Been There, Done That
Bubba Watson remembered how he got his break in 2005, and because of what he did this week, three players with PGA Tour dreams will get theirs
By Ryan French
Wednesday is my golf night, and at River’s Edge in Alpena, Mich., there are only a few places on the course where you can get cell service. The 15th tee is one of those spots, and when our group arrived there, my phone lit up. The familiar text ring wouldn’t stop. I immediately knew what had happened.
Bubba Watson had made a decision that would impact three aspiring tour pros.
Chris Naegel, Rick Lamb and Anthony Quayle earned about the same number of non-member FedEx Cup points on the PGA Tour this season. The process to earn a spot in the three-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals (where players have a chance to earn their PGA Tour card) is simple. Equal or surpass the number of points the 200th-place finisher on the points list has, and you are in. Naegel, Lamb and Quayle all had around 55 points, which in a typical year wouldn’t be close to enough. But this isn’t your typical year. The debut of LIV Golf changed that.
The PGA Tour removed anyone who has struck a shot on the LIV Tour from the FedEx list. The dominos started falling, and some players moved up as many as 13 spots. Rickie Fowler, for example, grabbed the 125th and final spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs. For Korn Ferry purposes, Jonas Blixt sat squarely on the bubble, in 200th place with 49 points, heading into last week’s regular-season ending Wyndham Championship.
Lamb snuck into the field through the Monday qualifier and held his fate in his own hands. But like Blixt, he missed the cut. Naegel, who amazingly had Monday Q’d four times of late, missed at the Wyndham by one and was relegated to scoreboard watching all week. Quayle wasn’t in the field either, so he joined Naegel in refreshing his phone countless times from Thursday to Sunday.
As the tournament came to a close, the three dodged all of the other bullets — except one. Joohyung Kim, a 20-year-old budding star from South Korea with temporary PGA Tour membership, won the Wyndham. By doing so, he became a PGA Tour member and was awarded all of the FedEx points he had accumulated this season. (Remember last season when Will Zalatoris amassed enough points to slide easily into the top 30 but was left out of the playoffs? It’s because he didn’t win.) Kim entered the standings at 34th and knocked everyone below him down a spot. The dreams of Lamb, Naegel and Quayle appeared dashed. All would be headed to Q-school in hopes of gaining KFT status.
And then Bubba happened. Somewhere along the line, someone noticed that Watson, who recently signed with LIV but hasn’t played because of injury, was still on the points list. Hope was again revived. If his name was removed, it would bump everyone below him back up a spot and get all three (plus Blixt, who had dropped to 201st because of Kim’s win) into the KFT finals. But then the PGA Tour said players were only removed from the points list after they had hit a shot in a LIV event. With Watson injured, that wasn’t going to happen until 2023. Unless…
I have resigned from @PGATour. Was told I will be removed from rankings after Sunday. Not sure how that plays out. Up to the Tour.— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) August 10, 2022
Dear Bubba, my tweet started. Behind the scenes, many were working the angle of Watson resigning his membership. I tagged him in the tweet. I believed there were a few factors that might get him to act. For one, he played on the mini-tours for years before making it; I was hoping that would make him sympathetic to the players involved. Also, he had received his PGA Tour card through a loophole. In 2005, Watson finished 21st on Nationwide Tour (now KFT); at the time, only the top 20 received their cards. But Jason Gore, who finished first on the money list that year, had won on the PGA Tour. Because of that, he was removed from the list, and Watson got his card. He never lost it.
As I hit send on the tweet asking Watson to resign, I thought there was maybe a 5 percent chance he would see it and almost no shot he would take action even if he did. Then I crested the 15th tee at River’s Edge. I immediately knew he had.
In talking with representatives from Watson’s management team, they said he had considered resigning for six months, and upon hearing he could help other players by doing so, they were quick to get it done. On Friday the Tour made the announcement official. The four players will compete in the Korn Ferry Finals.
All because Bubba Watson remembered where he once was — and where three players are trying to get.