FedExCup Fall update: Range of emotions evident as futures on TOUR are realized
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Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Georgia – A rookie was smiling while the eyes of a veteran began to fill with tears. Carl Yuan and Patton Kizzire were in similar positions as the they reached the season’s finish line, but their tenor could not have been further contrasted.
There’s a Chinese proverb of a farmer whose horse runs away. Neighbors apologize for the bad luck, but the farmer responds, “Maybe.” The next day, the horse returns with seven wild horses. Every outcome brings uncertainty, the proverb theorizes.
Kizzire described this tale earlier in the week at The RSM Classic, the PGA TOUR’s season finale. He was wrestling with the idea of losing fully-exempt status on the PGA TOUR for the first time since he earned his card in 2015. Maybe it would be a setback in his life. Maybe not.
Kizzire, 37, finished the week ranked 129th in the final FedExCup Falls standings, improving just one spot with a tie for 44th at The RSM Classic. It was close but not quite enough to retain his exempt status. Afterward he thought about what it meant to be a PGA TOUR member, and he thought back to childhood.
“This is what I've always wanted to do since I was a kid,” said an emotional Kizzire. “They asked me what I wanted to do when I was in second grade and I said I want to be a professional golfer and I've never changed my mind, so here I am.
“Dealing with a lot of emotions over the last several weeks, so that's been something that hasn't necessarily helped me, but I've tried to channel it and focus. I'm looking forward to whatever's next.”
Yuan’s joy contrasted Kizzire’s tears. Perhaps it goes back to Kizzire’s intimate knowledge of exempt status, which Yuan has yet to experience. Yuan, 26, earned his first TOUR card last year via the Korn Ferry Tour. He stood a distant 185th on the FedExCup as recently as June.
He rallied in the FedExCup Fall, however, recording two top-six finishes in four starts before The RSM Classic. That success moved him to No. 125 heading into the season finale. Yuan birdied his last two holes Sunday but he needed Ryan Moore to bogey one of the final three holes to stay in that spot. Moore played the final three holes in 1 under, instead, to finish the season at No. 118 in the FedExCup.
Carl Yuan holes putt for birdie at The RSM Classic
Yuan didn’t seem nervous at the prospect of finishing 126th, which brings conditional status for next season. He knows he’ll still get some TOUR starts in 2024, and he’ll play the Final Stage of PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry to improve his status, as will Kizzire.
“It was a pressure week, not gonna lie,” said a smiling Yuan, “but I really hung tight in there. Tried to do the best I can, see how it turns out. I didn’t leave any out there; I gave it all. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s not, play better.”
With his T8 finish this week, Moore moved jumped No. 128 to No. 118 in the FedExCup. He was the only player to move inside the top 125 this week. Yuan was the odd man out.
Ryan Moore's quality second leads to birdie at The RSM Classic
Troy Merritt, a 38-year-old with two TOUR wins, finished as "Mr. 125." He entered the week at No. 123 but shot a first-round 77 and still missed the cut after shooting 64 in the second round. He held onto the 125th spot by fewer than two points. Yuan finished two shots away from jumping Merritt in the standings.
Merritt was back home in Idaho, hosting family and following along. Once the results were finalized, they were off to celebrate.
OTHER BUBBLE STORYLINES
Doug Ghim missed the cut but held onto the No. 124 spot, while Andrew Novak finished No. 123 after entering the week No. 124. Novak, who played the season on conditional status, felt a sense of relief as he decompressed from the final round, having finished T73.
Novak “bet on himself,” he said, in missing this month’s World Wide Technology Championship to attend his best friend’s wedding. The wedding was set two years ago, before the TOUR adjusted its schedule and made the FedExCup Fall the end of the 2023 season.
At the time, he figured taking the week off would be a no-brainer. Now it was a vexing decision. But he attended the wedding and then made back-to-back cuts at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship and The RSM Classic, just enough to earn exempt status for the first time.
“It’s the pinnacle of our sport,” Novak said. “Like, this is where I want to be. I want to compete against the best players. … I didn't want to have to go back to Korn Ferry Tour. I did four years of that. It's nothing against the Korn Ferry Tour, I enjoyed playing golf there, but I don't want to go back. This is where I want to be.”
For those outside the top 150 on the FedExCup, though, a full-on return to the Korn Ferry Tour – barring a top-five finish at Final Stage of PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry – will be the reality.
Kelly Kraft didn’t want to surrender his PGA TOUR membership badge, and he won’t have to. The SMU alum, who earned his first TOUR card via the 2015 Korn Ferry Tour, carded a final-round 65 at Sea Island – including a 26-foot birdie at the par-3 17th – to finish T19 and move from No. 157 to No. 148 on the FedExCup. Turns out, he needed a final-round 66 or better to crack the top 150. He did his job and was overcome with relief afterward, comparing the tension to that of chasing a trophy.
A PGA TOUR card, after all, is a trophy of its own. By finishing in the top 150 of the FedExCup, Kraft retains conditional status for next season. A return to the Korn Ferry Tour – if he didn’t regain his card at PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry – would’ve been required if he finished outside the top 150.
“My heart rate was up,” Kraft described Sunday’s challenge. “Every shot was just like you've got to execute perfectly, and you don't want to make a bogey because you just slide down the leaderboard. The nerves were definitely there, but I think I battled it pretty well.
“You dream about playing out here as a kid, and I've done it for the last eight years. … You definitely just want to finish inside that 150. You still get the credentials for next year on the PGA TOUR and it's all about getting better, but you have to have the opportunity out here to play and make it happen.”
Tano Goya fell on the other side of the line, despite a spirited weekend of his own. The Argentinian finished 66-64 at Sea Island Golf Club for a T19 finish. He needed two more birdies to crack the top 150 and keep his TOUR card. Goya turned in 5-under 30 on Sunday, but he managed just one birdie and eight pars on the back side.
Goya wishes he could have found a couple more birdies of course, but he left Sea Island with his head high. A 15-year pro journey led to his first TOUR card and he savored the season. He’ll try to get his card back via Q-School, but if not, he remains grateful for a career in professional golf.
“I wouldn't forgive myself if I wasn't enjoying it out there because it was a beautiful day as well,” Goya said afterward. “Learned that I have the skills to be out here. I played good all year, it's just a matter of … believing that you belong here and that my game is good enough to compete at a high level. For me, this is a great learning curve. Personally it was a very good year for me, so it was very positive. So now whatever I have to do, I'll go do and keep playing golf, which is what I enjoy.”
That joy will offer fuel on the uncertain journey ahead.
FedExCup Fall ranking at start of week: No. 128
Final FedExCup Fall ranking: No. 118
The only player to move inside the top 125 this week, Ryan Moore did it with weekend scores of 62-65 for a T8 finish at Sea Island Golf Club. The Washington native built on a fifth-place finish at last week’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship to rapidly ascend from No. 140 to No. 118 on the standings and maintain an exempt card.
Moore has won five times on the PGA TOUR and ranks No. 32 in career money, but the achievement meant plenty. He wasn’t sure he had done enough upon two-putting for par on No. 18 Sunday; once his caddie told him the good news, they quickly embraced.
Moore finished inside the top 125 for 15 consecutive seasons (2006-2020), before finishing outside the threshold in the previous two seasons. The number was on his mind all week – “It’s impossible for it not to be,” he said Saturday. He hadn’t ranked inside the top 125 since March, but he broke back in, just in time.
“I’m not gonna lie, it was close to what I felt trying to win a golf tournament coming down the stretch,” Moore said afterward. “It means a lot; it meant a lot to me. Starting this fall at I think 150th or something like that, I was pretty far out of it, a lot of points out of it.
“It's something for me to build on into this offseason and hopefully on into next year.”
FedExCup Fall ranking at start of week: No. 125
Final FedExCup Fall ranking: No. 126
Yuan finished the week T68 at 7-under 275, closing in even-par 70. He needed two more birdies to surpass Troy Merritt for the No. 125 spot.
Yuan closed Sunday with two consecutive birdies, and he’ll look to carry the momentum from the second half of the season into Final Stage of Q-School and next spring. He stood No. 185 on the FedExCup after missing the cut at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and he came within two FedExCup points of an exempt card.
“Probably a dream job for a lot of people, and I'm glad to say this is what I can do,” Yuan said afterward. “No. 126, that means not that bad of a spot. Getting handful of tournaments, so not too worried about that since I had one year under my belt. I hope I get off to a better start next year and just get in more tournaments and play good.”
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.