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Drilling Down On The Top 125 Myth

It’s hard to drum up any sympathy for the player who finishes 126th on the PGA Tour money list when this week ends. Whoever that turns out to be has made upward of $600,000 playing golf this year, not to mention enough in endorsements that will likely take care of his travel expenses for the season.

There aren’t a whole lot of CEOs pulling down that kind of compensation package. And with the economy doing a slow bleed, unemployment at 9.1 percent and even folks with portfolios watching their net worth shrink with each negative move in the market, no one is going to shed a tear for those who just missed being fully exempt on Tour in 2012.

Besides, whichever players finish from 126th to 150th on the money list will get about 15 starts from that category next year and, if they are creative enough, they can get another 10 or so sponsor exemptions to get around 25 starts on Tour for an opportunity to make another $600,000 – or more – while working only half the year.

They’re flying first class, eating steak and being treated like kings, so it’s a tough sell to convince anyone that these guys have it tough.

Yet, if you watch golf on television this time of year, the on-air talent will do its best to convince you that the guys fighting to get inside or stay inside the top 125 have their backs to the wall and that their entire livelihood depends on whether they can make enough money in the final two weeks of the year to get inside the magic number.

Nonsense. They’re fighting for convenience and nothing else. Those inside the top 125 can pretty much lock in their schedules and those who aren’t are at the mercy of who plays or doesn’t play from week to week. And those outside the top 150 are probably going to have to enter the Tour’s Qualifying Tournament, which is no picnic but it ain’t heavy lifting, either.

And the antidote to avoid the Fall Classic is, in the immortal words of Jim Colbert: “Just play better.”

No, if it’s pressure you want, turn your eyes to the Nationwide Tour. The top 60 on that Tour’s money list play this week at the Nationwide Tour Championship to determine the top 25, who will get their playing privileges on the big tour in 2012. As of last week, the 60th player on the Nationwide list is Nicholas Thompson, who has made a hair more than $87,000 this year and a good chunk of that has been eaten up in expenses. By contrast, 60th on the PGA Tour money list checks in at about $1.4 million.

In fact, Thompson is being out-earned by his kid sister, 16-year-old Lexi Thompson, who just cashed a check for $270,000 for winning the Navistar LPGA Classic three weeks ago.

Nicholas Thompson really has his back against the wall. He would have to win this week to get inside the top 25 and get his Tour card. If he doesn’t, he’s back at Q-School with the rest of the desperate and the dreamers, with a guaranteed spot on the Nationwide Tour.

It’s a Herculean task making the top 25 on a tour where there are 50 guys every week who aren’t afraid to shoot low, where it takes 20 under or better to win most tournaments, where if you shoot even par in one round, 20 players stampede past you.

And even if you make the big Tour, depending on where you finish in the top 25, it’s no guarantee that you will get in tournaments, particularly during the first half of the year. Michael Sim, the can’t-miss kid, won three Nationwide Tour events in 2010 and received a performance promotion to the PGA Tour that happened during the Fall Series.

Because of the smaller fields, his status wasn’t enough to get him in any of the final events. So he finished the season on the Nationwide Tour, leading the tour’s money list with a little more than $644,000. By the way, Sim has played in 17 tournaments this year on the big tour, making just four cuts and $47,000.

On the other end of professional golf’s food chain, Luke Donald entered the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, the final event of the Fall Series, in an effort to protect his top-ranked position on the PGA Tour money list. He is being chased down by Webb Simpson, who overtook Donald by finishing xx at the McGladrey Classic last week.

The leading money winner will receive a five-year exemption on Tour and both players are likely to finish the year with around $6 million in earnings. The 125th player on the money won’t have to sweat for his starts in the way the guy one spot below him will.

Granted, it’s not the easiest way to make a living. Ask Michael Sim right about now. But it beats to death having to hold a real job. If you’re at the right spot on the money list, it’s truly a charmed life.


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