SAINT SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – In reviewing this new version of the FedEx Cup Fall, the PGA Tour has to be thrilled with some of its winners: Sahith Theegala’s debut win in Napa; Tom Kim’s repeat in Las Vegas; Collin Morikawa’s winless drought ends in Japan, the country of his ancestors; Erik van Rooyen’s back-nine 28 and emotional win in Cabo; Camilo Villegas’s feel-good story in Bermuda; and capped off by Ludvig Aberg’s 61-61 weekend here at the RSM Classic. The Sunday drama didn’t disappoint.
Underneath the surface, not everyone was so happy, particularly Jimmy Walker. who vented about how he had to keep battling for three additional months to keep his card. (He slipped out of the top 125 and will have conditional status playing out of the Nos. 126-150 category next season.)
Instead of the start to a new wrap-around season, the top 50 locked up their cards at the end of the regular season and no longer had to worry about falling behind in the full slate of tournaments. Rather, those without exempt status had to play on during a seven-event points chase to retain status for the 2024 season, which begins in January. (The Fall also lost two events — CJ Cup and Houston Open — both of which joined the FedEx Cup regular season, with CJ taking over title sponsorship of the Byron Nelson in Dallas and the Houston Open being promoted to a date in the spring.)
The top players finally got the off-season they’d been begging for and the rank-and-file still got several playing opportunities with purses of at least $8 million, full FedEx Cup points on the line and a chance to qualify for two early-season Signature Events for those who finishing in ‘The Next 10’ in the final point standings. As Peter Malnati put it, the FedEx Cup Fall was “fun and exciting, unless you’re one of the ones trying to keep your job and then it’s a strain.”
In theory, there was something for players of all skill levels to play for – even the top 50 could earn additional years to their exempt status and qualify for tournaments such as the Masters and the Sentry with a win if not already in those fields – but was it a win-win for fans and sponsors too? Only a used car salesman could make that sell, and it begs the question: will the Tour continue to secure sponsors willing to foot the bill for tournaments where the big names barely played, if at all?
Several pros expressed their concern for the future of the fall schedule, which will become increasingly important for players fighting for status for the upcoming season.
“It’s tough for me to see how it’s going to be sustainable,” said Mark Hubbard, one of six players to compete in all seven fall tournaments. “For me, I think there was a noticeable difference in the tournaments and just like how much the course kind of rolled out the red carpet for us and whatnot, you know, just little stuff like courtesy cars or hotel room blocks or the food. Everything just kind of felt like they were probably trying to save a little bit of money because they’re not getting, you know, the turnout, they’re not getting the big names.”
He continued: “I feel bad for a lot of those tournaments like a Jackson (Mississippi, home of the Sanderson Farms Championship) that have worked so hard to become a great event and, you know, now they’re gonna get zero of the top guys coming to their event, ever. It’s just tough for me to see how those [$8 million] purses are going to stay high and, you know, those tournaments are going to want to continue to be big events and there’s just no one coming there.”
“We have a lot of great events this time of year and if they want to host a PGA Tour event they should be allowed and the membership should support it,” veteran pro Ryan Armour said. “A lot of the top guys were looking for time off and if this is what they want, they got it.”
The lack of big names was most pronounced in Las Vegas, where several local pros elected to skip this year, and a sponsor exemption given to the LPGA Tour’s Lexi Thompson brought some much-needed attention.
“More guys would show up for Vegas, for Napa, it’s unfortunate for the events, for the fans and at least locally, it kind of sucks,” said Doug Ghim.
“Vegas is one of the biggest changes. Last year I wouldn’t have gotten in and this year I was in by 20 or something,” said Kramer Hickok.
But Davis Love III, who has hosted the RSM Classic in the fall for the last 14 years, said he’s seen several iterations of the fall during his 30-plus-year career that landed him in the World Golf Hall of Fame, and expects the fall portion of the schedule to continue to evolve.
“It hasn’t looked the same in any five-year period for a long, maybe my whole career,” Love said last week. “Hopefully, it just continues to improve, they come up with new ideas … I think it’s just going to continue to improve, but I don’t know what that is.”
The Tour can only hope that whatever it dreams up next will generate a collection of stories and winners as good as this year.
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