Michael Wolf (@BamaBearcat) hosts “Office Hours” on the NLU YouTube channel. In addition to being an author and unofficial golf historian, he’s also a longtime professional golf agent.
The PGA Tour season ended yesterday, just 119 days after Brian Harman was crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year and four short months after Viktor Hovland earned the FedExCup crown.
It may be years before we find out who the biggest winners and losers of the 2023 golf year really were. But at least it’s almost over.
Sea Island has always been a pleasant enough place to wind things down. It’s no Myrtle Beach, but it does offer a short commute home for many of those involved. Not all left happy, of course. Professional golf has winners and losers like any sport. It’s just sometimes been hard to tell. The PGA Tour may have embraced an eat-what-you-kill image, but its membership policies for the past couple of decades have often evolved more towards socialism. There have been second chances if you’re on the career money list. Third chances if you’ve made 300 cuts. Fourth chances if your first name is Rickie.
That’s finally about to change after a reboot of policymaking earlier this year in response to the pressures imposed by new rival LIV Golf.
I should explain what’s changing in each PGA Tour eligibility category and how it will impact different players going forward. But that will have to wait for Season 2 of Office Hours. And that’s because I’m still not confident that I understand the new system well enough to explain it to you. That feels weird to type, because my NLU overlords pay me at least in part to know such things. I’m not alone. Players at every level of the PGA Tour pecking order are headed into the offseason unsure of the details of how the new system will work when the lights turn back on at Kapalua in six weeks. Among them is my longtime friend Jim Herman.
Hermie didn’t reach the PGA Tour until he was 34 years old, but thanks to three well-timed wins, he’s held onto his card by his fingernails for the past 12 years. Every one of his starts on Tour has been earned. Thanks to a questionable choice for an agent (me) he’s never received a single sponsor’s exemption and he’s only played in a handful of no-cut events. He might just end up being the last person to reach the Tour without having ever taken a single golf lesson. But incredibly, if you had bet $5 to win on every player in every PGA Tour event since 2000, the one who would have made you the most money is James Robert Herman.
Jim’s now 46 years old, and the hardest season of his career ended last Friday afternoon with a missed cut in Sea Island that left him 198th on the final FedExCup list. With so much change coming to the world of professional golf, it was a bad year to play bad. And it means Hermie will have school carpools and shoveling snow to keep him occupied this winter.
The Hermans recently moved from Florida to a middle-class suburb of Philadelphia, closer to aging in-laws and so their kids could attend schools far from JupLife. For the first time in a decade, Jim will have to spend the holidays waiting to find out when and where he might get to play next year. He may have a few opportunities in Europe as a result of the Tour’s newly extended partnership with the DP World Tour, but it’ll remain an open question for the time being.
The cute answer has always been “Play Better,” and that’s exactly how it should work. Never has it paid more to be one of the best 300 golfers on the planet. But professional golf only survives in the long run if all of their newfound bullion is earned, not negotiated.
The NFL has space for 1,700 players, with virtually all of them arriving via an American college. NBA and MLB rosters are more diverse, but they still have room for 450 and 780 players respectively. The point being that outplaying the best from almost every country in the world just to earn one of the 200 PGA Tour cards is really, really freaking hard. Keeping that card for a decade is almost a miracle.
Being the 198th-best baseball player might mean you’re batting fifth in your team's starting lineup. In golf, it means you’re a mule. How that should translate to each player's bottom line is up for debate.
It feels like everybody has been winning a lot lately (except the fans and Jay Monahan). The remaining six weeks of the year will likely be filled with more reporting on How Much and For Who. The reality is the Tour has already been steadily bifurcating itself for years, next year will just make it official. Want proof? Hermie has played in 266 PGA Tour events and he still hasn’t met Tiger Woods. He did talk to Jim Nantz once, on an elevator.
Of course, a fourth-place finish at the Barbasol shouldn’t have earned more FedExCup points than a fifth at Riviera. But acknowledging that reality could cost the Tour some sponsors. Corrections of market inefficiencies are rarely free. But despite the costs, it’s still a net positive.
I’m looking forward to seeing some of the young faces this new system will help get onto the main stage faster. A pair of my hometown Birmingham boys – Gordon Sargent and Nick Dunlap – will likely be beneficiaries from the new PGA Tour U. You’ll like what you see.
But I’ll also miss some of the recently departed. Players like Brandt Snedeker and Nick Watney may not have won majors, but they made some of our Sunday afternoons more interesting. We can disagree with the sizes of the golden parachutes many of them will take from the game while still admiring the talent and effort they put into their craft. Jim Herman is probably better at golf than any of your friends are at anything they do for a living.
Mules may not run as fast as thoroughbreds, and they might not pull their own weight, but it still takes a lot of hard work to plow the fields.
A sincere thanks to Holderness and Bourne and to all of you for supporting my first year of working with No Laying Up. The syllabus for 2024 is already filling up fast.