Dog-Eat-Dog Battle of 2023 PGA TOUR Season for FedEx Points Starts Now

Justin Thomas, 2023 Fortinet Championship,(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Justin Thomas, 2023 Fortinet Championship,(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) /

Who ever thought the PGA Tour would have a dog-eat-dog finish? Now it does. Just ask Justin Thomas.

This is the first year of the FedEx Fall tournaments, and now, each one means something. It’s a play for keeps, fight to the finish, quash the competition between now and Thanksgiving because playing spots, huge tournaments, and PGA Tour cards are on the line.  You want to see mad golfers? This is sure to produce tantrums, tossed clubs and big ol’ hissy fits.

It’s going to be Mean Musical Chairs. That’s because every guy wants to get to — worst case – the Top 60 in FedEx points by the time all are added up after the conclusion of the RSM Classic, the last official tournament of the year.

What’s more interesting for those of us watching but not for those playing, is that everybody over the Top 50 in points has something to lose. Top 50 are completely safe, and they get to enter all the Signature (Big Money) events of 2024. Nothing but an injury or illness can keep them out.

"Now the plain fact is 125 players can’t fit into 50 seats. That’s why it’s Mean Musical Chairs."

Everybody else has to fight for it all year long, which is why Justin Thomas is playing in this week’s Fortinet Championship. There’s actually a path for him to get into the guaranteed Big Money events in 2024, and right now, that’s by earning enough FedEx points in the FedEx Fall tournaments.

But first, here’s who gets into the Big Money events in 2024. The rest of the battles are by the numbers.

The Top 50 are guaranteed to have a Tour card and are guaranteed spots in the Big Money Events for 2024.

That’s the new gold standard for the PGA Tour.

Only the top 50 and previous season’s winners can play The Sentry, which is the first Signature event in 2024.

Then things change.

Anybody over No. 50 in 2023 FedEx points will have to battle for a chance to participate in the Big Money Signature events. And that’s where the FedEx Fall events come into the equation.

Those 51st and up will need to strap on the golf gloves and start throwing punches because there’s a chance they could become one of the Next Ten, which are the next 10 players in points on the list after No. 50. That’s what Justin Thomas is fighting for now.

The Next Ten is an important category because they get into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational. So that’s a big opportunity, potentially career-changing with a victory for some, certainly bank account changing for all.

The Top 50 becomes Top 60 for purposes of getting into the big tournaments.

In addition, there is a chance for someone who gets on a hot streak between Signature events to join the next Signature event by being in the top five in points in tournaments between Signature events. They are called the Swing Five, for reasons we will probably never know. (Brain cramp is all that comes to mind.)

After The Genesis Invitational, the Next Ten point-count is based on FedEx points in 2024, not 2023. The Swing Five are still based on who has the most points between Signature events.

The fact is, for those higher than Top 50, it’s not just dog-eat-dog. It’s dog eat pretzels and ramen noodles and White Castle instead of steak dinners and expensive wine.

The problem is 125 players can’t fit into 50 seats. That’s why it’s Mean Musical Chairs. For the rest of the members of the PGA Tour, those who aren’t in the top 50, the big, big, big number at the end of 2023 is the Top 125. That’s what many players are battling for between now and Thanksgiving because Top 125 guarantees a PGA Tour card.

Most regular tournaments have up to 156 players. With 125 exempt spots, it leaves 31 additional spots to be filled by Korn Ferry grads, past champions, medical exemptions, sponsor exemptions, Monday qualifiers, and other methods of entry that various tournaments have.

The actual number of players is sometimes dependent on daylight available in the winter. In the summer, it’s not usually a problem. And 156 players is still too many to have everybody get around without slow play on the back nine in the first two rounds.

In the favor of those between say 100 and 150, it’s seldom, outside of The Players, that the Top 125 participate. And even with those tournaments, there are injuries, illnesses, and stuff that happens. So, there are more than 31 spots available for most PGA Tournaments.

It’s actually seldom that the top 100 players are in any event. Typically the PGA gets close to that number, but they do have 20 PGA members who come from their own Club professional tournament.

Any player who ends up with FedEx points from 125 to 150 on the list has conditional status. The only other option is for them to go back to Q-School, which has returned. Potentially, someone in the 125-150 category could enter Korn Ferry tournaments some weeks or compete against guys in qualifiers to get a place in a PGA Tour event.  Competition is so stiff at qualifiers that sometimes there are qualifiers for the qualifiers. No lie.

"So, it’s not all bad to play and win in the FedEx Fall tournaments. But you have to fight like a junkyard dog to succeed."

Which brings us back to Justin Thomas. Even though he finished in 71st place, he has a 5-year exemption from winning the PGA in 2022.  So, what he’s working on now is becoming one of the Next Ten.  If that fails, it’s not the end of the world for him because there are plenty of tournaments for him to play, and eventually, he will figure out what’s wrong and get back on track.

PGA Tour, FedEx Fall, Signature Events, Fortinet Championship, Justin Thomas
Adam Scott, 2023 BMW PGA Championship, (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images) /

Even if he were to win the Fortinet, earn the 500 FedEx points and have more than the 50th place player for 2023, Hideki Matsuyama, had – which was 942 – he would still not be in the Top 50 for 2024. But he could get into the Next Ten without a lot of effort.

Right now, he needs just 71 points to tie Hayden Buckley who is in 60th place. But of course, Buckley won’t skip the fall events because he also wants to finish in the Top 60.

Billy Horschel, who finished in 90th place is in a similar situation. He’s 50th in the world and exempt through 2025 with a WGC event victory. He has more energy than a million Duracell batteries, and with his exemption he can play many tournaments. He’s known to be great at tournaments with fans and sponsors.

If he were to win a tournament, that would give him 985 points, which right now is higher than 50th. But, of course, that 50th place won’t move. However, a victory would likely secure Horschel a spot in the Next Ten.

The same could be said for Adam Scott, past Masters and Players winner, who finished 72nd on the FedEx points list. Scott is exempt through 2024 because of his victory in the Genesis Invitational.

He doesn’t really have to play this fall unless he wants to upgrade himself to being Top 60 for the AT&T and Genesis Invitational events on the 2024 calendar. He’s 43 and might want to spend the fall in Australia.

He can play all the regular PGA Tour events next year with no problem. As a past Masters champ, he will be in Augusta. And, if you were a tournament organizer getting a letter from Adam Scott requesting to play your event, you’d say yes faster than a kid would to a Halloween candy.

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Whoever wins a fall event receives 500 FedEx points, which are added to this year’s total, a two-year exemption, and a spot in The Players. Plus the money.

So, it’s not all bad to play and win in the FedEx Fall tournaments. But you have to fight like a junkyard dog to succeed.