GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA | Just steps from the front door of Sedgefield Country Club’s stately English Tudor-style clubhouse sits a pop-up version of a Margaritaville café. It is decked out with wooden floors, ceiling fans and almost every bright color in the Crayola universe. There’s a live band. And when they’re not playing, there’s Jimmy Buffett music pulsing through the tented facility, located just a wedge shot from the first tee in the Wyndham Championship. There are libations of both the chilled and frozen variety – yes, there are margaritas – and if it can’t provide an ocean view, it does offer shade and a comfortable seat while the steamy August heat bakes on.
The Margaritaville café also sits smack in the middle of what must feel like the Last Chance Saloon for the group of players chasing salvation in the final regular event of the FedEx Cup season.
The simple math of the PGA Tour season allows the top 125 players in FedEx Cup points to advance to the playoffs which begin next week. For many, cracking the top 125 also determines whether they have full tour status next season (which starts next month) or not.
It’s a familiar story with the twist this year being some of the players who are on the outside looking in as the last event plays out.
Rickie Fowler sits at No. 130 and his season could end this weekend. The same goes for No. 129 Camilo Villegas, No. 136 Tommy Fleetwood and No. 138 Justin Rose.
“In my terms, it would be like I’m trying to kickstart a dirt bike and just sitting there kicking every once in a while, kind of fire up, get going, get a few revs. I’ll keep kicking, she’s bound to start.” – Rickie Fowler
Fowler and Rose are fully exempt for the 2021-22 season. Villegas and Fleetwood are not. Come up short this weekend and they would play out of the 126-150 category next season which means they won’t have the luxury of setting their own schedules, relying instead on spots when other top players take a pass.
Look above the 125 line and Adam Scott (No. 121) and Matt Kuchar (No. 124) aren’t promised a spot in the Northern Trust next week at Liberty National unless they have a solid performance at Sedgefield.
“It would be a good week to have my best week of the year,” said Scott, who acknowledged he has struggled in part due to global travel issues over the past season now that he is based in Switzerland.
Then there are others, such as No. 137 Charles Howell III, who aren’t playing in Greensboro, electing to end their seasons now. In Howell’s case, it marks the first time in his career he has missed the playoffs.
Kuchar has not missed the playoffs either.
In Fowler’s case, his struggles this season have been well documented. He’s fully exempt next season thanks to COVID-19 turning two seasons into one, extending his exemption from winning in early 2019.
Fowler has managed just one top-10 appearance in 23 starts this season and it seems for every low number there is a corresponding big number such as his 75-65 weekend at the Open Championship or his 64-73 start at the 3M Open in his last event. It’s like an engine that won’t start.
“In my terms, it would be like I’m trying to kickstart a dirt bike and just sitting there kicking every once in a while, kind of fire up, get going, get a few revs. I’ll keep kicking, she’s bound to start,” Fowler said.
“There’s been a lot of good stuff within the past four, five, six months, more and more, a little more frequently. It’s been a bummer that I’ve been kicking this long, but we’re still here kicking.”
Beyond this weekend, Fowler said he doesn’t have any specific plans. If he finishes 21st or better, Fowler will likely advance to the first playoff event. If not, he’ll figure it out from there.
“It’s kind of right out there laid out in front of me, I know exactly what needs to be done,” Fowler said.
“So, in a way it’s just go play solid golf and that’s all I can control, or do to control what’s – if I’m moving forward or not. Yeah, it’s pretty simple. Back up against the wall, go make some more birdies than I do bogeys and get a tee time next week. And if not, you don’t.”
Though Fleetwood won’t be fully exempt on the PGA Tour next season if he doesn’t finish 11th or better, he appears set to be on the European Ryder Cup team next month and he’s coming off being in contention for a medal at the Olympics two weeks ago.
“It’s not going to make or break my year. I think I’ve had a long enough season, I’ve had enough events to be doing a lot better and I haven’t, so I’m not going to come into this week and overload myself with pressure thinking I need to get into the playoffs,” Fleetwood said.
“Fact is, I’m not there. I really want to be there and … I could still win the FedEx Cup. Like I could still have a great run and go to Atlanta and win the FedEx Cup and I’m not going to lose sight of that.”
While Rose was announced this week as the 2021 recipient of the Payne Stewart Award for the charity work he and his wife, Kate, have done through their foundation, he finds himself looking beyond the FedEx Cup playoffs, which will require a top-10 finish for him to advance for the 15th time in 15 years.
“When you’re young, you just want to make the Ryder Cup team for the sake of playing in it and I feel like I’m at a stage in my career now where if I do play the Ryder Cup and I am picked to play in the Ryder Cup, then I need to be able to contribute points to the team.” – Justin Rose
A fixture on European Ryder Cup teams since 2012, Rose likely needs to impress captain Pádraig Harrington over the next few weeks to earn one of the three available captain’s picks if he wants to play at Whistling Straits.
“You want to be able to play your way onto that team and earn your way onto that team, but I feel at this stage of my career I’d be a lot more comfortable being picked than I would be as a youngster. I think that’s important,” Rose said.
“When you’re young, you just want to make the Ryder Cup team for the sake of playing in it and I feel like I’m at a stage in my career now where if I do play the Ryder Cup and I am picked to play in the Ryder Cup, then I need to be able to contribute points to the team. That’s the sole purpose of being there. So, it leaves me in a situation where I’m just working on my game that if I do get lucky and I get a call up, that I need to be ready for it and I need to be ready to earn points.”
As the music from Margaritaville floats in the muggy summer air, there’s hard work being done nearby.
For the players around the bubble line, they can call their own tunes.
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
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