In 2012, after starting the season in AAA, Mike Trout was called up to Anaheim Angels roster. He immediately took Major League Baseball by storm. During his abridged rookie campaign, Trout collected 30 home runs and 49 steals, and played superb defense. He was the unanimous Rookie of the Year.
These were the first entries on a what is now a generational résumé. Trout was a full-fledged MLB star from the get-go. He helped his team to an 89-73 record in the 2012 season, just shy of a playoff berth. Had the Angels made the playoffs, Trout would have been on the roster and eligible to play. Obviously, right? If you’re good enough to compete in the league, you’re good enough to compete in the playoffs. That’s how every sport works.
Well, every sport except for golf.
Golf prides itself on maintaining a level playing field, but its most prominent league, the PGA Tour, is the furthest thing from a meritocracy. The PGA Tour is an exclusionary organization that does its best to keep young talent from making an immediate impact. Current example A: Will Zalatoris, who is T-2 after 54 holes at the Masters and No. 46 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
While Zalatoris may never reach the level of a Mike Trout, his “rookie campaign” on the PGA Tour has been nothing short of incredible. Somehow, though, Zalatoris isn’t an official member of the PGA Tour. Despite making 14 of 15 cuts, racking up five top-10 finishes, and proving his big-stage bona fides at both the 2020 U.S. Open (T-6) and the 2021 Masters, he remains on the outside looking in.
Zalatoris’s sterling play has moved him inside the top 50 of the OWGR, making him eligible for golf’s major championships as well as the World Golf Championships. He has earned the status of a “Special Temporary Member” of the PGA Tour and will be allowed into as many tournaments as invite him, but he cannot accrue FedEx Cup points or play in the Tour’s vaunted FedEx Cup Playoffs. The one and only way he can gain entry into the year-ending soirée is by outright winning an event.
That’s right. Zalatoris could finish runner-up in every event for the next five months, become a top-10 player in the world, earn a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, and still not be eligible for the FedEx Cup points—or for the Tour Championship, or for any of the substantial privileges that come from making that far—because he’s not a full PGA Tour member.
This needs to change. Players good enough to be Special Temporary Members are good enough to earn FedEx Cup Points and to participate in the season-ending tournaments. But at the moment, PGA Tour policies are preventing a budding superstar from receiving the recognition he deserves on the world’s premiere tour.
Why? Because the Tour is run by its official members, who have an interest in protecting what they have rather than promoting what’s next.
Adding to the irony of the situation, PGA Tour Communications sent out a tweet yesterday explaining that if Zalatoris were to win the Masters, he would become eligible for “full-time… membership” and collect FedEx Cup points from his previous events. These points, the tweet noted, would rocket him to No. 4 in the season-long FedEx Cup standings! Amazing! But… maybe this fact should tip them off that something’s wrong?
Imagine Wimbeldon not allowing the No. 50 player in the world to compete because he’s not a member of the APT, or the MLB axing Mike Trout from the Angels playoff roster because he started the year in the minors.
The PGA Tour has to adjust to the times. We’re seeing an influx of young talent in professional golf, and there are more eager teenagers and 20-somethings waiting in the wings. It used to take most elite players years to gain the experience needed to thrive. Now, more and more golfers under the age of 25 are proving themselves capable of not only competing but winning at the game’s highest level.
Golf is getting younger, faster, and more nimble. It’s time for the PGA Tour to do the same.