Two Chances Left To Save Your Card

This morning at 7:30, six men will tee off in the McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course at Sea Island, Georgia, and they couldn’t be a better proxy for what’s at stake this week. The McGladrey is the next to last tournament in the long PGA Tour season and therefore the next to the last chance for players to save their playing privileges for next year.

On the 1st tee, we have Tom Gillis who is number 101 on the money list. With a $217, 657 buffer between himself and the guy just outside the 125th place cutoff, he is healthily on to the certainty of next season. His goal will be to have his finishes this week and next week at Disney be sufficient to get in the Top 70. That gets him into most of the top tournaments, the invitationals, etc.

Chris Riley is number 152 on the money list and has to get from $388,804 to $602,392 to get to 125th. He has to have one big finish or two pretty good ones.

And Michael Letzig has had an abysmal year. He has so little status, he only got into 12 events this year. He only made 3 cuts, had 1 withdrawal and made a mere $140,973. On the weeks that he didn’t get into the “big tour,” he played 9 events on the Nationwide Tour. He only made $18,461, but he made 6 cuts and had a top 25. Still not stellar, but it was another step in learning how to play. He has a long way to get the $602,392 spot, but worse, that number is a moving target because everybody is adding money to their totals.

Just for a little perspective on how late it is in the game, it’s come down to this: last year, the winner took home $720,000, 2nd place took home $432,000 and the three guys who finished T3 took home $208,000, their tie a likely outcome with all the talent at the top of any leaderboard. They are really going to have to play great. But it’s doable.

And the same thing for the three guys starting on the 10th tee. Tommy Gainey had been “Mr. Obscurity” coming into this year, but that was then and this is now. He had a great coming-out year making $2.2 million and winding up at 35th on the money list. In a similar situation to Tom Gillis, except Gainey is trying to get into the Top 30. Interestingly, he’s all of $162,774 from his goal, so even from his lofty perch on the money list, he has to play hard this last two tournaments. But then he always does.

The other two guys in Gainey’s tee time are in similar predicaments to Riley and Letzig, only worse. Alex Prugh is better off at 168th on the list, but Richard S. Johnson tops him at 185th. Just to provide a sense of the ebb and flow of a Tour player’s career, Johnson won in Milwaukee back in 2008 (just three short years ago) for his one and only PGA Tour win. But he also won twice on the European Tour as lately as the 2010 Scandinavian Masters…which is poetic justice since he’s Swedish. But none of that helps him now except to confirm to himself that he is capable of playing the game at a very high level.

So as the six of them go off their respective first tees, hopefully they will put aside all the tinkering and doubt with their swings and just play.

The wind should be down, the morning still, but that’s not going to happen this morning. All of the quiet bliss that you would hope for with such a big day ahead of you won’t be happening. There’s a 30% chance of thunderstorms in the morning tapering off in the afternoon and then starting again in the evening hours.

When so much is riding on the day, this is not how you want it to start. Because you actually have to get over the first hurdle of the tournament, making the cut. It doesn’t matter to you that Friday through Sunday are supposed to be rainless. Thursday is the day you need it not to rain. But it is going to rain. And it could involve long rain delays. And a shorter warmup than you might ordinarily want; no sense getting soaked on the range making playing all that much more difficult.

But the guys who are masters, will be able to handle it. “It’s the same for everybody,” they will tell themselves. The scores will be relatively higher for everyone. So there’s still a chance of a good score if you can just go with the flow. But being bound up in rain suits and encumbered by umbrellas aren’t the typical markers for being able to play freely all through your round.

But they’re pros. They have slogged through rainy conditions before. They know how to do this. Rely on your caddie to keep you and the clubs as dry as he can and then just play.

See the target, see the shot, hit the shot.

And besides, the greens will all be virgin for the first nine holes. How good is that?

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