from that let-your-hair-down stuff, the season is over. The top-5 players all made over $4 million, the top-15 over $3 million, top-33 over $2 million and the top-77 over $1 million. What a delightful and satisfying end to the season. 

But if that’s what you think, you’d be wrong. There are five more big tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, but big for a different reason.

When the PGA Tour came up with the concept of the playoff system, not only did it create a lot of excitement with its shrinking field size each week, it left a lot of players out in the cold. The top 144 had their chance in the first tournament, but it was do-or-die down to 125 the next week, 100 with no cut the next and finally the 30-man Tour Championship. 

A lot of players haven’t played in the last month and to many of them, it was a critical mistake not to have played well enough to get into the mix. Why? Because you have to end up in the top-125 money winners at the end of the year in order to keep your Tour card. If not, you are left to hoping that the need for some tournament to find 144 players will extend down to your number on occasion or that you qualify on the basis of a dozen other esoteric Tour exemptions. Most players in this situation do not. 

And so, beginning this weekend, they are forced to fight to keep their jobs and they have five tournaments to do it: 

September 30th, Viking Classic, Annandale Golf Club, Madison, MS 

October 7th, The McGladrey Classic, Seaside Course, Sea Island, GA 

October 14th, Open, CordeValle Golf Club, San Martin, CA 

October 21st, Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals, TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, NV 

November 11th, Children’s Miracle Network Classic, Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, FL 

The winners not only get a high-six-figure check, they get a two-year exemption onto the PGA Tour, an exemption into the season-opening, winners-only SBS Championship in Maui, Hawaii (which conveniently fronts the Sony Open in Honolulu the following week) and a coveted invitation to play in the Masters in April in Augusta, Georgia. Not to mention the designation as a PGA Tour winner, a distinction and accomplishment that follows you for life. 

But towards the back of the pack where they’ve been for most of the season are the players clinging to life support, hovering at the 125 cut line. 

Now make no mistake, these are great players. If you managed to get a PGA Tour card, you are by definition, one of the best players in the world. World class. How you managed to get yourself into your current circumstances runs the gamut: injury, sickness, tinkering with your swing trying to get better, distracting family priorities, bad luck, discouragement, apathy, the list is as long as the number of stories out there. But they are all great players. Which makes it very difficult for someone to just waltz in and improve his position. 

And so it is as important as ever to employ the principles of mastery we’ve been talking about on this blog: maintaining a relaxed, highly focused awareness of what matters most (the target, the ball, the body, the club and the exigent environmental conditions to the exclusion of all else) by remembering who you are at your core and that, when the pressure is at its most intense, don’t let your ego look away. Stay fascinated by what’s in front of you and do it.

The man on the 125 bubble is Chris Stroud at $611,069, which would be a very good living everywhere but on the PGA Tour. $57, 003 ahead of him in 120th place is Tour and Presidents Cup veteran, Woody Austin. And $22,108 behind Stroud in 130th place is another Tour veteran, Jonathan Byrd. Doesn’t seem like much a problem just looking at the numbers, but there is. The checks are proportionately smaller in these smaller tournaments. All three players are entered in Mississippi…along with every player, except one, from Woody Austin down to 148th Jeff Quinney…together with players higher up on the food chain just looking to fatten their wallets or snare a season-ending win. 

So while we’re all enjoying the pageantry of the Ryder Cup this weekend, keep in mind that there is another collection of world-class players, far from the lights and cameras in Wales, beating their brains out in the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi, fighting for their professional lives. 

And they only have four chances left if they don’t get it done this week.

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