News & Opinion

Winning solves lots of problems on Tour

As a rookie on the PGA Tour, Adam Long didn’t have a choice about playing where he wanted in the 2018-19 season. He qualified for the Tour by finishing 13th on the Web.com Tour regular-season money list last year. He held a Tour card but no guarantee of how many starts he’d get. That’s one of the little-known facts of life about being a Web.com Tour graduate. You play where you can, not necessarily where you want.

Only the No. 1 on the Web.com money list – last year, it was Sungjae Im – is fully exempt and can play where he wants, including the Players Championship. The rest are ranked in the order in which they finish in the top 50 on the combined money list from the regular season and the Web.com Finals. Long stood 26th on that ranking.

The rub is that every few weeks, that list is reshuffled and prioritized according to the number of FedEx Cup points earned to that point. Thirty-nine players on the Finals list were exempt into this week’s Farmers Insurance Open as of Sunday night.

Long was way down the ranking, having only 4 FedEx Cup points before last week. He finished T-63 at the Safeway Open in October, his first PGA Tour start. He then missed three cuts in a row. If he had missed the cut at the Desert Classic, he probably wouldn’t have gotten into the field this week at Torrey Pines.

He has none of that to worry over any longer. His victory at the Desert Classic, beating Phil Mickelson head-to-head down the stretch, was as improbable as it was life-changing. It’s cliché to say that Long’s world has been turned upside down – in only the best way – but it’s just as true.

It’s not just the money, but $1,062,000 makes finances for the 31-year-old Long way easier. He holds job security, now that he’s exempt for the rest of this season and for the next two seasons. But perhaps nearly as important, he can play practically anywhere he wants, including this year’s Players Championship, Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

As a Web.com Tour graduate without a victory, Long could have counted on about 25 starts this season, give or take a couple. Now, he can play 25 events if he wants, fewer if he doesn’t. He won’t be at the mercy of reshuffles and which tournaments the top players don’t want to play.

In other words, he can do things just like many of the more successful players. If you look at last season’s FedEx Cup points list, none of the top 10 players competed in more than 28 PGA Tour events. Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler played in 20 events each, Justin Thomas played in 23 and Bryson DeChambeau competed in 26.

A few of the top 20 play in the Middle East and Asia, adding two or three events to that total. But those players get appearance fees for those tournaments, upwards of $1 million per event.

Justin Rose, the FedEx Cup winner, played in 18 PGA Tour events last season. But Rose, Rory McIlroy (18 Tour events), Tommy Fleetwood (19) and Francesco Molinari (20) all had membership on the PGA Tour and European Tour. Both tours have the major championships and WGC events in common, so the Europeans play a minimum of four other events on their home tour to maintain membership.

Tiger Woods, who starts his season this week at the Farmers at Torrey Pines, is a different cat altogether. He played in 18 tournaments last season on the PGA Tour, but his schedule was different than in years’ past. Woods played in only one WGC event because his world ranking had fallen to the point where he wasn’t eligible.

And he played all four FedEx Cup playoff events, chasing a victory that he finally got at the Tour Championship. The next week, he competed in the Ryder Cup, meaning that he played five events in six weeks, which probably affected his winless performance at Le Golf National in Paris. You can bet that he won’t do that again.

Obviously, Long isn’t Woods or Rose or Johnson or Thomas. But now that he is a winner, he can play in the same PGA Tour events as they do, except the British Open, unless Long rises to the top 50 in the world ranking or qualifies via a handful of other ways.

So, we will be seeing more of Long in the coming months, at least in most of the big tournaments. Whether he plays in 25 events this season – or more – it will be his choice. And that wasn’t an option just a short week ago.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf