ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – The view of St. Simons Sound from the driving range at Sea Island Resort is one of the most idyllic settings on the PGA Tour. Yet this week at the RSM Classic, tensions are high, jobs are on the line and not everyone will leave with a smile on their face.
“You don’t want to come in here worn out and grinding and trying to keep your job and not get to enjoy the islands,” World Golf Hall of Fame member Davis Love III, the tournament host, said Tuesday during a pre-tournament press conference.
The RSM Classic has a different feel this year. In the past, it has been the final tournament of the fall schedule before the Tour’s wrap-around season resumed in the first week of January, giving it a last-day-of-school feel. But the wrap-around season is no more and players outside the top 50 in the regular season have had seven tournaments in what was dubbed the FedEx Cup Fall to earn their way into the top 125. For the first time, the top 125 for the following season will be finalized at the RSM Classic.
“We’re the new Wyndham Championship,” Love III said, referring to the tournament that previously was the final opportunity for players to secure top 125 status, which gives players access to all full-field events and the Players Championship. (Numbers 126-150 will earn conditional status, unless otherwise exempt.)
Players who finished Nos. 1-50 through the FedEx Cup Playoffs locked their position in the FedEx Cup, earned full exempt status for 2024 and qualified for all eight Signature Events in 2024. All players ranked No. 51 and beyond carried FedEx Cup points and continued to accumulate points through the FedEx Cup Fall.
All 20 players from Nos. 121-140 in the FedEx Cup Fall standings entering the week are in the field. Carl Yuan, a 26-year-old native of China who finished fourth last week at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, heads into the RSM Classic as the ‘Bubble Boy’ at No. 125.
“It’s almost like a little mini Q-School this week for those guys,” said Eric Cole, the leading candidate for Tour Rookie of the Year who already locked up his card for next season. “Depending on where you are, being right around that 125 bubble is tough.”
Veteran pro Zach Johnson, who has played in the RSM Classic 13 times, tied for the most appearances with Chris Kirk, has sensed a different vibe at his hometown event this week.
“It is the last week for some of these guys and they’ve got to make a dent. That’s golf, that’s competitive golf, that’s meritocracy, that’s PGA Tour golf and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “It’s also extremely brutal because it’s hard. Everybody’s really good and everybody essentially has the same goals and that’s to win.”
Patton Kizzire, who enters this week on the wrong side of the cutline at No. 130, said he spends too much time on Instagram and is trying to adopt the philosophical message of a Chinese proverb he read there and noted it may be for the best if he doesn’t keep his card.
“You know, the farmer’s horse dies and people come up to him and say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’ He’s like, ‘Maybe.’ Then the next day seven wild horses come up. ‘Oh, this is great.’ He’s like, ‘Maybe.’ It goes on and on down the line,” Kizzire recounted. “I’m at peace either way. I think whatever happens, happens.”
Access to Signature events
There are other consequences set to be determined at week’s end, including the “Next 10,” an eligibility pathway to earn access into Signature Events. Numbers 51-60 in the final FedEx Cup Fall standings, not otherwise exempt, will earn spots into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational with $20 million purses. Nine of the 10 players currently in position for one of the spots in The Next 10 are in the field – Beau Hossler, No. 51, has mathematically secured a place in The Next 10 and took the week off – as are seven of the players between Nos. 61-70. Sam Ryder is the bubble boy at No. 60 and knows what is at stake this week – a chance to have a head start on next season and play against the top fields.
“It’s been my very clear goal since the FedEx Cup Playoffs started,” said Ryder, who had his best regular season in six years on Tour, finishing the regular season at No. 61. “My schedule is subject to change depending how things go this week. I think it can really set me up for my whole year.”
The jockeying for position has forced Ryder to tee it up in six of the seven fall events.
“The nature of where I’m at, I felt like I had to (play),” he said.
It all comes down to this week. For those that come up short of their goal, all is not lost. This year, the Tour’s Q-School in December will offer cards to the top five and ties for the first time in over a decade. But no one wants to have to sweat out that pressure-cooker. Justin Lower, a 34-year-old journeyman pro who enters the week at No. 98, has been a poster child for the bubble boy role, and has endured the ecstasy of being on the right side of the cutline and the agony of his bubble bursting on too many occasions. Asked what he will miss about being on the bubble this week at the RSM Classic, Lower didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said.