While we watch the elite group of top players compete on the PGA Tour every week, it can be easy to overlook the thousands of professionals fighting for their chance to make it to the big stage. Anymore, surviving golf’s ‘developmental tour’ has been made exponentially more difficult. The PGA Tour not only has changed the format of Qualifying school but they have also implemented schedule changes that require players to travel all over North and South America to compete. These changes make the road to the PGA Tour (and the prize money) longer and the costs to compete that much more costly.
To start, the recent changes to Qualifying school format does not give players the chance to qualify directly for the PGA Tour like they could in the past. Qualifying for newly turned professionals (i.e. recent college grads) only allows for status on the Web.com tour with a good finish. Gone are the days of making it to the final stage for a chance to earn PGA Tour status like Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson were able to do.
If you haven’t noticed, it’s no easy task gaining status on the Web.com tour these days. Success on the mini tour circuits such as the SwingThought Tour and the Pepsi Tour allows players to gain spots (and entry fees) in Web.com Tour qualifying school. Prize money in mini tour events depends on entry fees rather than sponsor money, making for top prizes of $20,000 – $30,000. Whether gaining a spot through a mini tour or through pre-qualifying ($5,000 entry fee), there are three stages to qualifying school. If a player plays well enough to make it to the final stage, a top 45 finish is assured a “healthy amount” of starts on the Web.com Tour the following season.
Status on the Web.com Tour provides the opportunity to make more money than the mini tours, yet still at a fraction of what it is on the PGA Tour. The weekly purse is roughly 10% of a PGA Tour event. Not only that but endorsement deals are much less lucrative due to the lack of TV exposure. Now, after changes to the event schedule, players are required to travel to tournaments in the Carribean, Mexico, and South America at their own expense.
After just three events so far in the 2017 season, one player we spoke to has spent over $20,000 in travel expenses and entry fees. Having missed the cut in each of these events, he wasn’t able to make up for any of these expenses. Even if he were to make the cut, he would have had to finish in the top 15 in each event just to break even. This puts immense pressure on his performance in the next few events to try and right the ship or be out a significant amount of money.
You have to wonder about the PGA Tour’s strategy to cultivate the young talent that will make up the future of the PGA Tour. In efforts support their product, they are fully exploiting their players to the point where even the best talent may not be able to sustain. Between the consecutive weeks of travel and being away from family and friends, along with the significant costs required to travel and compete, how long can aspiring pros afford to pursue their dream before calling it quits? And how can the PGA Tour justify the current rationale behind their ‘developmental tour’?