The path to becoming and remaining a PGA Tour player just got harder, if that’s possible. With PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’s announcement on Wednesday, we say goodbye to Gary McCord’s original All-Exempt Tour.
Most people today don’t know the PGA Tour any other way. Top 125 in FedEx points get to play the next season. No more. It will be top 70 in FedEx points for sure.
That means 55 players who have been in that top 125 may lose their exemption at the end of next season.
Of course, former top 125 guys who have defected to Norman’s Saudi tour are already gone, and they are making way for others, but there will still be some unhappy people.
In other words: Welcome to Back to The Future II.
Strangely, the Tour’s decision was made for completely opposite reasons this week than the reasons it became the All-Exempt Tour in the 1980s.
Eons ago, in the dark ages of the 1970s and 1980s, players had to be in the top 60 on the money list each year to be guaranteed a place to play the next season.
That’s because there just wasn’t as much prize money available then compared to the millions floating around now.
Golfers needed to have outside deals. Arnold Palmer, for instance, made more money off the golf course with product endorsements than he did by playing golf. Remember the famous Penzoil can? Just one of his sponsors over the years.
In those days, in addition to playing the Tour, many golfers did Monday and Tuesday pro-ams outside of the PGA Tour to put a little extra cash into the kitty.
Some on the Champions Tour may remember those days, but if you asked today’s Tour players about it, they would think you were speaking a foreign language.
As Jack Nicklaus said at the 2000 U.S. Open, purses had finally become big enough that a golfer could actually make a living just by playing golf. It wasn’t possible before then. They had to have outside business interests.
The history on this is likely to be overlooked by someone who isn’t from the Jurassic era. But back in 1981, which is pre-metalwood, during the all persimmon and wound balls era, a former Tour player named Joe Porter, who spent a lot of time as a Monday qualifier, wanted an All-Exempt tour.
He talked to some guys who had been a little more successful than he had been. He wasn’t alone. Phil Rodgers, who won five times, was his ally. (This can be found in History of The PGA Tour by Al Barkow)
Porter complained that when he first became a Monday qualifier, he could shoot 74 on Monday and get into the tournament. Now he was shooting 70 and could not make it in.
But their All-Exempt idea didn’t get off the ground until Gary McCord, now best known as a former CBS announcer, got involved by researching it and talking to a lot of players about it.
After some computations and study, McCord came up with the number of 125 as the cut-off. (Remember, McCord has a degree in economics, so he isn’t dumb as a rock by any means.)
He decided that the way to go was to sell the players on it. He rented a ballroom in Tallahassee when the Tour stop was there. He began his pitch. His stats told him that 68 percent of PGA Tour players had to qualify often.
So, he knew that there was a chance 68 percent of them would be in favor of the getting rid of that Monday experience for the top 125 guys.
They took a vote, which was in favor, and then took it to Mike Crosswaithe, who was then on the PGA Tour administrative staff. It got through all the hurdles.
In 1983, the All-Exempt PGA Tour began.
Hal Sutton was the leading money winner with $426,668. That included winning the PGA Championship and The Players.
The biggest total purse was $750,000 at the Las Vegas Tournament. The Masters was $500,000 and The Players was $700,000.
That’s not first place. That’s divided among everyone who made the cut. The winner of The Players got $126,000, considered a princely sum at the time.
Basically, the advantage of the All-Exempt Tour was that PGA Tour players in the top 125 could plan a schedule for the year.
They would still have opportunities for Monday and Tuesday outings because, as Nicklaus had said, until two decades ago, many guys still had a hard time making a living playing golf.
But they could schedule outings before or after the tour events they were playing, maybe saving on transportation and lodging costs.
Obviously, the standard of living has changed for golfers since 1983, or even 1993 because the PGA Tour and its stars were able to grow interest and viewership of the professional game.
And so, this week PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced they were returning not quite to the top 60, but to the top 70, this time in FedEx points, not in money.
In addition, we also go back to the time when the fall was for players who needed to earn money, or in this case points, to retain a Tour card while the more successful players rested or fished or designed golf courses or whatever they wanted to do, but probably not playing on another tour.
However, the question of playing another Tour may be the next shoe to drop for the top 70. The fall leaves plenty of space for other events, and some of those may be big paydays for the top players. It’s all to be determined.
Those not in the top 70 will be able to play in a series of events to up their total, somehow, not yet explained.
There will be a top 125, but nothing specifically says they will be exempt, yet, unless they have exemptions some other way.
“You’re trying to give playing opportunities and create prize funds for the lower half of the membership, but also by trying to accommodate what the upper half of the membership want as well by saying they want an off season, time away from FedExCup schedule,’’
Rory McIlroy said in a story for SI.com.
McIlroy is a member of the PGA Tour’s policy board.
So, enjoy that top 125 number while you can because in 2023, we say goodbye to Gary McCord’s original all-exempt tour, and hello to we don’t quite know what.