Alex Fitzpatrick


Matt Fitzpatrick’s Brother and a Fishy Q School Exemption

Alex Fitzpatrick received an unprecedented free pass into the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q school, upsetting his colleagues and raising hard questions about the PGA Tour’s moral compass

By Ryan French
November 12, 2022

This is a story about a dispute over PGA Tour U rankings. It is also the story of the brother of the reigning U.S. Open champion, legal threats, the fear of LIV’s poaching, Tour ass-covering and ultimately the first special exemption into the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q school in PGA Tour history. 

Let’s start with some background. PGA Tour U was unveiled on June 1, 2020. The stated goal of the program is to “reward elite collegiate play with varying levels of access to tours operated under the PGA Tour umbrella.” In other words, give top college players (who had competed for at least four years) spots on circuits such as the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Canada and the LatinoAmerica Tour. One of the objectives was to keep players in school for at least four years.

The program was met with resistance from the PGA Tour players board. In 2018, according to a former Player Advisory Council member, a meeting ended abruptly after the discussion about PGA Tour U became heated. Now, according to a report by Ryan Lavner at Golf Channel, underclassmen will be eligible next year, throwing out one of the core components of the program. On top of that, graduates will earn PGA Tour status. As LIV Golf threatens to lure top amateur talent, these changes are clearly an attempt by the Tour to retain future stars.

PGA Tour U used the following criteria to rank its Class of 2022: college tournaments, PGA Tour and select DP World Tour events, and major championships. Each player in the top 15 was required to play a minimum of 18 events in order to qualify for the performance benefits. Using the World Amateur Golf Ranking as its basis, PGA Tour U has its own formula to determine player ranking. From a player’s second-to-last year (in many cases, junior year) onward, events are counted toward his ranking. The top five players were eligible to become Korn Ferry members after the NCAA finals, allowing them to compete during the second half of the KFT season at the completion of their college careers. Players who didn’t earn enough points to keep their KFT card by the end of the regular season were still exempt into the final stage of KFT Q school. Players who finished sixth through 15th were exempt into second stage of Q school.

The main protagonist in this story is Alex Fitzpatrick, who played at Wake Forest, was a member of the GB&I Walker and International Palmer Cup teams, and is the brother of U.S. Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick. He finished sixth in the PGA Tour U rankings.

When the field was announced for the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q school, Fitzpatrick was inexplicably in it. This was puzzling because Fitzpatrick had not competed at second stage. (Based on his PGA Tour U finish, he would have been exempt.) According to two sources, Fitzpatrick didn’t even sign up for Q school. In response, the PGA Tour released a one-sentence statement: “Alex Fitzpatrick is competing in the Final Stage of KFT Qualifying Tournament after receiving a special exemption via the PGA Tour U category.” 

This raised eyebrows among players, agents, caddies and many others. As far as I know, this is the only special exemption awarded in the history of Q school. One player who went through qualifying said sarcastically,  “I am going to ask for a refund. Had I known I could get an exemption, I would have skipped paying the $6,500 and written a letter to the committee.” 

At the heart of the issue is a college event held in October 2020. The event, at Maridoe Golf Club outside Dallas, was played at a time when many golf programs had suspended their seasons due to the pandemic. Wake Forest was among them. Teams in active conferences were invited. Players, however, were allowed to compete unattached from their schools, and Wake Forest let Fitzpatrick and a few other individuals to play. Documentation sent from the tournament committee ahead of the event stated that the teams and unattached individuals would be treated as separate events, and scores would be submitted to WAGR to reflect such. According to Ryan Frazer, who runs the college golf recruiting website Agora Golf, when the rankings came out in the summer of 2021, points had been awarded to the unattached individuals who competed in the Maridoe event. Their scores were combined with the teams cumulatively as if everyone had played one event. 

Fitzpatrick

Those who played in the team and individual tournaments disputed this. The conditions of the individual’s morning wave, including freezing temperatures, were drastically different from that of the teams’ afternoon wave, resulting in higher scores.

Several coaches of the unattached players complained to PGA Tour U officials, but their protests fell on deaf ears. Fitzpatrick approached PGA Tour U officials, according to sources, before ultimately seeking the help of lawyers. It is easier for a college kid to throw his weight around when he has a famous brother represented by a powerful management company.

At the start of the NCAA championship last June, Fitzpatrick ranked seventh in the PGA Tour U standings. According to Frazer, had the Maridoe event not been counted, Fitzpatrick would have stood fourth. Fitzpatrick then sat out the first round of stroke play at the NCAA tournament, citing an illness. Because he had a chance to move into the PGA Tour U top five without competing, some questioned the seriousness of his ailment, though many close to Fitzpatrick confirmed his illness. Fitzpatrick played the next two days, posting scores of 65 and 71. His scores didn’t count toward the individual championship, and they were not included in the PGA Tour U rankings. A golfer ahead of him played poorly, so Fitzpatrick moved up one spot, to sixth. The difference between fifth and sixth: second stage versus an exemption to the cut-throat final stage of Q school and KFT status.

A source said that after the NCAA Championship, lawyers representing Fitzpatrick leaned on PGA Tour U officials, threatening a lawsuit. Fitzpatrick got his exemption into the final stage. A player in the top 10 of the PGA Tour U rankings, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “I think it was bullshit. Yeah, the system isn’t perfect, but we all play by the same rules.” Another player near the top of the rankings defended Fitzpatrick, “I don’t see a problem with that,” he said. “Considering how that week [at Maridoe] went, I think that is somewhat valid.” 

Reached for comment, Fitzpatrick said, “I’m afraid I can’t talk to you about the exemption. I would if I could, but you’ll have to speak with someone from the PGA Tour and they might tell you. Otherwise I have to keep it confidential.” Asked if confidentiality was part of an agreement, Fitzpatrick replied,  “I would encourage you to speak with someone from the Tour, and hopefully they will tell you.”

The PGA Tour has always been unwavering with its enforcement of Q school rules. Last year, a player whose in-law died a week before Q school asked to be moved to a site that started a week later. His request was denied. It has been the same story for players who have had family emergencies or lost their clubs. This year, Alex Chiarella finished 83rd on the KFT money list and was exempt into the final stage, but he missed the deadline to sign up by one day. His request to be added was denied. I understand the Tour’s position on this: If you make an exception for one player, it opens Pandora’s box.  That’s what makes Fitzpatrick’s exemption all the more perplexing.

There have been complaints from players, coaches and parents about the ranking system itself. Many are rankled that non-college amateur events don’t count but professional events do (even if the player misses the cut). For example, the U.S. Amateur runner-up receives no points, while a player who played poorly at the U.S. Amateur but received a sponsor’s exemption into a PGA Tour event would move up the rankings, regardless of his finish. “I don’t blame Alex for doing this,” one player said. “A lot of us have asked for something from the Tour. I’m just surprised they let it happen.” Joel Schuchmann, senior vice president of communications for the PGA Tour, declined to comment further on the situation. 

This exemption speaks to a bigger issue: Because of LIV, has the PGA Tour lost its moral compass? Rumors of under-the-table payments to top players have rumbled for months. Bubba Watson, who recently jumped to LIV, spoke out about unofficial appearance fees he received from Tour sponsors, and now comes the news of the Fitzpatrick exemption.

Alex and Matthew Fitzpatrick have said they turned down offers from LIV. But if the Tour had not caved to Alex and granted him an exemption, and he was left on the outside looking in of the developmental tours, it’s reasonable to conclude the brothers would have found LIV more appealing. (Chase Koepka is an example of a player who has leveraged a famous older brother into a potentially lucrative spot on LIV.)

Fitzpatrick finished T-95 at the final stage of Q school, shooting rounds of 71-70-74-71 and failing to get his Korn Ferry Tour card by five shots. Still, the conditional status he earned just by being there has one huge advantage: Had Fitzpatrick missed at second stage, where the sixth-place PGA Tour U finisher would normally start, he would have no status.

Non-members do not earn points toward the KFT’s  all-important in-season reshuffles, which determine tournament fields. Fitzpatrick will earn points. Expect him to get at least one sponsor’s exemption into an event early next season, which may or may not be part of the deal he cut with the Tour. If he survives the cut, he will rocket up the reshuffle, dropping other players down the list. This potential scenario is what enrages Fitzpatrick’s colleagues. They’re not mad at him; in the brutal world of feeder tours, players do everything they can to survive and advance. It is the Tour that created this mess, with its flawed handling of the Maridoe event and now an unprecedented Q School exemption.

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11 thoughts on “Matt Fitzpatrick’s Brother and a Fishy Q School Exemption”

    1. That doesn’t make it right, or acceptable. PGA Tour may respond with some BS response and will probably threaten to banish or suspend any Q school participant that voices concerns over what happened as reported in this article.

  1. The PGA Tour really bombed on this one in a few ways. First the Maridoe event was a scam to the players that participated as individuals. (Perhaps someone with the knowledge of how PGA Tour U calculated rankings and allocated points per event should look at how the PGA Tour actually counting the event impacted players on PGA Tour U bubble last year.)

    Second, the PGA Tour U rules initially required players who qualified for NCAA Regionals and NCAA Finals to compete. IF you didn’t compete, you should be out of PGA Tour U. That was the buzz when Alex withdrew from the NCAA Finals first round last year in Arizona.

    Third. Gifting Alex an exemption into Q-school finals gave him a free pass to KFT membership. That provides him the ability to get restricted sponsor exemptions, thus hurting others who had to earn conditional status by actually playing their way into finals. Perhaps he would have received that anyway if the Maridoe event wasn’t included. Unfortunately, players from other school competed as individuals and PGA Tour U basically screwed them by counting the event. Equity does not exist on the PGA Tour. It’s unfortunate. As much as I disdain the thought of LIV (based on the source of funding), Perhaps more challenges need to be made to the PGA Tour structure. Stories such as this make me question supporting the PGA Tour. Why spend money to travel and attend an event? Why watch it on television? Why purchase products from their sponsors?
    Young men chasing dreams to accel at a sport, sacrificing other opportunities and spending big money to do so under the assumption that the rules apply to all equally are being used by the PGA Tour. $6500 for entry fees generated a lot of cash for the PGA Tour. It’s a money grab, The PGA Tour’s integrity is questionable in this case and the impact to others is measurable They should have followed the rules back in 2020. Withdrawing from the final tournament and getting a free pass? Others played while ill at that event. The heat was over 105 degrees, some players were struggling to avoid passing out from heat exhaustion and skipped meals to avoid vomiting in the desert, others just walked off the fairway and puked behind a tree. Would the PGA Tour U have given them the same consideration? My guess is no!

    What does this say about the character of Alex Fitzpatrick? Getting a lawyer to threaten the PGA Tour because he wanted special consideration over all of the other collegiate players in America. Note to any of his sponsors: I’m not buying your products or supporting your brands. Note to the PGA Tour: I am now reconsidering my stance on LIV Golf. Maybe Bubba Watson was correct in that the PGA Tour is not a place where people compete on an equal footing under the rules of golf and PGA Tour polices that are applied equally to all. Could it all just be a fake reality show? Or a more gentlemanly version of WWE?

  2. Disappointed in the PGA Tour. Maybe competition will make for better business decisions. Do I want to be the organization that plays by the rules and treat employees and customers with equal respect, or am I the organization that just exists to make money for executives and would cut every corner to do so?

  3. The PGA Tour is scared. They should be. Money will win out, that is just the way it is in the world
    There has been some real questionable things happen on both sides LIV and the tour. The issue of poor human antics by the Saudis has long been an issue, but think about all the sports clothing made by little children that many athletes are wearing. This has been going on for years.

  4. Instead of hiring an attorney to threaten the tour with legal action and bypass the procedures why didn’t he compete on PGA Tour Canada after graduation and earn his way into the final stage? Says something about his character.

    1. It would be nice to hear why the PGA Tour failed to protect the field in Q school finals, allowed a free pass at NCAA finals when others competed regardless if they were sick and to understand why the Maridoe event counted toward PGA Tour U, even though individual entries were not playing in a college event. The college event allows coaches to walk with and provide to players while individuals did not get that privilege along with separate tee times that were handicaps. Or just ask the PGA Tour if they have a list of players that will be gifted membership regardless of how they play?

  5. Did Alex consider playing on the DP World tour instead? It seemed he had commendable results while retaining his amateur status over the past 8 weeks. It seemed he made the cut in all but 1 of 5 or so DPWT events. Presumably he got into those on sponsor exemptions and his brother’s name would’ve helped, but he did perform very credibly.

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