Gah! You’ve just lost your PGA Tour card. Where should you go next?

Many pros will lose their PGA Tour cards soon, prompting a decision: LIV Golf, Europe, or the Korn Ferry Tour?

The post Gah! You’ve just lost your PGA Tour card. Where should you go next? appeared first on Golf.

Many pros will lose their PGA Tour cards soon, prompting a decision: LIV Golf, Europe, or the Korn Ferry Tour?

The post Gah! You’ve just lost your PGA Tour card. Where should you go next? appeared first on Golf.

The end is nigh for many PGA Tour players. Not literally The End, capital T capital E. But the end of 2023 is closing in. Only three tournaments remain and the chase for finishing in the top 125 is tight. There’s that competition, and then another one just to get into those tournaments.

This is high-stakes stuff, and the guys are taking it seriously. (You can bet there will be some scoffing at Michael Block’s sponsor’s exemption into the final race of this circuit, at the RSM Classic.) Players on the outside looking in trying to keep their Tour membership will learn their fate soon enough. Either they held on or they didn’t, and they’ll have to work their way back to the juicy purses and the good life one way or another.

But suddenly those players have options. There’s the Korn Ferry Tour, the DP World Tour, and LIV Golf. Each has its perks and each comes with unique risks. But for the first time ever, they all feel accessible to those who drop off from the PGA Tour. 

But which place is right for which player? Players like Harry Higgs, Aaron Wise and Adam Long would earn conditional Tour status if the season ended today. But someone like Doc Redman would not. Lanto Griffin, Grayson Murray, Dylan Frittelli, Jason Dufner — all these names will have to decide how they want to move forward. There’s the Monday Qualifying route, or the constant pursuit of sponsor’s exemptions, but neither imply much consistency. 

Instead of that, there are the other options, one of which was announced this week when the DP World Tour said players who finish 126th through 200th in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup can gain membership (if they want it) on the tour played predominantly overseas. That’s a big opportunity — if someone wants to take it. We consider it all below. 

If you’re a Tour player who just lost their card… where should you go next?

Korn Ferry Tour 

Pros: The KFT is absolutely the PGA Tour minor league. Double-A Golf, if you will. And that’s a great thing to be. The players are very good, and there are many of them, just like the big show. The host courses are spread out across America and are similar in nature to what you may find on the PGA Tour. There’s comfort there. For the American golfer, born and raised on parkland courses largely played at sea level, this is the golf you know. 

The top 30 players from the Korn Ferry Tour graduate to the PGA Tour, which means a healthy sliver of the players competing in a full KFT schedule move up. The healthiest sliver, if we are comparing tours here. Being 29th best out there is plenty good enough.

Cons: BUT, it’s a bit more cutthroat. The money is worse, comparatively. The typical Korn Ferry Tour purse in 2024 will be $1,000,000. It’s fair to expect that number to increase in the future, but for now winner’s checks come out to $180,000. A slightly different success story of beating, say, 145 other very good pros — finishing 10th — brings in something around $25,000. There is more money to be found elsewhere. And graduation, if it happens, doesn’t necessarily mean playing every PGA Tour event you want. KFT grads actually get slotted behind DP World Tour grads on the priority list.

Risk: Very little. Perhaps the biggest risk is not taking a risk? Staying in the comfort zone. Another theoretical risk exists in one looming aspect of all golf careers: If 2024 is the best golf season of your life, the KFT is the least-profitable place (in this exercise) to play that incredible golf. 

DP World Tour

Pros: You will travel the world like never before. This may not be as desirable to professional golfers — many of whom consider travel a nagging part of the gig — as it may seem for the amateurs reading this story. But this kind of travel is wildly different. The DP World Tour brings you from Dubai to Bahrain to Kenya to South Africa, and that’s just January and February. You’d visit five different continents and 22 different countries over the course of the season. Think of what you’d learn. Think of the food you’d find. Think of the golf courses you’d play! The memories you’d make.

Comparatively, the money is pretty good. The typical DP World Tour purse fluctuates in the $1.5 to $2.5 million range. In other words, at least twice the purses of the Korn Ferry Tour. Playing your best golf will be more profitable here.

Cons: Only five players from this newly created category can play in a weekly DP World Tour event, but for this practice we are assuming you can still put together a desirable schedule. Regardless, the path to success here is more difficult. DataGolf, the industry’s leading analytics site, would tell you that more than a dozen DP World Tour events boast fields harder to beat than the strongest KFT field. The level of golf is going to be higher and the variety of courses wider. Does that scare you? Only 10 players graduate from the DP World Tour to the PGA Tour in the current setup. The 10th qualifier at this exact moment: Marcel Siem, ranked No. 154 in the world by DataGolf. Can you beat Marcel Siem in a season-long competition?

Also, you’re (probably) a long way from home. Taking a week off to travel back for Mom’s birthday (for Americans, at least) means flying eight to 10 to 14 hours, one-way. You’ll make a similar commute when you head back out on tour. Keeping a relationship strong and steady would be tested in a major way. But for a golfer who is single? The mind wanders…

Risk: Life would change in a completely avoidable way. Are you ready for that? Does someone (your partner) want to join you along the way? Maybe that’ll comfort things. Any financial risk is essentially taken off the table, too, thanks to the DP World Tour’s new Earnings Assurance Program, which guarantees those who play 15 events a minimum “salary” of $150,000. Expenses can pile up on the road, but $150,000 is typically the amount it takes to fund a full season of top-level pro golf. You’re playing golf with house money! 

LIV Golf 

Pros: Have you heard about the money? You sure have. LIV Golf promises millions upon millions. BIG money. Money bigger than most pros in this dilemma have ever played for. And one thing we’ve learned in the last 18 months is that most pros play with money top of mind.

Once you’re on a team, you’re in. You’ve got 14 events, none of which conflict with the major championships. You can qualify for the U.S. and British Opens just like thousands of others will try to and LIV Golf would embrace it. 

Cons: Where the money comes from is the moral debate many pros have forced themselves to have over the last 18 months. That’s Saudi Arabia, which brings with it a laundry list of questions every player in the league faces at one point or another. Those questions aren’t as tricky as they were 18 months ago, but they exist. 

Also, your schedule is set. Have an important wedding you can’t miss that conflicts with LIV Australia Sorry, but you signed up for all 14 events, no excuses. Send a nice card. 

Risk: At this point, there isn’t as much as there used to be, when defectors were being suspended. Reputation-wise, there’s a bit of a PR battle that LIV Golf and its backers continue to work through. Associating your golf with them is voluntary. Some people find that act easier than others. 

The future of pro golf is still being negotiated, and your path to the top of it doesn’t really run through LIV Golf. That’s a bigger risk for some than it is for others. There are no obvious ways to qualify for majors via LIV Golf. The Harold Varners of the world are going to have to do that the hard way, at least right now. Varner himself is enriched by the money and what he can do with it. He’s not alone. Scott Vincent made $4.6 million in 2023 playing some incredibly anonymous golf. His two full seasons on the DP World Tour resulted in just under $360,000. 

What’s our recommendation? 

Go East, young man! If you can make it work, take on the DP World Tour for all it offers. There’s a clear path back to the PGA Tour by taking a full season on the DP World Tour. Play well enough and you’ll have deserved it. Don’t quite play well enough, you can try the KFT next. Or you can become a DP World-lifer! The house money of the Earnings Assurance Program should be freeing. The country-hopping will be a priceless, unforgettable journey. And if it leads you back to where you were, you’ll be better because of this golfy study abroad program. So long as you can explain the decision to friends and family!

Which route would you take? The author welcomes your comments, concerns, and any other notes at sean.zak@golf.com.

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