Horschel's season shows conditional status no gimmie

Greenwood/Getty Images
Billy Horschel ranks 147th on the PGA TOUR money list and 83rd on the Web.com Tour money list.
October 10, 2012
Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

Billy Horschel faces a conundrum.

Playing on conditional status this year, Horschel has earned $417,824 in 14 starts on the PGA TOUR this season. That puts him 147th on the money list going into this week's Frys.com Open.


To secure his TOUR card for next year, Horschel needs to bank another $225,000-$300,000 to finish inside the top 125. But after this week, there are no guarantees he'll be in the field for the last two events in the Fall.

Meanwhile, he sits 83rd on the Web.com Tour money list and still has the opportunity to move into the top 60 who qualify for the Web.com Tour Championship. That would give him a chance to become one of the top 25 who earn TOUR cards for next year.

So, he must decide -- hope for tee times on the PGA TOUR or commit to Web.com Tour events. Which path does he take?

"I want to get my card on the PGA TOUR through the TOUR," he said. "That's my first goal, and we'll see how everything else falls out."

Such is the fate of players on conditional status -- those players ranked from 126th to 150th on the money list who do not otherwise have a higher Priority Ranking.

The pecking order determined by the Priority Rankings creates a single-file line for entry into open events (tournaments that aren't majors, World Golf Championships, invitationals or the FedExCup Playoffs). There are 37 categories in the Priority Rankings but entry into most events cuts off somewhere from category 25 through 31. The No. 29 category is conditional status, which also comes with fully exempt status on the Web.com Tour.

With the season winding down on both Tours, how a player manages his schedule can be nearly as important as how he plays.

Consider last week: Horschel was an alternate for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and elected not to compete in the Web.com's Neediest Kids Championship. But he didn't get into the field in Las Vegas (he rose to seventh alternate) and thus did not get the opportunity to make money on either Tour. Consequently, he fell from 143rd to 147th on the PGA TOUR money list and from 78th to 83rd on the Web.com Tour money list.

Now, not only is Horschel farther away from the top 125 on the money list, he's much closer to dropping out of the top 150 who get an automatic spot in q-school finals.

Entering the year, Horschel -- who had a celebrated college career at Florida before undergoing wrist surgery in 2010, his first full year on TOUR -- had planned to use mid-June as the cutoff point for determining which Tour he would commit to for the rest of the year.

"Did I stick to my plan? No, not really," he said. "I sort of decided I wanted to play the PGA TOUR because I felt more comfortable out there than the Web.com."

Since golfers with conditional status typically only wiggle their way on merit into tournaments with 156-man fields and the quartet of opposite events, they are forced to gain entry via top 10s (which allow for entry into the immediately ensuing open event), open qualifiers and sponsor exemptions.

Despite his prolific college resume, Horschel -- a born-and-bred Floridian -- has not received a sponsor exemption since his first two TOUR starts as a pro late in 2009.

"You never know how it's going to work," he said. "There's no hard feelings at all. It's the way of the business."

Not getting those additional starts makes it a challenge for conditional status golfers to secure playing privileges. Since the FedExCup was introduced in 2007, 88 golfers have held conditional status. Just 20 have parlayed that status into a spot inside the top 125 on the money list. Of those other 68, nine made fewer than 10 starts due to injuries or opting to play other Tours.

Conditional status, as you can see, is not for the faint of heart. It can also interrupt personal plans. Horschel, who will turn 26 on Dec. 7, has not been immune. He and his wife, Brittany, elected not to purchase a house late in 2011 as a result of where Billy sits in the Priority Rankings. Plans to have kids are on the back burner.

"Not knowing how many events I'm going to get into ... just changes everything a little bit," he said.

At least Horschel knows he's playing this week. And he's virtually certain to crack the field at the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. However, he's on the bubble for a berth into next week's McGladrey Classic. A year ago, the conditional status category was shut out on merit at Sea Island.

The Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open Presented by Planters on the Web.com Tour is contested the same week as McGladrey. Even though Horschel can smell the top 60 on the money list on that tour, he would forego a start at Dye's Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass (where he practices) for a shot at the top 125 on the PGA TOUR money list.

Wherever -- and whenever -- he plays, he knows he simply needs to play better. That solves all issues.

But in the absence of it at a high level, crossroads remain. For those with conditional status, feeling the tug of two tours and the elevated probability that limited action on both could lead to unfulfilled goals, the challenge is to remain confident.

"It was a tough decision for me," Horschel said. "At the beginning of the year, I knew that if I stuck with the Web.com Tour, and I played that the whole year, I knew I'd get my PGA TOUR card (for 2013), no doubt about it. No ifs, ands or buts.

The Conditional Dozen
A look at 12 players with conditional status this season and how they've performed:
Player 2011 money rank Starts in 2012 Current money rank Playing Frys.com?
Roland Thatcher 127 18 156 Yes
Steven Bowditch 132 15 195 Yes
Matt Jones 133 16 175 Yes
Steve Flesch 134 12 - No
Paul Casey 136 9 218 No
Matt McQuillan 137 10 246 Yes
Billy Horschel 140 14 147 Yes
Garrett Willis 142 12 211 Yes
Scott McCarron 145 6 - No
Tim Petrovic 146 14 200 Yes
Zack Miller 147 9 243 Yes
Ben Curtis 149 16 30 Yes

"Could I look back at the end of this year, if I don't get my TOUR card through q-school and regret that I didn't stick with the Web.com? Sure. But I can't look back at that. I felt that I was playing the best Tour I possibly could and giving myself the best opportunity."