FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Dicky Pride is a five-time survivor of the crucible once known as PGA TOUR qualifying finals. There also have been years when it’s taken less than 36 holes to realize his game that week wasn’t up to the test.
“I just didn’t have it and I didn’t make it and it was frustrating,” recalled the Alabama native, now completing his 20th professional season. He let the words hang a second before cracking a wry smile.
“You just kind of tend to play dumb and not remember those – which is not hard for me.”
Now, though, Pride has to navigate a new path back to the PGA TOUR. One good week won’t necessarily send him back for another season. Perhaps more notably, one bad week won’t crush his chances.
The Web.com Tour Finals is built for a four-week haul.
“We’re just going to have to see,” Pride said Wednesday. “I think they’re going by the adage that the cream rises to the top. So hopefully with four tournaments, we’ll get the best 25 guys earning their cards.”
This week’s Hotel Fitness Championship kicks off the inaugural edition of the Finals, created to distribute the 25 PGA TOUR cards previously under the dominion of Q-School. The series brings together the top 75 from the Web.com Tour money list – of which 25 have newly minted cards from the Regular Season – with those ranked Nos. 126-200 in the FedExCup standings.
The series has its own money list, with those final cards going to the top 25 not already holding one. Earnings also will be used to set next season’s entry priority for all 50 newcomers.
“Obviously it’s new to a lot of people. We’ll have to see how it works out,” said Heath Slocum, who claimed the last of his four PGA TOUR victories at the 2010 McGladrey Classic. “I don’t want to judge it too soon either way, but it’s definitely different.”
Indeed, “different” seemed to be the operative word as the PGA TOUR’s older guard took a wait-and-see approach to the new format.
“It’s kind of the same as when the FedExCup idea was put toward us,” said 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, the lone major winner in the series. “It took a couple of years for us to get things figured out there.
“It is what it is – we’re here to play and to play well and get back on the big tour.”
Immelman isn’t the only name that will immediately jump out to fans. Chris DiMarco was a stalwart of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams in the last decade, perhaps as well known for his duels with Tiger Woods at the 2005 Masters and 2006 British Open as his three PGA TOUR victories.
Chad Campbell was part of three U.S. Ryder Cup teams, including the 2008 squad that last took home the trophy. Joe Durant has four PGA TOUR victories. Danny Lee and Ricky Barnes are former U.S. Amateur champions.
But the Web.com Tour contingent is equally capable, if not with the same recognition factor.
“The public may not know the guys out here, but we do,” Pride said. “We’ve played against them all at some point or another. There are very few guys that I haven’t at least met.”
Three of the top four on the Web.com Tour money list, in fact, have spent at least a season on the PGA TOUR. But No. 3 Chesson Hadley was a Web.com rookie, and No. 18 Peter Malnati had no status on either tour until Monday qualifying in Wichita.
“It’s definitely interesting to see all the people converging into one [place],” Slocum said.
Players do give a thumbs-up to the move away from a one-week shootout. Now if someone has a bad week, he has the chance to fix things before the next event. Moreover, a player no longer will have next year’s fortune determined by a single course.
“The type of golf course might lend itself to a different player,” Slocum said. “But having four different golf courses – one week might favor you, but the next week might favor someone else. So it’s a mix and I like that aspect of it.”
Most cautioned, though, that players can’t take much of a long-term view. The objective remains to win tournaments, which should put one in good position no matter what happens in the other three.
“This week is still the most important week,” Slocum said. “You’re going to have some more opportunities, and if you have a bad week – it’s over, I’ve got three more. But the goal at the end of the day is to win.
“I have a feeling it’s going to come down to a couple hundred dollars as to who gets those [final] spots. You never know when just grinding out a cut to make last place [money] might be the difference between getting your card and not getting your card.”
There’s still a bit of unknown to how things shake out in the end. In the end, Petrovic might have had the best approach to the upcoming month.
“They’re giving money away,” he said, “so go get some.”