Keeping Score

Players regain Tour cards with new vigor

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Roger Sloan says it was all part of his master plan, to lose his PGA Tour card in 2015. The 31-year-old Canadian finished No. 200 in the FedEx Cup standings and spent the past three seasons plying his trade on the Web.com Tour. But he rode a T-2 finish at the Albertsons Boise Open in September back to the big leagues and says he's ready to make his mark.

"My strategy was just to give Adam Hadwin a three-year head start, and now that he's done pretty well out here, you know, won a tournament and made several millions, I'm going to hunt him down," Sloan said of his fellow Canadian, tongue firmly in cheek.

Sloan is one of several Web.com Tour graduates who have paid their dues to get back to the PGA Tour this season. Welcome back Scott Langley, who last had his Tour card in 2016, Carlos Ortiz (2016), Wes Roach (2016) and Alex Prugh (2015).

Martin Piller
Martin Piller, who aims to take advantage of another return to the PGA Tour, knows that it’s not easy to stick around.

Martin Piller, 33, has an interesting perspective after having taken the elevator up and down multiple times during his career. He first earned his Tour privileges in 2011, flamed out, didn't get his card back until 2016, proceeded to lose it again and graduated from the Web.com Tour last season. He finished No. 126 on the 2017-18 Fed Ex Cup standings, so he has conditional status and likely will split time between the two circuits.

"There's no way around it; it's a demotion when you lose your card," Piller said. "It creates doubt in your mind. You always wonder, Will I ever get it back?"

On the flip side, Piller says nothing has been more gratifying than to work hard and see the fruits of his labor in the form of regaining his privileges.

"The first time I got my card, I was pumped," Piller said. "But when I lost it, I wanted it even more. And then when you can walk down the range again and feel like you're competing against the best players in the world, well, there's nothing better."

Going from the PGA Tour back to the Web.com Tour is kind of like flying first class (or private) and then being demoted to the cattle car that is flying coach. Scott Langley, 29, found the Web.com Tour to be a rude awakening. After four seasons on the PGA Tour, he was demoted to the Web.com Tour in 2017 and finished No. 73 on the money list.

"You can't just roll out of bed and get your card," he said.

Playing the developmental circuit felt like being a rookie all over again. He didn't know the golf courses, and he missed the perks that PGA Tour pros receive such as courtesy cars and endless buffets.

"Playing the past two seasons on the Web.com Tour was good for me because I learned how to prepare and be more disciplined and think my way around the golf course," said Langley, who won in 2018 and finished third on the money list. "I'm coming back to the Tour with an attitude of gratitude."

The developmental tour provides a proper setting to refine skills in a true tournament environment where players can learn to cope with pressure, develop a winning attitude and gain the confidence necessary to succeed at the highest level. But no one wants to spend too long there. In some respects, it's a year lost at chasing goals, and the difference in purses can force changes in lifestyle.

"Multiply it by 10," Piller said. "When you go back to the Web.com Tour and you get the text with what you earned, it's like, Man, that's it? But it's not supposed to be comfortable."

Josh Teater, 39, is another retread who says his game is improved from playing on the Web.com Tour.

"These young guys, they test you every day," said Teater, who embraced being a mentor to several up-and-coming pros. "I feel like I'm back where I belong."

Teater shared a common belief among the returnees to the PGA Tour. They all sense that their game is more polished. Only time will tell. Teater credits better time management for his recent success. He has learned to beat fewer balls and spend more time on his wedge game and putting.

As the final official Tour event of 2018, the RSM Classic (scores) feels a bit like the last week of school before summer vacation. Everyone is ready to go home for the holidays, but there is a lot at stake for Web.com Tour graduates. Getting the Tour card is "a relief," with no time to celebrate. Most of them went straight from competing in the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., to Napa, Calif., for the start of the new wraparound season at the Safeway Open. After the RSM Classic, the first reshuffle will affect status for getting into events on the West Coast Swing.

"You really have to flip the switch and stay focused in the fall because of the reshuffle," Piller said. "I've had years where I didn't play well, and that can make it harder to get into events on the West Coast and Florida Swing. Before you know it, you can go a whole month not playing a tournament, if you aren't careful."

As Piller can attest, keeping a card is easier said than done, and there's nothing worse than when one year of seasoning on the Web.com Tour becomes two and then three.

"Professional golfers are a lot like gamblers by nature," Piller said. "We never give up hope, even though sometimes we should. We always think our best golf is around the corner."

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf.com and The New York Times. He is the winner of the National Sports Media Association's "Golf Article of 2017," and the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak


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