The road to the PGA Tour is a long and winding one for most golfers. Mini tours, Monday qualifiers, long weeks in hotels, tons of travel. Combine all of that with the overcrowding of the top tours, and life as a professional golfer can be extremely stressful.
In 2012, the PGA Tour re-evaluated their developmental structure to alleviate some of these pain points. A secondary tour (currently the Web.com) has existed since 1993, but the tour wanted to introduce a new entry level to the system. The PGA Tour took control of both the Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Américas in the fall of 2012. After being rebranded PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamérica, they became a new jumping off point for professionals. That fall also marked the final PGA Tour qualifying event and “Q-School” was moved to the Web.com Tour in 2013.
The last twenty years have produced an extraordinary amount of young talent, and a log-jam effect has occurred as a result. This restructuring gives more players the opportunity to play professionally and eventually earn PGA Tour cards. With limited spots on the top tours, the Ponte Vedra suits instituted a system that increases the opportunity to play but still allows for the cream to rise to the top.
These tours existed long before the PGA Tour took control of them. They had small purses and provided limited opportunity to earn status on other tours. Over the years, partnerships were formed to increase appeal. They became more cohesive with other tours and became a viable option for players.
Of the two, Canada’s proximity to the United States always made that circuit more popular amongst US-based players. The con was (and still is) that their season is shorter because of the climate. Participation increased on both tours once the PGA Tour took control of operations. Attention on the tours grew and so did the marketing dollars. A Canadian finance firm, Mackenzie Investments, even bought the naming rights to the tour in 2015, and it is now known as the Mackenzie Tour.
The top 5 from the 2016 Mackenzie Tour Photo Credit: PGA Tour
Since becoming part of the PGA Tour stable, the pair of tours has seen exponential growth in both the quality and number of players. The issue is that the majority of players have had trouble succeeding at the same rate as they continue on.
In order to qualify for the Web.com Tour automatically, players must finish in the top 5 of either order of merit (money list). Guys like Tony Finau and Adam Hadwin have made it to the tour without being in the top 5 of the order of merit, but those guys are few and far between.
So far, there have been 52 players who have graduated from Canada/Latinoamérica via the order of merit, but only 1 has been able to win on the PGA Tour. More surprisingly, only about 25% of those 52 players have made double-digit starts on the big tour, and even less have made double-digit cuts.
Most Successful Graduates (thus far)
J.J. Spaun-CA– A player who has seemingly hit his proverbial stride is J.J. Spaun. After spending two years on the Mackenzie Tour, he broke through and worked his way through the Web.com Tour in one year. Spaun has played 40 tournaments the last two seasons on the PGA Tour, amassing 5 top 10s and a runner-up finish. Tron Carter once called him “a top 5 player in the world”, and while he isn’t quite that, he is on his way to becoming a household name.
Nate Lashley-LA– The Latinoamérica graduate who has been through the most turmoil in his professional career is Nate Lashley. While he was in college, his parents and girlfriend died in a plane crash after watching him play his NCAA regional tournament. That was 2004. Since then, he has bounced around from mini tour to mini tour, waiting for his big break. In 2016, he took PGA Tour Latinoamérica by storm, winning 3 times in a single season. He then won on the Web.com Tour in 2017 and earned his PGA Tour card. Now, as a 35-year-old PGA Tour rookie, he is looking to break through on golf’s biggest stage. The amount of mental fortitude it takes to battle for over a decade without breaking through is staggering, yet Nate Lashley is proving it is possible.
CT Pan after winning the 2015 Players Cup on the Mackenzie Tour. Photo Credit: PGA Tour
C.T. Pan-CA– At 5’6”, C.T. Pan packs one hell of a punch. He had a fantastic career at the University of Washington and has not slowed down. He marched through the Mackenzie Tour and Web.com Tour on his first try and has continued to succeed on the PGA Tour. His stats are nothing to write home about, but there is something to be said for players who can piece together rounds. It would be cool to see if he can progress far enough to eventually earn a spot on the international President’s Cup team. More on CT Pan’s path to the PGA Tour.
Ryan Blaum-LA-Blaum earned his Web.com Tour card after the 2013 Latinoamérica season. He had three pretty successful years, amassing 10 top 10s on the Web and then finishing 108th on the FedEx Cup list in 2017 on the PGA Tour. He has 3 top 20s so far in 2018 as he attempts to keep his card. He played collegiately at Duke (insert your opinion on that her) but has since grinded his way to the big tour. He is playing his second full season on the PGA Tour at age 34.
Mackenzie Hughes-CA- Hughes, a native Canadian, became the first graduate of either tour to win on the PGA Tour with his win at the 2016 RSM Classic. His win propelled him to a very solid year as he finished 36th on the FedEx Cup points list. Hughes is going through a rough patch in 2018, missing 9 of 10 cuts. Adam Hadwin and Mackenzie Hughes are leading the charge for the new wave of Canadian talent. The Great White North also has Corey Conners, Adam Svensson, and Austin Connelly, who have shown promise early in there careers.
Aaron Wise-CA- The general public was first exposed to Aaron Wise when he won the 2015 NCAA Championship as a member of the Oregon Ducks. Two short years later, he is a PGA Tour member after winning on both the Mackenzie and Web.com tours. He dominated on the Mackenzie Tour, finishing in the top 15 in all 7 events he played. Wise was one of the first high-profile players that chose to go straight to the Mackenzie Tour as opposed to taking sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour. This path has helped paved the way for young players moving forward. Collegiate standouts like Rico Hoey and Robby Shelton have followed in his footsteps, going straight to the Mackenzie Tour after school.
Mark Hubbard-CA- As his social media handle indicates (@homelesshubbs), Mark Hubbard has not found a home on either the Web or PGA Tour just yet. Since gaining his card in 2013, he has continually bounced between both tours. His best PGA Tour finishes came in 2017 when he tallied back-to-back top 20s in Puerto Rico and Houston. Hubbard is known for his laid-back approach, but I’m sure he would love to settle down on the PGA Tour.
To Be Determined
Obviously not every player has gone on to achieve great success. However, these tours are only 6 years old and therefore we can’t write off anyone who hasn’t made it just yet. Everyone who wins on these tours is an elite golfer. The problem is that there are a lot of elite golfers. Some have done better than others, but there are a lot of stories that are worth holding on to.
Sam Ryder-CA- One of the best Web.com Tour seasons in recent memory belongs to Sam Ryder. In 2017, he collected 6 top 10s, including a win and a runner-up. He earned his way there after finishing 4th on the Mackenzie Tour in 2015. Ryder has yet to break through in his rookie year on the PGA Tour, but his ability to make birdies in bunches will keep him around. Fun fact: Sam is a member of the exclusive Cup Group, a club that includes Jimmy Walker and Kyle Stanley. (Ryder Cup, Walker Cup, Stanley Cup….get it? I’ll see myself out)
Jorge Fernández-Valdés-LA- The first Latinoamérica graduating class clearly had high hopes that they could use the new system to launch themselves to the PGA Tour. Oscar Faustro, Blaum, and Etulain are the only three players from the first 14 graduates to play consistently on the PGA Tour at any point though. One of those first 14 Latinoaméricas was Jorge Fernández-Valdés, a two-time qualifier. Professional golf is nothing if not brutal. Fernández-Valdés missed his PGA Tour card by less than $13,000 in 2015, but yet he now finds himself back on PGA Tour Latinoamérica. He has played 1 PGA Tour event in his life but has been right on the cusp of obtaining his card.
Dan McCarthy after winning the 2016 Players Cup Photo Credit: PGA Tour
Dan McCarthy-CA- One of the Mackenzie Tour’s biggest question marks is Dan McCarthy. He won 4 times in Canada in 2016 on his way to winning the money list. His 2017 season was limited by a wrist injury, but in 12 starts he missed 7 cuts and finished in 40th or worse in 4 of the 5 cuts he did make. He has bounced back with two top 25s already in 2018. McCarthy gets a pass due to his injury, and here is to hoping he can get back to his 2016 form.
Matt Harmon-CA- It is safe to say that Matt Harmon will never forget the 2017 Web.com Tour Q-School. After missing a 3-foot putt on his 71st hole, he 3-putted his 72nd and missed his card by 2 shots. Harmon has bounced around professional tours since 2012, including a strong season on the Mackenzie Tour in 2014. He has played full time on the Web.com Tour since then and was coming down the stretch of the Web Tour with a shot at the PGA Tour. A journeyman in his own right, Matt Harmon is certainly not giving up yet.
Brock Mackenzie-CA- In 2016, Brock Mackenzie became the first player to be in the top 5 of the order of merit. However, during his first event of 2017, he suffered a tear in a bulging disc that ended his season after two rounds. He wasn’t sure if he would even play golf again. Brock has been bouncing between professional tours since the mid 2000s and has won in Canada twice. His injury prevented him from hitting golf balls for most of 2017 but also leaves him with some hope moving forward.
2017 Graduating Classes
PGA Tour Latinoamérica
José de Jesús Rodríguez
Rico Hoey and Robby Shelton- Both of these players went straight from college standouts to Mackenzie Tour winners. Instead of trying to play through PGA Tour sponsor exemptions, they decided to dedicate themselves to the Canadian circuit, and it paid off. Learning from players like Wise and Pan, they understand that patience leads to success. After prolific collegiate careers, they are looking to keep that momentum going in professional golf.
Kramer Hickok- Hickok graduated from college in 2015 and turned in one of the most impressive Mackenzie Tour seasons to date. In 2017, he won twice and finished runner-up three times as he ran away with the money list. He is also off to a great start on the Web.com Tour in 2018 with three top-16 finishes in five starts. Hickok is 20th on the money list and looks to earn his way to the big tour for 2019. Would you look at that, I made it all the way through his description without saying that Hickok was Jordan Spieth’s college roommate.
Patrick Newcomb- One of our favorite players on this list is Patrick Newcomb. Best known for his pleated pants, safari hats and rain gloves, he burst onto the scene with two wins on the Mackenzie Tour and one in Latin America in 2017. Newcomb is a great character and will have a lot of fans as more people get to know him. He has never had the chance to play full-time on one of golf’s best tours but has the game to make it big. He also had the honor of playing in the same tournament as me in the spring of 2013. Let’s just say that he beat me by a few…Listen to Patrick Newcomb on the fried egg podcast.
José de Jesús Rodríguez- Affectionately known as “Camaron” (the shrimp), he earned his Web.com card in 2013 and again in 2017. The 37-year-old journeyman has won 4 times over his Latinoamérica career and has started 2018 strong on the Web.com Tour. The season is young, but he already has two top-10 finishes and another top 25. While his previous seasons on the Web have not gone well, his current play seems to indicate that his best days are ahead of him.
Looking Toward the Future
The additions of the Mackenzie Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamérica have provided an incredible opportunity for golfers. Veterans and rookies alike have the ability to earn their way to bigger and better tours. For young players, the experience, confidence, and knowledge they gain playing for their livelihood is invaluable. Instead of struggling on the top tours, they are learning how to win and grind out strong finishes.
The recent influx of college talent is a trend that will continue through the coming years. Aaron Wise, CT Pan, Rico Hoey and Robby Shelton have proven that they can continue winning after college. They gained valuable experience in Canada and are now working to become some of the top-ranked players in the world. Very few players have succeeded by going straight to the PGA Tour via sponsor’s exemptions, but passing up that opportunity is not easy. These guys have shown that taking it slow and gaining confidence is a more sustainable model for collegiate players to follow.
As we continue into the future, expect these tours to continue to get stronger. Their popularity is growing, and players are starting to see them as viable options to begin their professional careers. The world’s best have to start somewhere; why not here?
PGA Tour Latinoamérica
Season: March-June, August-November
# of Events: 18- 20
Q-School: March – April
Season: June – September
# of Events: 12 – 14