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Taking a Rain Check
Edited by Alan Shipnuck
November 11, 2002
A canceled final round at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic complicated the money-list race
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November 11, 2002

Taking A Rain Check

A canceled final round at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic complicated the money-list race

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PGA tour tournament director Slugger White gathered the players on Sunday afternoon at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic to explain how and why their lives were about to change. Thirteen inches of rain had soaked Annandale Golf Club in the weeks leading up to the tournament, and a Saturday-night deluge left fairways and greens under water and forced the postponement of the final round of the year's final tournament for the Tour's rank and file. White made it clear that the fourth round might be scrapped altogether, which led to a vociferous debate among the assembled players. The Tour's every-man-for-himself ethos is usually hidden beneath a veneer of civility and shared putting tips, but all that goes out the window when livelihoods hang in the balance.

"There are a lot of guys who wish the cards would fall the way they are right now," Brian Henninger said moments after the meeting disbanded. "They've improved their position quite a bit—if they don't have to play tomorrow. For one person it could be great, but a lot of us need another round of golf here."

That last shot at redemption never came. On Monday morning the final round was officially canceled due to unplayable conditions. The biggest winner in the washout was rookie Luke Donald, a promising 24-year-old from England who edged out Deane Pappas by a lone stroke to secure the $468,000 first-place check and the coveted two-year Tour exemption that is conferred on all tournament winners. Donald's victory may herald the arrival of a new star, but most of the intrigue in Madison, Miss., centered on the money-list race.

The Tour's magic number is 125; the top hundred and a quarter money winners earn playing privileges for the following season. Jay Williamson, a 35-year-old journeyman who is used to playing for his supper, went 71-68-66 at the Farm Bureau and, with the joint fifth-place money of $85,150, rose from 134th to 125th, with $515,445. "I can't say I'm disappointed," Williamson said of the canceled final round. "I have to be honest—I'm pretty happy." Not so David Frost, the part-time vintner who, with a missed cut in Madison, was left to drown his sorrows after dropping a spot to 126th.

While everyone is fixated on the top 125, there are other competitions within the money race. The top 40 get into next year's Masters, and Jonathan Byrd scored that priceless invite with a tie for fifth at the Farm Bureau, moving from 41st to 39th and bumping from 40th to 41st Peter Lonard, who finished 54th in Madison.

Another benchmark is the top 70, which grants access past the velvet rope of exclusive invitationals like Bay Hill and the Memorial. Brian Gay squeaked in, moving from 71st on the money fist to 69th thanks to a solid 11th-place finish, while veterans Duffy Waldorf (bumped from 69th to 71st) and Tom Lehman (70th to 74th) were left on the outside looking in, although they can still sneak into the invitationals in other ways.

More grave is the battle for 150. Players finishing 126th to 150th on the money list earn conditional status on Tour and will most likely get at least 20 starts the following year. To fall out of the top 150 is to tumble into pro golf's abyss—Q school, the Nationwide (formerly tour, other assorted horrors—as Dennis Paulson (149th to 151st) and Grant Waite (150th to 152nd) will soon discover.

Mike Sposa, who finished 132nd in earnings after a 54th-place showing in Madison, offered an unblinking perspective on life at the bottom of the money list. "My situation is not that horrid," he said. "The guys really feeling the heat are numbers 151 and 152. If you don't get in the top 150, you have no status. You're not on Tour. You're nothing."