Rookies kick off year in Hawaii, though more than half aren’t in Sony field

Rookies kick off year in Hawaii, though more than half aren’t in Sony field
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There are 28 true rookies this season, the first campaign featuring the PGA Tour’s latest signature event model – and most of those first-year players are in Hawaii to kick off their years.

Fewer than half of those rookies, however, are in this week’s Sony Open field. The rest who made the trip to Honolulu spent the weekend at the Royal Hawaiian Resort on Waikiki Beach, where the Tour is holding its rookie orientation, and are just hoping to qualify for their first event of the season.

The orientation began Saturday at noon and included a player dinner Saturday night. Sunday’s schedule began with breakfast at 8 a.m. and was set to conclude with a two-hour “Luaua on the Ocean Lawn” from 7-9 p.m. Among the breakout sessions were “PGA Tour 101” with the Tour’s executive vice president, Tyler Dennis, and the Tour’s vice president of competition administration, Kirsten Burgess; media training; player content/storytelling; and some time with Tour veteran Ryan Palmer and former Tour pro Jason Gore, currently the Tour’s chief player officer.

“To their credit, learning a lot,” texted one pro.

According to a couple of players, the Tour is covering lodging for the weekend and roundtrip airfare, a bonus for the 12 rookies (out of 15 not in Sony) who are sticking around to play Monday’s open qualifier.

There are just a few issues. The players are in orientation all day Sunday and won’t get a chance to play a practice round before teeing it up in the Monday qualifier at Kapolei Golf Course, which is about 40 minutes away from the resort. There’s a chance the qualifier could get affected by weather, too, with a flood watch issued from Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon. Then there is the frustration that so many Korn Ferry Tour and Q-School graduates were shut out of Sony, which prior to the Tour’s revamped schedule wasn’t a problem.

Last year, all 50 Korn Ferry Tour and Korn Ferry Tour Finals graduates got in on their numbers, including No. 50 Kyle Westmoreland. This year, it’s just 14 of the 30 KFT grads. No. 15 Jimmy Stanger and No. 26 Josh Teater received a sponsor invite.

The top five on the alternate list currently looks like this: Norman Xiong, Nicholas Lindheim, Joe Highsmith, Patrick Fishburn and Mac Meissner. All but Lindheim are rookies.

Eleven of the 14 KFT grads not in the Sony field and four of the five Q-School grads are playing the Monday qualifier. It is likely that all of those two groups, who are prioritized behind the 10 DP World Tour grads, will get into the next two tournaments, The American Express and Farmers Insurance Open, which both use multiple courses. However, after that there is concern that the Q-School grads and a few KFT grads will struggle to crack an event again until the Florida swing, as the Tour’s first eight tournaments include three signature events and three non-signature events (Sony, Phoenix and Mexico) that could fill before going through the entirety of the KFT category.

Looking at the entire schedule, there are 27 total events before the FedExCup Playoffs begin. Thirteen of them are either majors, The Players or signature events. Four of the 10 other tournaments are opposite-field events with just 300 points to the winners.

The thing with Sony is that several top-50 guys and the majority of those from Nos. 51-125 signed up, most likely a result of there not being a wraparound schedule anymore. Add in the DPWT guys, some medicals, a couple career-money guys and a slew of sponsor exemptions that traditionally go to non-Tour members and you get what one agent described as a “disaster.”

Late in the season, with players jockeying for next year’s top 50, non-signature fields such as 3M and Wyndham could have similar demand from the top tiers. Though the fields will be 12 guys deeper at that point, it’s worth nothing that going 12 players down the Sony alternate list doesn’t even reach the Q-School grads.

The Tour ran a thousand simulations last year and found that the average retention of the top 50 in the FedExCup was 64%, with as little as 14 players falling out and as many as 22.

It’s still very early in this unprecedented season, but there is already some uneasiness down the priority list.

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