NAPA, Calif. — After Peter Malnati wrapped up shooting 66 at Silverado Resort’s North Course on Moving Day to rocket into contention at the Fortinet Championship, he summed up the new FedExCup, a series of seven events where jobs for the 2024 season are on the line, as “fun and exciting, unless you’re one of the ones trying to keep your job and then it’s a strain.”
PGA Tour veteran Jimmy Walker won this event when it was played at CordeValle a decade ago for his first Tour title. On Saturday, the 44-year-old Walker shot 69, which had him projected to improve from No. 124 to No. 118, but Walker was none too happy that he’s still battling to finish in the top 125 for the better part of the next three months.
“They changed the rules. It’s been 125 forever. Then it’s like, no, it’s 50, or is it 70? It’s definitely not 125. It’s total bulls–t, that’s what I think of it,” Walker said. “I’ve been working for 11 months to finish 124 and it’s like, nope, keep playing. So, I’m going to give it all I’ve got. That’s all I can do.”
A year ago, Walker shut down his season after the Valero Texas Open, his hometown event, and at age 43 the former PGA Championship winner contemplated calling it a career. But then enough players jumped ship to LIV that Walker climbed to No. 50 in career earning on the Tour, which gave him access to a one-time exemption for the 2022-23 season.
Walker has played 25 events this season and ranked No. 124 after the Wyndham Championship last month, which traditionally served as the final event of the FedEx Cup regular season. This year, only the top 70 earned a playoff berth and locked up their cards for next season.
“I can’t tell you how many people texted me saying congrats on making the 125. I’m like, ‘No man, it’s different.’ I had to explain. They’ve done such a bad job communicating what is happening, partly because I don’t think they knew what was happening, honestly,” Walker said. “It’s been one way forever. LIV and the Saudis happen and a lot of things change and everybody freaks out and we sign an agreement that stops litigation. I don’t know what’s going on. They’re talking about a big payout for the players that have stayed. All of it is blowing my mind. The Tour is doing everything they can to take care of themselves and not for the players. I’m just out here grinding, giving it all I’ve got. I’ve given them 20-some-odd years out here, you know.”
Walker expressed disappointment that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan wasn’t at the Fortinet Championship to answer questions from players at the first event of the re-imagined fall schedule. Jason Dufner, another player who was able to take advantage of the top 50 career earnings one-time exemption, entered the fall at No. 172, and called the fall an opportunity.
“We’re all adjusting to it a little bit. It’s nice to have the opportunity to play and try to, you know, sneak back into that 125 category,” Dufner said. “I don’t want to say I lucked into, but I was able to use a career money exemption for this year, and on top of that I got last fall and this fall, so it’s kind of a bonus type of deal for me so I’m trying to take as much advantage of it as I can to continue to be out here in some capacity.”
Walker realizes he’s lucky, too, to have had a second chance to play last season, but he doesn’t like the way the LIV threat has been used to change the landscape so drastically.
“I’m back because of LIV and then it was like we’ve got to change everything. We have to pump more money into the PIP to keep our guys, make all these elevated events. I’m not going to get to play Pebble Beach next year, a field that’s always had 180 players and I’m a past champion. I said to Jay, what if San Antonio was an elevated event? You’re going to tell me I live there, I’ve done I don’t know how many pressers for you guys and everything you’ve asked me to do and I can’t play my hometown event? It’s really bass-ackwards right now.”
Another veteran Ryan Palmer said he will play as many fall events as necessary until he’s locked up his playing privileges for next year. Walker said he’ll do the same, noting “it’s not a strategy, it’s my job, my card.”
Malnati can related. He entered he Fortinet Championship at No. 116 and had missed three straight cuts. But Malnati, who serves as a player director on the Tour Policy Board, disagrees with Walker’s claim that the Tour’s moved the goalposts on him.
“Of course people are going to say that, but we’re making changes. Things have to change. Whether they are better or not, you can argue that but this is the way it is,” Malnati said. “I never once thought I should have my card locked up. We all knew going into the season it was going to be (No.) 125 after Sea Island (RSM Classic) and not Wyndham. The cool thing is, yes, I’m playing to earn my Tour card for next season but I get six opportunities to qualify for Maui. I see it as opportunity.”