PGA Tour Exemptions… What’s Going on Here?

At just about every PGA Tour stop, names will pop up on the leaderboard – at both the top and bottom – that leave us wondering things like: Who? How is this guy even playing this week? Do you think Mike Weir would be better off playing righty?

Questions like this basically all boil down to one thing:  PGA Tour exemption criteria. While lots of tournaments, including the majors, have their own standards with regards to field makeup, typical Tour events follow a set procedure to decide who gets in and who’s left out. That procedure is called the Priority List, which is composed of no less than 37 pools of decreasing priority of who gets first dibs to play in any given week. This list, which can be found here, is a complex, ever-evolving look at how the Tour builds fields.

There is no way to succinctly go through all of these categories in an article while still giving the full picture, so I’d definitely recommend taking a look through the list. It’s surprisingly logical and pretty fair to all parties, in my opinion. The following is a brief rundown of the priority pools in order.

To sum it up as briefly as possible: win. Most importantly, win majors. Each of the four majors, as well as the Players Championship, grants the winner a spot in one of the top four priority pools. Players in these pools can kick back, relax, and play in whichever full-field events they want to. From there, priority pools 5-9 allow for 3 year exemptions and consist of winners of various higher-profile events, as well as top FedEx Cup points and Money List finishers.

After winners, priority becomes much more convoluted, allowing spots in the field for top all-time money winners as well as sponsors’/commissioner exemptions to exciting/upcoming/international players who otherwise would not be playing. I like this on the whole, but can definitely understand players and fans getting irritated when the likes of John Daly continues to receive exemptions and continues to not be competitive.

There’s a spot for the reigning PGA National Championship winner (a club/teaching pro), the reigning PGA section champion from the tournament’s region, four spots for Monday-qualifiers, past champions from the last 5 years of the event, and for any PGA Life Members (15 years on tour, 20+ wins).

Finally, finally we get to the players who haven’t recently won anything, yet maintained their card from the previous year by being in the top 125 of FedEx Cup points or the money list. Those lowlifes who only managed to make a boatload of cash and haven’t won in a while/ever. You know, the likes of Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, and Paul Casey. Maybe it’s time to hang ‘em up, boys.

Players who’ve been granted a major medical exemption fit into their own priority pool here, though how these exemptions are granted and carried out deserves its own article. This is how Mike Weir is playing and the reason that Vaughn Taylor is a PGA Tour winner this season.

If you’ve been wondering where the Tour guys fit in, it’s at the bottom here. The top money winners from the regular season and postseason fit into few pools at this point, as well as any pro who finished in the top 10 the previous week that didn’t already have exempt status. At this point we see the rest of the players who managed to earn their Tour Cards last season, minor medical exemptions, and players from 125-150 in FedEx points from last year.

From here the pools get a bit funky so I won’t bother going through them. Mainly old guys and past winners though.

All in all, winners get a big leg up on everyone else, so players that haven’t done this may want to think about getting a victory and locking up their Tour status for the next few years.

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