In a lot of ways, getting a PGA Tour card is like winning the lottery. The path is simple, but the odds are against you. If you beat those odds, however, the payout is handsome.
To play as a member on the PGA Tour, you must have a PGA Tour card. Players earn their card by accomplishing one of several requirements. Here’s a breakdown of just how to earn a PGA Tour card, and five ways to snag one.
The most direct path to the PGA Tour is through the Korn Ferry Tour. While gaining Korn Ferry Tour status is no breeze in itself, once there, players have multiple avenues to earn their PGA Tour card.
There are 30 PGA Tour cards up for grabs through the Korn Ferry Tour each year. The top 30 players from the Korn Ferry Tour's season-long standings after the KFT Championship earn cards.
Getting into the Korn Ferry Tour is a process in itself, which can be accomplished through Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School, or via the Forme Tour, Mackenzie (Canadian) Tour, or the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.
Korn Ferry Tour players can jump directly to the PGA Tour through an exemption known as the Three-Win Promotion. This promotion is exactly what it sounds like, after three Korn Ferry Tour wins in one season, a player gains his PGA Tour card.
The three-win promotion has proven to be a tough route to the big tour, as only 12 players have accomplished the feat since 1997.
Players can bypass the Korn Ferry Tour and jump straight to the PGA Tour by gaining PGA Tour Special Temporary Membership, then parlaying that into a PGA Tour card.
The PGA Tour reserves a small number of spots each week for non-Tour members through sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers. Non-members who compete in PGA Tour events through these avenues and perform well enough can earn Special Temporary Membership by accumulating the amount of FedExCup points equal to the player who finished 150th on the FedExCup list the previous season.
Once a player has accepted Special Temporary Membership, they can accept unlimited sponsor exemptions into PGA Tour events and can earn their card by finishing in the top 125 of the FedExCup points list during the regular season. Without Special Temporary Membership, non-members can only accept up to seven sponsor exemptions and compete in up to 12 PGA Tour events in a season.
Players on a Special Temporary Membership are not eligible for the FedExCup playoffs.
Through PGA Tour U, the PGA Tour has removed some hurdles for the top collegiate players who begin their transition into the professional ranks when their amateur careers end.
Top collegiate players in the final year of their college careers earn ranking points based on their performance in the NCAA Division I championship, PGA Tour events, major championships, and the Dubai Desert Classic. At the end of the season, five PGA Tour University first-team and second-team honorees are identified, along with 10 PGA Tour University third-team players.
The top player earns PGA TOUR membership for the rest of the season, plus the followig season. The top five players earn Korm Ferry Tour membership for the rest of the season, a spot in the Final Stage of Q-School, and the opportunity to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions into PGA Tour events throug the following season.
Nos. 6-10 earn conditional Korn Ferry Tour status for the current season, an exemption into the North American portion of the PGA TOUR Americas schedule, and an exemption into Second Stage of Q-School.
The 10 third-team honorees get exemptions to the North America Swing of the PGA TOUR Americas and exemptions into the Second Stage of Q-School.
The fastest way to earn a PGA Tour card is also the least likely. Anybody who wins a PGA Tour event gets an immediate two-year PGA Tour exemption. This means that any non-member who gets into the field at a PGA Tour event via a sponsor exemption or Monday qualifier, and goes on to win that event, gets their PGA Tour card.
Major champions get even more luxury, securing a five-year exemption to both the PGA Tour and European Tour. Three of the four major championships each year reserve spots for amateur players, meaning that theoretically an amateur could win the Masters, U.S. Open or Open Championship and secure their PGA Tour card for the next five years.
By having a PGA Tour card, a golfer can play in PGA Tour events. Many players also receive sponsor endorsements and advertising contracts. The PGA Tour card provides the player the opportunity to win large purses in tournaments. Players who make the cut in routine PGA Tour events generally cash at least a five-figure check, with that amount increasing with higher-stature events and major championships.
In 1965, the first PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament (called Q-School) was held and John Schlee won the event. In 1968 and 1969 and from 1975 to 1981, there were two tournaments each year.
Until 2013, Q-School was used to grant membership to the PGA Tour. Since then Q-School has served as a gateway to the Korn Ferry Tour, with PGA Tour Cards handed out through the Korn Ferry Tour regular season and finals.
Many people think that if a player holds a PGA Tour Card, he can play in any event on the PGA tour. However, new PGA tour players are eligible for tournaments based on their priority ranking.