The PGA Tour season ended just a couple of weeks ago, and it was a successful one for our Georgia Bulldog alumni by most any measure. But football rules the Dawghouse around here, so we waited for our contest against Directional Bye U in which to wrap things up.
The professional golf ranks are littered with “Tours” - loose associations where players are independent contractors but have to be qualified by said “Tour” to be eligible to play. The most famous is obviously the PGA Tour, followed by the European Tour (yep, in Europe) and then several development leagues such as the Web.com Tour, the MacKenzie Tour, and others. While we have a couple of recent UGA graduates playing the MacKenzie Tour (mostly held in Canada), I’ll limit the posting to the big boys, the creme’ de la creme’, the world’s best golfers, aka the PGA Tour.
A little bit of a recent phenomenom is that the pro ranks are being infused with collegiate pride. In the 70’s and 80’s, it was well-known that Texas and Wake Forest turned out big-time pros in incredible numbers. But as is oft the case, professional life drowns out collegiate life, and as an independent contractor, a successful pro was more concerned about making money (sponsors) than showing his school colors. So while the money has gotten ridiculous, today’s professionals have leisure time to don their letterman sweater a bit more often. Even TV has gotten into the act, as they will show the occasional electronic scoreboard and throw up the respective college logo beside each name. And no logo has been more prevalent than the Power G over the last 5 years.
In 2013, UGA alums won more money on the Web.com Tour than anyone else. That year, Georgia Tech alums won the unofficial money title on the PGA Tour with combined winnings of $11,443,089. We also graduated a few boys from the Web.com to the PGA Tour at the end of that season. Only natural that UGA would then win the 2014 PGA Tour money title with $25,887,177 - a record that still stands today. UGA goes on to win the title in 2015 and 2016, cementing it’s standing as the premier golf program to turn out a deep field of professionals. But tides turn, and UGA finished 2nd this past season: $18,354,004 to Arizona State’s $20,292,964. ASU benefitted from the rookie of the year (John Rahm), and comeback stories from Pat Perez and Paul Casey, while steady Phil Mickelson cashed a few checks himself.
That being said, UGA alums won 4 events during the season, placed at least 3 pros in each of the 4 majors, and had 10 different alumni cash a check during the 2016-2017 season that started last October. Here’s how they each fared:
Keith Mitchell played almost exlusively on the Web.com Tour, but did qualify for 1 Tour event and made the cut ($144,900). He also had 6 top 10 finishes on this mini-tour, and earned PGA Tour promotion, thus will be playing almost a full PGA Tour season this year.
Lee McCoy, probably the most decorated UGA collegiate golfer, was hurt early in the year and did not play the PGA Tour except 3 times, and made $56,667 for his efforts. He mostly played the Canadian MacKenzie Tour where he made the cut in 10 of 12 tourneys, placed in the top 25 in 6 of them, and won 1. For perspective, the MacKenzie Tour winnings totaled $58,051 (just $1,400 more than his PGA Tour winnings).
Brendon Todd is a former Tour winner but has been off his form the last couple of years. He has fallen out of the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) and has extremely limited PGA Tour privileges. But he’s a proud Bulldog, played 9 tourneys last season cashing 1 check for $14,905.
Chris Kirk is a 4-time Tour winner, but a broken hand in 2015 set him back from his previous highs. He’s now #163 OWGR, but did make the FedEx Cup playoffs last season. He played 28 times, made 17 cuts, 6 top 25s, 3 top 10s, and one 3rd place finish for $1,216,047.
Harris English is also a former winner, and also saw his game fall off a bit (#175 OWGR). But he also made the playoffs, played 27 times making the cut in 15, with 4 top 25s and 2 top 10s. This left him with $864,959 in earnings.
Hudson Swafford is a feel-good story: he battled leg issues for a couple of years and just barely kept his PGA Tour card. But after getting healthy, he ended the previous season with signs of life, then kept that going into this past season. Big Hud broke through in January with his first PGA Tour win, had 5 more top 25s and 3 more top 10s including a 3rd place, and made career high earnings of $2,246,090.
Bubba Watson is undoubtedly the most famous and most successful professional to have played in the Classic City. Bubba holds 9 official Tour titles including 2 Masters Green Jackets. In PGA Tour winnings alone, he has made over $36 million, and was entreched in the top 5 players in the world just 2 years ago (making it as high as #2). But he has adopted a 2nd child, moved across the country (again), bought an ownership in a Florida panhandle minor league baseball team, and just got busy with life. As a result, his PGA Tour season wasn’t that great compared to recent years. He played 22 times making the cut in only 14 of them, placed in the top 25 six times and in the top 10 4 times for total earnings of $1,223,129 (he benefitted from playing certain invitationals and tourneys with guaranteed purses). He is now #58 in OWGR.
Russell Henley is becoming a regular on Tour. Having won his first professional PGA Tour event back in 2013, Henley has hung around and make a good career. He won this year’s Shell Houston Open (winning a Masters invitation in the process), played 27 times total making the cut in 22 of them, with 11 top 25s and 5 top 10s. This totaled $3,413,876 in earnings. Oh, and he’s from Macon, and has initimate familiarity with Fresh-Air, Fincher’s, and Old Clinton barbecue. So he’s got that going for him... which is nice.
Maybe the biggest surprise was Brian Harman. The other lefty UGA pro product, Harman captured his 2nd career Tour title this year (his other was in 2014), and played very steady all season. He made 19 cuts in 28 tries, with 6 top 25s, 4 top 10s, and another 3rd place finish (to Hudson Swafford). And if you didn’t believe me, he won exactly $4,396,470. Not too shabby.
And now to the top ‘Dawg, a place formerly held by Bubba Watson. But without doubt it is now Kevin Kisner. The Aiken, SC native (and current resident) is a good ol’ boy with a pinch of Skoal in his cheek, ice in his veins, fire in his belly, and private jets to Sanford for sideline passes to Georgia football. All of these are true. He represented the United States in September’s President’s Cup, never losing a match and gaining 3 of the 19 total team points in a US victory. His individual season wasn’t bad either: he played 28 times making the cut in a remarkable 25 of them, 12 of those were top 25 finishes, 8 of them were top 10, 4 of them were top 3, and he won 1. He’s now up to #26 in the world, won $4,766,936 in earnings, and has the attention of his fellow pros and sponsors alike.
The UGA Men’s golf fall season is already underway, as is the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, and we’ll be back with more updates. Especially once this football season winds down. I’m glad to answer any comments below, and will only ask RedCrake to insert a GIF of Kirby playing golf in return. And as always...