TOUR’s new Earnings Assurance Program to help players’ transition to the TOUR
August 24, 2022
By Kevin Prise , PGATOUR.COM
- August 24, 2022
TOUR’s new Earnings Assurance Program to help players’ transition to the TOUR
Prior to the 2022 Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship, soon-to-be Korn Ferry Tour graduates including Kevin Roy, Erik Barnes and Philip Knowles reflect on Wednesday's news that TOUR rookies and returning members from the Korn Ferry Tour will receive a $500,000 guaranteed league minimum up front, against their season earnings.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A rookie season on the PGA TOUR is not a soft landing.
There are inherent challenges of competing against the world’s best players, learning new courses and playing in front of bigger crowds. There are countless logistical and strategic hurdles to navigate. Not to mention the weekly costs of travel, lodging, paying a caddie and other team members, and any number of life expenses.
Stephan Jaeger, who lost his TOUR card twice before qualifying for his first FedExCup Playoffs this month, speaks from experience.
“It’s like a baby in a kid store,” Jaeger said. “There are so many things out here that catch your eye. Like, oh, there’s a Trackman, there’s a coach, there’s a putting coach, and there’s a chipping coach, and there’s a pitching coach, and there’s a mental coach, and it’s just … you’re getting bombarded with this influx of things from all directions. If you’re not set in your ways, in a sense of, ‘I can get better at this,’ you can go down a rabbit hole quickly.
“Sometimes it takes you a couple years to figure out what works for you. And by the time you figure it out, you’ve already lost your card twice.”
New PGA TOUR members are challenged in various ways, and the Korn Ferry Tour graduate category historically has proven difficult in planning out a full-season schedule, with TOUR fields often cutting off mid-category.
J.T. Poston once put it this way: “You don’t feel like you have your card until you keep your card.”
Wednesday at the TOUR Championship in Atlanta, Georgia, PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan announced a series of updates aimed at providing a smoother transition from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA TOUR in multiple facets.
Effective for the upcoming season, TOUR rookies and returning members (from a full Korn Ferry Tour season) will receive a guaranteed $500,000 league minimum up front against their season earnings, as part of the newly announced Earnings Assurance Program. Once these players surpass $500,000 in season earnings, additional earnings will be accrued. If a player does not reach $500,000 in a season, the player keeps the difference.
(For exempt players not receiving the money up front, the difference up to $500,000 will be paid at season’s end. All eligible players must compete in a minimum of 15 events to maintain program eligibility.)
“The Korn Ferry Tour is the ultimate proving ground,” said Monahan in a press conference Wednesday at East Lake Golf Club. “For these (Korn Ferry Tour) players … knowing they have that at the other end, allows them to prepare to compete at the highest level.
“Coming out there and knowing that that’s payable on day one, we think will help put those rookies in a better position to compete because they can invest in the infrastructure they need to succeed.”
Introducing enhancements to the PGA TOUR and its schedule that will take effect in 2023.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 24, 2022
A culmination of a strengthened partnership between the TOUR and the players, and amongst the players themselves.
The TOUR has also announced a series of 12 elevated events in which “top players” have committed to participating, in addition to the four major championships and THE PLAYERS Championship. This will also allow Korn Ferry Tour graduates to plan a schedule more accurately at the beginning of each season, with less uncertainty around alternate lists for full-field TOUR events.
(Korn Ferry Tour graduates can also play their way into “top player” status as rookies; three members of the Class of 2021 – Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young and Sahith Theegala – all qualified for the TOUR Championship via top-30 position on the FedExCup.)
The TOUR has undergone inflection points throughout its history, such as moving to an all-exempt TOUR in 1983 and adding the Korn Ferry Tour as its premier developmental TOUR in 1990. Compensation has steadily increased across the decades as well.
The most recent series of changes should only increase new members’ ability to hit the ground running, soon-to-be #TOURBound players said Wednesday at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.
“It frees you up in a sense to go play some golf to the best of your ability,” said Kevin Roy, 32, who earned his first TOUR card two weeks ago via The 25.
Across a 10-year professional career, Roy has spent time working in medical device sales and as a caddie, all with the purpose of funding his TOUR dream. He knows his full career focus as a TOUR pro will be maximizing his on-course potential.
“It’s a surreal feeling, if you will, but it definitely gives you a sense of freedom,” Roy said. “I’ve been in spots where money has been tight, grinding on the mini-tours. It’s tough; you rack up some credit card debt, and that’s never a fun feeling. To have a sense of some financial freedom is a pretty cool feeling.”It's a surreal feeling, if you will, but it definitely gives you a sense of freedom.
Erik Barnes spent time working as a Grocery Replenishment Specialist – stocking shelves – during the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus in 2020. The 11-year pro would wake up before dawn for a full shift at the grocery store, then to the course for an afternoon practice session.
Barnes, married with two elementary school-aged boys, also earned his first TOUR card via The 25.
“I had a good friend of mine, (Roberto) Bobby Diaz, say to me, ‘You don’t want to chase the money, but you do want to try to get some money pretty quickly, because it makes it a lot easier to compete on the PGA TOUR when you’re not worried about spending five grand that week,’” Barnes said. “It’s an expensive sport to do. If you’ve already got enough money to pay for your expenses plus the whole year, that’s one less variable on the table.”
Earlier this summer, Philip Knowles and his wife, Olivia, were denied a mortgage loan to buy their first house. They’ve been renting in the Jacksonville, Florida, metroplex. Knowles has uncertain week-to-week income; his wife, a registered nurse, recently went part-time so they could be together more often. They have a baby on the way, too.
In the last two weeks, Knowles’ outlook has switched from a likely Q-School trip to a PGA TOUR card. He finished T10 at the Regular Season-ending Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna to earn a Finals berth, and he finished runner-up at last week’s Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron to clinch a spot in The Finals 25.
“We’re not big spenders necessarily; we’re very fortunate to be in a good position debt-wise and whatnot,” Knowles said. “But just the security, with a kid on the way, if anything were to happen … that’s for sure a life-changing moment.”
The players are quick to note that a league minimum doesn’t guarantee anything when it comes to realizing their career dreams. Season earnings of $500,000 won’t come close to qualifying for the FedExCup Playoffs or maintaining TOUR status for the following season. The goal changes from getting on TOUR to staying on TOUR.
“You’ve still got to play good,” said Kevin Yu, a 2021 PGA TOUR University graduate and member of The 25. “You just can’t make that money.”
“I truly can provide for my family the way that I would like to,” Barnes said, “and not that anything’s going to change, because that just means I’m not going to earn any money until I exceed that ($500,000) point. Nose to the grindstone. Let’s just get after it so I can make some more.”
Wednesday’s announcements are a continuation of the PGA TOUR investing in its future stars on the Korn Ferry Tour. The 2022 season brought the Korn Ferry Tour’s first wave of purse increases, and 2023 Regular Season purses will have a $1 million minimum. The final four tournaments of the 2023 season, known as the Korn Ferry Tour Finals beginning next year, will feature a $1.5 million minimum purse at each event.
Commissioner Jay Monahan announces enhancements to PGA TOUR at TOUR Championship