29 things to watch in 29th Web.com Tour season
We preview our 2018 season with a look at people, places and trends to know
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
The Web.com Tour’s 29th season kicks off at this week’s The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay, and as always, an eclectic collection of rookies and veterans is set to battle for spots inside the top 25 on the Regular Season money list (The 25) and resultant PGA TOUR cards for 2018-19.
For those players who fall short of The 25, the secondary goal is to finish inside the top 75 on the money list, which allows a player entry into the four-event Web.com Tour Finals – and another shot at a PGA TOUR card via the top 25 on the Finals money list (The Finals 25).
Players who finish inside the top 75 on the Regular Season money list are assured full status on the 2019 Web.com Tour, as well.
With our 29th season upon us, here are 29 things to watch for in 2018.
Importance of fast start. Seventeen of the top 25 on the money list after five events in 2017 went on to earn PGA TOUR cards, either through the Regular Season or Finals. A strong showing early tends to mean big things for the season ahead.
New events. We welcome two events to the 2018 Web.com Tour schedule. The Savannah Golf Championship (March 29-April 1) will be contested at The Landings Club (Deer Creek), and the North Mississippi Classic (April 19-22) will be played at the Country Club of Oxford.
Finals adjustments. For the first time, our two Ohio-based Web.com Tour Finals events will be held back-to-back. We’ll kick off the Finals with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship (August 23-26) in Columbus, then proceed to the DAP Championship (August 30-September 2) in Cleveland.
Sub-60 watch. A year after Stephan Jaeger recorded the first 58 in Web.com Tour history (Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae, Round 1), Sam Saunders posted the first sub-60 score in Finals history with an opening 59 at the Web.com Tour Championship. How many sub-60 scores will we see in 2018, if any?
Putt for dough. Eight of our top-10 leaders in putting average last season proceeded to earn PGA TOUR cards, with Eric Axley and Luke Guthrie being the outliers. If these two continue to roll the rock in similar fashion, they could join their contemporaries on TOUR in 2018-19.
Three-win promotion? Since 2009, only two players have won three times in a season to earn instant promotion to the PGA TOUR (Wesley Bryan in 2016; Carlos Ortiz in 2014). Three players won twice in 2017 (Brice Garnett; Stephan Jaeger; Chesson Hadley). If someone manages that feat early in 2018, the intrigue will grow.
Lee McCoy. The former University of Georgia standout earned medalist honors at Final Stage of the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament to earn fully exempt status in 2018. If that form carries over to the Regular Season, we should expect big things from the Florida native.
Maverick McNealy. The Stanford alum won 11 times as a Cardinal, matching the standard set by Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers. Will the winning mentality translate to life as a professional?
International flair. Our season begins with five consecutive events outside the United States: The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic; The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic; Panama Championship; Club Colombia Championship; El Bosque Mexico Championship. From there, the Tour is based in the United States for the remainder of the season.
Exuma carnage? High winds and a collection of tricky beachfront holes led to a stroke average of 80.405 in the opening round of last year’s Great Exuma Classic, and only one 72-hole under-par total for the week. How will the weather impact this year’s event?
Jake Owen. The country music sensation accepted a sponsor invite to this year’s Nashville Golf Open Benefitting the Snedeker Foundation, where he’ll make his first Web.com Tour start, May 24-27. We look forward to monitoring the fan demographics throughout the week.
Stephen Curry? The Golden State Warriors point guard thrilled the Bay Area crowd with rounds of 74-74 in his Web.com Tour debut at last year’s Ellie Mae Classic, playing on a sponsor invite. If Curry returns for 2018, he’ll aim to take another step and make a run at the cut line.
Original four. We feature four events that have been part of the Web.com Tour schedule since 1990 – Knoxville Open; Air Capital Classic Supporting Wichita’s Youth; Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper; Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco. All four will return for a 29th edition.
2017 winners. D.H. Lee (United Leasing & Finance Championship) and Casey Wittenberg (Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by NACHER) captured Web.com Tour titles in 2017 yet failed to finish inside The 25 or The Finals 25. Both will be hungry to take the next step.
Money leaders. Jose de Jesus Rodriguez (PGA TOUR Latinoamerica) and Kramer Hickok (Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada) captured the Order of Merit titles on their respective Tours in 2017. Both should carry plenty of momentum to the Web.com Tour as a result.
Conditional members. In most years on Tour, we see a player (or two) begin with limited status yet parlay select opportunities into TOUR cards. Last year, Brandon Harkins and Lanto Griffin each finished outside the top 45 at Final Stage but finished inside The 25. The year before, J.T. Poston began with no status but managed to crack The 25. Who will it be in 2018?
Jimmy Stanger. One candidate to turn the conditional-to-TOUR trick could be the University of Virginia alum, who won the 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference individual title before medaling at both his First Stage and Second Stage sites. He finished one shot outside the top 45 at Final Stage, and he’ll look to make the most of his chances in 2018.
Gold standard. Australia’s Michael Sim earned $644,142 in a banner 2009 season, a money mark that has not been equaled in the Web.com Tour annals. Will anyone approach that total in 2018?
Oakridge CC. Our host venue for the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank yielded a scoring average of 68.379 last season, playing to a par of 71. Players will arrive in greater Salt Lake City knowing that an abundance of birdies will be necessary in order to compete.
Michael Johnson. The former Auburn standout finished No. 63 on the 2017 Regular Season money list in his rookie Web.com Tour campaign. With a year of experience under his belt, Johnson could be poised to take a big step.
Chris Baker. The Iowa State alum nearly earned his first PGA TOUR card in 2017, finishing No. 34 on the Regular Season money list. Baker’s career has been on an upward trajectory for a few years, and 2018 just might be his time.
Make-or-break. The Regular Season-ending WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft-Heinz has cultivated a reputation for providing some of the most intense drama on the sports calendar, as players battle to secure PGA TOUR cards via The 25, and also vie for spots inside the top 75 on the money list to maintain full status and avoid Q-School.
Billy Kennerly. The Clemson alum led the 2017 Web.com Tour in scoring average (69.00), yet fell short of a PGA TOUR card. If he improves that number in 2018, it’s a safe bet he’ll be punching his ticket to the TOUR.
Edward Loar. After a few lean years, the two-time Web.com Tour winner earned an emotional return to the Tour via a top-45 finish at Final Stage. The four-time All-American at Oklahoma State is appreciative of this season’s opportunity, and he’ll strive to make the most of it.
Luck of the Irish. Notre Dame alum Mark Baldwin finished T42 at Final Stage of Q-School to secure guaranteed starts in 2018. Per Notre Dame Athletics, he’s the first Fighting Irish alum to earn strong PGA TOUR or Web.com Tour status since Billy Casper.
Long ball. Our top two driving distance leaders of 2017 (Curtis Thompson and Matt Harmon) fell short of PGA TOUR cards. They’ll be joined by long hitters like Brandon Matthews and Cameron Champ on Tour this season, hoping to convert plenty of wedge approaches into birdies.
BMW Charity Pro-Am. One of our most unique events on the calendar attracts a wide range of celebrities for its unique three-course, pro-am format during competition. Aaron Rodgers and Chipper Jones were among those to compete in 2017. Who will do so this year?
On the air. Golf Channel is slated to telecast 12 Web.com Tour events this season, including both Bahamas events to start the year, the Regular Season-ending WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft-Heinz, and all four Web.com Tour Finals events.
Golf’s Next Wave. Join hosts Kevin Prise and Matt Cochran for the Web.com Tour’s official podcast, as we give fans a look behind-the-scenes at life on Tour, as told through player interviews and colorful analysis.