Over the years I have had many people ask me the question: “How do you get on the PGA Tour?”
It’s important to note that there are two types of people who make a living in professional golf. Teaching Professionals at golf courses are referred to as Golf Professionals and people who play in tournaments are Professional Golfers.
How do I become a professional golfer?
This is a very good question because golf is unlike most other sports where there is a very well established high school recruiting initiative by Division I college programs. In football, baseball, hockey and basketball players are developed while they attend college, pro scouts are then scouring the landscape looking for talent and building draft boards.
Golf is much different, there are no pro scouts hanging around college campuses looking at the talent and working you out to see if they may be willing to draft you and write you a big check.
Yes, in golf you’re on your own. In a way this is probably good because as you go through this process of lonely solitude you are actually building necessary character traits for professional golf.
Professional golfers do not have teammates to cover for them while they aren’t playing well, any weakness is exposed and ups and downs are right there for all to see. There is no hiding.
These days it is harder than ever to break into the PGA Tour but there are many secondary tours now, far more than there were just a few years ago. So the option of playing professional golf is very realistic, far more realistic than it has been in the past, in my opinion.
The important thing is this: If you’re a young golfer (or an old golfer) and you have a dream to play on tour with the big boys don’t let anyone ever talk you out of it. If you hold that dream and it becomes a virtual obsession to the point where you can actually taste it, then you’ll make it. It will require hard work and it will require sacrifice but you can rest assured that everyone else you talk to when you get there will have experienced the exact same level of sacrifice. Like so many other areas in life there are no failures only quitters.
Earl Woods was asked about Tiger’s first Masters Win in 1997 and he said:
The point is nobody just makes it on tour without amazing levels of commitment, dedication and purpose.
The most important thing to know is that chance or odds have nothing to do with it. Gary Player’s famous quote sums this up “The more I practice, the luckier I get”
There are 4 primary ways to make it on the PGA Tour. I’m going to cover them briefly and in order of popularity.
1) PGA Qualifying School
PGA Qualifying School or “Q School” as it is called is not actually school at all. It is a multi tournament regional proving ground.
Q School is a 3 part tournament where you begin regionally and wind up playing a final 6 round tournament at a selected location.
It costs roughly $5,000 to enter Q School and if you don’t meet certain qualifications they now have a Qualifying round which you can play in advance of the regular regional tournaments. They collect $2,500 to play in the Qualifying round and if you make it into the regular Q school tournament they then collect the other $2,500.
As mentioned the final stage is a 6 day 108 hole grueling tournament designed to separate the players from the wannabe’s. The final stage consists of the players who made it through the first 2 rounds and numbers 126 – 150 on the PGA Tour Official Money List as well as numbers 26 – 40 on the Nationwide Tour Official Money List.
To give you an idea of what the level of play is at Q school, Billy Mayfair and Paul Stankowski were two that regained their cards in the 2010 PGA Qualifying Tournament. Mayfair and Stankowski have 7 previous PGA Tour victory’s to their credit.
Gary Woodland who won the Transitions this year in Florida was a graduate from the 2010 Q School.
The top 25 and ties from the Q School Tournament are given their tour cards. In 2010 a total of 29 players attained their cards via Q school.
2) Top 25 on the Nationwide Tour Money list
Q School serves the purpose of providing exemptions on the Nationwide Tour as well. The players who rank top 26 through 50 and ties are now eligible for a Nationwide Tour Card.
The Nationwide Tour is a developmental tour sponsored by Nationwide Insurance. It has been in existence since 1990 and just recently the 300th PGA Tour Event was won by a Nationwide Tour graduate. Needless to say this developmental tour has been a pretty successful proving ground for the regular tour.
Each year the Top 25 on the Nationwide Tour Official Money List are offered a limited exemption on the PGA Tour. Many people think that this is a full exemption but it isn’t. This limited exemption get’s you into many fields on the PGA Tour but it also leaves you out of many fields.
Many lower level players for example position 10 through 25 on this Money List will opt to go to Q School anyway to attempt to improve their Status on the PGA Tour.
3) Battlefield Promotion on the Nationwide Tour
There is something they refer to as a “Battlefield Promotion” or a Performance Promotion on the Nationwide Tour. Basically if you win 3 times in a season on the developmental tour you will receive an automatic bump up to the PGA Tour with full status.
4) Sponsor’s Exemption and Monday Qualifiers
The sponsor’s exemption is how many big names get their start. Each PGA Tour Event has a “Title Sponsor”. In other words they get their name and logo all over the event. They fund a large portion of the purse and the overall event preparation.
The Title Sponsor has a handful of spots that they can hand out to individuals who are golf professionals. They have full authority as to who they give the spots to but they are typically given to big names who aren’t quite on tour yet or they give the spots to people who their endorsing players are friendly with.
For instance Tiger Woods was given sponsor’s exemptions in his first year on tour, he had no status officially but the title sponsors all wanted him in the field as he came off 3 consecutive US Amateur titles. He wound up winning a tour event in Las Vegas on a sponsor’s exemption spot and this gave him his full card.
He had enough sponsors exemptions that year that even if he hadn’t won that event in Vegas he would have made it in the Top 125 on the Official PGA Tour Money List and this is an automatic full exemption as well.
Monday Qualifiers are for those players who have limited status on the PGA Tour. On Monday of every tournament there is a one day tournament and anyone who wants to can enter. Typically there are 2 to 5 spots available on Mondays and they usually are taken by that partially exempt group of players. This is how they get into bigger events.
Test yourself on the small stage!
It is important to know that no golfers make it professionally without testing themselves as an amateur first. But the move from amateur to pro is virtually nothing, in order to become a pro you simply need to say the words “I am no longer amateur, I am a professional” There is no official paperwork to file or announcement needed it’s literally, as simple as that.
Turning pro will disqualify you from amateur events and it will also disqualify you from college golf teams, so don’t schedule the press-conference quite yet.
So how good do you have to be at golf to have a chance of becoming a professional golfer?
First of all a single round played at par or maybe a bit better does not qualify you for professional golf. Playing at your home course in front of a few friends is a lot different than playing in front of people you don’t know in the gallery and other pros in your group. Hitting great golf shots under pressure is the key and there is no way to replicate those shots other than entering tournaments and trying to hit them. There are amateur tournaments held all the time and you will find them if you look.
If you are “of age”: Playing for money is a great way to figure out how good you really are. There are many options to play for “unofficial” money right in your area. There are traveling golf leagues that play at different courses and they are easy to find. While there is no official purse to play for, these leagues are very open to “side bets” and the money can get substantial in some cases. By substantial I mean a few hundred dollars not thousands but the pressure can be pretty tough and it’s a great way to see what you’re made of.
The key to weighing your true ability is to constantly expand your comfort zone and constantly building and adding shots to your bag. Pro Golfers have the ability to hit great shots but their true key is consistency. I’ve had the chance to play with a few professionals and the weird thing is, there is nothing amazing about how they play, they’re simply far more consistent and a little longer, than we are.
If you’re a good player and you set your mind to it, you’ll make it. If you have true ability you will be able to find people who will invest in you, for a piece of future earnings. This is called “Backing” and it’s quite popular.
Play Junior Golf
The PGA Section in your area will offer many junior programs as will the USGA and the best way to hone your young skills is to take advantage of junior golf programs. You can also check the World Golf Foundation for First Tee Programs. The World Golf Foundation is an amazing resource for young golfers and I will publish a post about their various junior programs in the next few days.
A certain requirement for a Professional Golf career is to have a professional putting stroke.
One of the things I have heard from some young players recently is the importance of building your golf world network. Sometimes it will pay to mix your ability with a great golf network.
Work hard and be a good person and things will come into place with the right mix of determination.
Good Luck! Even though “luck” has nothing to do with it