Thomas says new year in golf brings opportunity to everyone
The next season on the PGA Tour already has the perception of being two tours. The elite are in the $20 million signature events with a big boost in FedEx Cup points. The rest are playing for less money ($8.5 million on average) and having to play well to advance their stock.
But being in that top group still has to be earned.
Justin Thomas, who didn’t have an elite year, wonders why some of the rank-and-file complain about advantages for the perennially top players instead of seeking inspiration from the likes of Eric Cole and Adam Schenk.
“I think it’s the easy thing to do, honestly, to sit there and say: ‘Why me? Why is this happening to me? Why are they getting this?’” Thomas said.
Cole spent a decade on the mini-tours, finally worked his way up to the PGA Tour and finished at No. 43 in the FedEx Cup in his rookie season to get into all the big-money tournaments next year. He went from No. 384 to No. 41 in the world ranking and he’s headed to the Masters.
Thomas singled out Schenk. His average FedEx Cup position in his five years on tour was No. 103 (his best was No. 71 in 2019). He not only qualified for the Tour Championship, he was three shots off the lead going into the second round at East Lake and tied for ninth. He’s in all the big events next year, including the four majors.
Cole and Schenk are the only two players who went from outside the top 150 in the world to the top 50 without having won a tournament. That's how consistently well they played.
Thomas, meanwhile, failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup postseason for the first time. He likely will get sponsor exemptions to signature events if he doesn’t earn his way back. His argument was more geared toward opportunities for everyone.
“If you would have put us side by side at the beginning of the year and said, ‘Who is going to do what?’ ... you know what I’m saying?” Thomas said, referring to Schenk.
What he meant was odds on who would have a better year would favor a two-time major champion, a past FedEx Cup champion previously ranked No. 1 in the world.
“But that’s the way I think so many people look at it,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Well, they are going to play in all these events.’ Or you can look at it like Adam Schenk did and say, ‘I’m going to play my way into those events.’ Eric Cole, ‘I’m going to play my way into those events.’
“Golf is a funky game,” Thomas said. “Doesn’t matter how good of a player, any accomplishments you’ve had. You can have an off year and miss the playoffs just like I did. Everybody has got to work hard and you have to earn it.”
Everyone gets paid cash and FedEx Cup points at The Sentry next week at Kapalua, and at the other signature events that feature $20 million purses.
Not everyone will be getting world ranking points.
The Official World Golf Ranking has updated its formula for 2024. One key change relates to fields with 80 players or fewer. A higher percentage of points will be distributed to the top finishers, meaning the winner would get roughly 21% of the points, up from about 17% to 18% previously.
Also, the bottom 15% of the final standings will not get points. That only relates to tournaments with no cut. So for the three player-hosted signature events — Riviera, Bay Hill and Memorial — everyone will get world ranking points.
The other change is to award a 60% bonus to a player who wins for the second time in a 52-week period (70% for players with three or more wins in a year). The bonus would be capped at 4 points if that multiple win comes at a major or other tournament with a strong field.
The threat from Saudi-funded LIV Golf has led to the PGA Tour offering more money than ever. That much was evident in a couple of key indicators found on the official money list.
The season was the longest ever, from September 2022 through November 2023, as the PGA Tour returned to a calendar season. But that didn’t really affect the top of the money list, and Scottie Scheffler this season became the tour’s first $20 million man ($21,014,342).
Also worth noting is that 11 players earned $5 million or more without winning a tournament. And that 139 players made $1 million or more.
Scheffler was by far the most consistent player and is a leading candidate for PGA Tour player of the year. But one metric of a dominant year is not how much money was earned but the separation at the top.
That record still belongs to Vijay Singh, who in his nine-win season of 2004 made $10,905,166. That was $5,117,941 more than Ernie Els, who was No. 2 on the money list in 2004.
Scheffler finished $4,491,734 ahead of Jon Rahm.
LIV ROSTER AND RANKING
Jon Rahm's surprising defection to LIV Golf gives the Saudi-funded league its biggest star as a two-time major champion still in his 20s who spent nine weeks at No. 1 this year.
Rahm ends the year at No. 3, and the question becomes how well he plays in the majors and anywhere else offering world ranking points — and how far he falls.
LIV had six players in the top 50 of the world ranking — and 20 players in the top 100 — when its 2023 season began in Mayakoba. At the end of the year, only five LIV players are among the top 100. That doesn't include Rahm, who has yet to play his first LIV event.
PGA champion Brooks Koepka (No. 17) and Cameron Smith (No. 24) are the only players in the top 50. Smith started the LIV season at No. 5. Only three others — Joaquin Niemann (No. 63), Dean Burmester (No. 72) and Patrick Reed (No. 74) — are in the top 100. Burmester got back into the top 100 by winning a pair of Sunshine Tour events late in the year.
OAKLAND HILLS PROJECT
Oakland Hills Country Club has finally broken ground on a project to rebuild and upgrade its clubhouse, which burned to the ground in February 2022.
The “Next 100” project includes a 110,000-square-foot clubhouse — an increase of 20,000 square feet from the previous century-old clubhouse — that it hopes to have ready in 2026.
Total cost is estimated at $100 million. The Detroit News reported that 69% percent of the membership approved the additional funding from earliest cost estimates of $82 million.
The fire destroyed the clubhouse not long after the club had renovated the South course to remove trees and create unobstructed views.
Oakland Hills, located about 20 miles northwest of Detroit, is on the short list of American courses that have hosted multiple U.S. Opens, PGA Championships and the Ryder Cup. More championship golf is coming. Oakland Hills is set to host eight more USGA championships through 2051, including the U.S. Open twice and the U.S. Women’s Open.
First in the lineup is the U.S. Junior Amateur in July.
Scottie Scheffler this season joined Justin Thomas (2017-18) as the only players since Tiger Woods to win back-to-back PGA Tour money titles in the last 25 years. ... The Sentry is offering two complimentary tickets for each round to any of the West Maui first responders who helped with the devastating fire in Lahaina. Still in place is the same offer to all military personnel (active and retired) and reserves. ... The Challenge Tour in Europe will have 29 tournaments in 18 countries for 2024. The top 20 on the points list earn European tour cards.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Patrick Cantlay is the first PGA Tour player to top $10 million in earnings for the year without winning a tournament.
“If you were a player on tour this year, you had full-field events with giant purses. This was kind of a great year to be on tour. This coming year, if you’re inside that top 50, it looks like it stands to be an incredible year.” — Matt Kuchar.
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf