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PGA Tour Provides New Path for Collegiate Golfers, Top UGA Golfer Could Benefit

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Earlier in 2020, there was actually some good news. PGA Tour University was announced by the PGA Tour to provide an alternate path to the professional ranks for collegiate golfers.

Previously, you played 4 years of college golf, wrote dozens of letters to tournament organizers hoping to get a sponsor’s exemption, traveled all over the country for mini-tour events with little prize money and fewer perks, all in hopes of eventually qualifying for the PGA Tour Qualifying School. “Q-School” as it was known, was for golfers having met a certain criteria as an amateur or pro, and the top 25 in the stroke play event would get their PGA Tour card for the next year. It was a brutal survival of the fittest (and those with wealthy parents to foot the bill), so some introspection was due.

That has recently morphed into a Q-School only for the Korn Ferry Tour, which is the Triple-A of professional golf (there are similar tours for the European PGA Tour, the LPGA, and most every major tour around the world). If you obtained Korn Ferry status, the playoffs and championship for that Tour would provide PGA Tour cards for the top finishers. But with the increase in competition, recent college grads had almost zero opportunity to qualify for the Korn Ferry playoffs with only 2 months or so of play. Thus college golfers had to struggle on the mini-tours more often than not, and were behind the 8-ball so to speak. So an august body ruling a professional sport in the United States came up with something specifically designed for college players to have a shot at the big time, taking into account their academic schedules, financial restrictions, and general plight of being an NCAA student-athlete. Novel concept, eh?

The recently annouced PGA Tour University provides a year-long ranking of college players, with the final top 5 receiving Korn Ferry Tour privileges, and the next 10 receiving privileges on other developmental Tours (Mackenzie Tour, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, or PGA Tour Series China). If you’ve competed for four years in college golf, or played college golf but graduated in 3 years, you are eligible for ranking. The rankings are based off of both college play, play in certain amateur events, and if you happen to play in a pro tournament as an amateur (per the aforementioned sponsor’s exemption).

Rising UGA senior Davis Thompson is looking to take advantage of this. He’s ranked #4 in the current polls, so has an excellent shot to be one of the lucky few automatic promotions. Currently #5 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Thompson has multiple individual event titles and has been instrumental in Georgia’s golf success the last few seasons. He made the watch lists for the Haskins, Jack Nicklaus, and Ben Hogan awards for college golfers, not to mention he’s been on the SEC Academic Honor Roll. To boot, he played in the PGA Tour RSM Classic (held on Sea Island, home of a handful of former UGA golfers now on Tour) and made the cut as an amateur. Fellow UGA senior Spencer Ralston is also ranked, coming in a t#22. So while he’s got some work to do, getting ranked is the first step.

And because there is a pandemic and spring sports were cut short, this first class of PGA Tour U will run rankings from Spring 2019 through the conclusion of the 2021 NCAA golf championships. Golf does have a quasi-Fall season with a sprinkling of events but those are mostly all canceled or postponed at the moment. Most of the action, and fluctuation in the rankings, will be as a result of a full Spring 2021 golf season. I only pray that it comes to pass.

The NBA developed the G-League as a path for high schoolers who didn’t want to try the college route but are ready to compete against pro basketball players. Yet the “one and done” rule still abides. Major League Baseball has more opportunity than anyone in a huge minor-league system built over decades. Still, the MLB draft is archaic in how it treats prospects who choose at least a year or two of college. The NFL has the “three years removed” rule - restrictive, but I think fair for all but one or two men-childs each season (manchildren? dunno, you get it though). Professional nor college golf has ever restricted a player plying their skills in hopes of turning pro. But now they’ve kicked it up a notch by giving advantages and removing obstacles for those who play went the college route. I’d like to see the rest of the professional leagues focus on opportunities for development for top tier college talent.

You might ask yourself, what is Tina Weymouth up to? You might also ask yourself, what’s an undergraduate golfer to do when seasons are canceled? We’ll be back in the coming days with the answer, but the short answer is plenty (foreshadowing!!). And as always...