A Leg Up?

Ladies and Gentlemen, your FedEx Cup points leader, John Peterson. Or Michael Putnam. Or [insert another Web.com Tour graduate]…

The 2013-14 PGA Tour season starts this week. Yes, a new season. A season, historically, generally reserved to start with the (Insert Car Brand) Tournament of Champions that has become synonymous with a new year of golf… in January. It’s always been a toe-dipped-in-the-water start to the season. Winners. Guys we know. A small field playing a birdie-fest course in paradise. Welcome back, golf.

But, not anymore. By the time Dustin Johnson defends his title in Hawaii, there will be six (yes, SIX, 6) PGA Tour events in the books. The lack of a “traditional” offseason didn’t really hit me until I recently read a tweet from Billy Horschel proclaiming his excitement to get back at it with the Frys.com tournament. Normally reserved for players chasing their future stability, the extinct ‘fall series’ now had big Tour ramifications. There are two major impacts from the new configuration of the PGA Tour season:

1)   These fall events now receive the attention they deserve. Frys, Vegas (I miss you, J-Tim), McGladery, etc. are solid Tour stops. Instead of serving as a desperation playoff for career survival, they are now sitting at the same table as the big boys. A win this week in California is no different than winning down the road at Riviera in February. 500 FedEx Cup points? Check. Ticket to the Masters? You betcha. Tour winner? Always.

2)   There are 50 players who, literally, just earned their Tour cards. Normally, this would lead to a celebration of what was to come. But, that celebration preceded a wait through November and December to the Sony Open in Hawaii. Now, it’s almost like a battlefield promotion. You made it, now play!!

I want to focus on the second point because I think it has been under-reported and undervalued. Golf is a fickle game. Success on the PGA Tour has as much to do with natural ability as it does with rhythm. The stories of players getting on heaters and making their year in four starts are as prevalent as those of players stuck in a funk because the timing of the swing is off by an unrecognizable millisecond.

Before, Web.com graduates had months to wait for their turn with the big boys. Russell Henley won last January in his first start, the first to do so in about a million years (give or take). He was the exception. You grind and grind for your chance, and then have to sit. I was trying to think of a good analogy: Imagine a professional soccer player busting his butt in practice and scrimmages for months, sitting on the bench in an important game and then having the coach tell him to go take a game-winning PK. No game flow or opportunity to build rhythm. Just get out there and produce, cold.

Now, Chesson Hadley walks from his Web.com Tour Finals Championship victory straight to the first tee at Corde Valle. He doesn’t even have the time to bask in the glow of his accomplishment. Just play. I think that is a huge advantage. Not only does he have the blinders on, but he just won a tournament, yesterday for all intents and purposes. Chest puffed out, putter still sizzling. Own the tee, young man.

That momentum also applies to those from the season, even more so. I remember watching Michael Putnam (Web.com season money winner) in that Finals Championship. I think he smiled after every shot, including the bad ones. He played so loose and confident because he had nothing to lose. Certainly, his position this week is different, but he had no time to pucker up during an offseason of sitting atop the priority perch of new graduates. What is there to prevent his consistently solid play from transitioning over immediately? Nothing. John Peterson won the Finals money title. Now, he was going to do well on the Tour no matter what (he’s stupid good), but a guy who has Top 5’d it in five straight events gets a crack at the big Tour immediately instead of waiting. Advantage Web.com Tour grad.

Take it one step further: what does a Web.com Tour graduate have to lose over the next six weeks? Play well and you could position yourself (and your career) before we ever flip the calendar to 2014. Play poorly, and you have two months to iron out the kinks and reconvene for play in Hawaii the second week of January.

We will all take November and December off. And, while we do, there will be a FedEx Cup Points list waiting to reshuffle in Hawaii. Who will be on top? I can’t say for sure, but I am willing to bet that the Web.com graduates (not to mention the Tour players that salvaged their card in the Finals) will be more prevalent on that list than their predecessors have been in January of previous seasons.

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