The PGA Tour determines who plays in a tournament through a system of category exemptions. Players in the top category get first crack at any tournament they want. Then players in the next category get an opportunity.
So, for example, the first category is for winners of the PGA or the US Open prior to 1970, or in the last five years (those who won before 1998 have a ten year exemption, so this runs out this year). Once those players have had their chance, the winners of the Players in the last five years are penciled in. Then winners of the Masters, Winners of the Tour Championshiop, winners of WGA events, winners of Tour events in the last five years. And so on.
What this system does preserve “jobs” for those who already are members of the tour. If you win an event, you don’t have to worry about getting into any Tour tournament you want for the next five years. If you pick your tournament chances well, that makes it more likely that you’ll win a second time and extend that exemption. Players who are high on the exemption list also have a much easier time of staying in the top 125 in earnings required to keep their card from year to year.
Conversely, it also makes it difficult for new players to break in. Even players who have sailed through Q School will find (often to their surprise) that they are often shut out of the system. That can make it somewhat difficult to get into the required 15 tournaments—and that much more difficult to stay in the Top 125 in earnings to keep that card.
That explains the oft-lamented lack of new, young talent. They’re shut out by the old-boy system.
Below is the complete and official list of exemptions:
1. Winner of PGA Championship or U.S. Open prior to 1970 or in the last 10 calendar years: (Beginning in 1998, this is a five-year exemption.)
2. Winner of THE PLAYERS Championship in the last 10 calendar years: (Beginning in 1998, this is a five-year exemption.)
3. Winners of the Masters Tournament in the last 10 calendar years: (Beginning in 1998, this is a five-year exemption.)
4. Winners of the British Open in the last 10 calendar years: (Beginning in 1998, this is a five-year exemption.)
5. Winners of THE TOUR Championship, beginning in 2005 (a three-year exemption)
6. Winners of World Golf Championships events, beginning in 2005 (a three-year exemption)
7. The winner of the FedExCup in each of the last five calendar years.
8. The leader in PGA TOUR official earnings in each of the last five calendar years.
9. Winners of PGA TOUR co-sponsored or approved events (except team events) within the last two calendar years, or during the current year; winners receive an additional year of exemption for each additional win, up to five years.
10. Leaders in official PGA TOUR career earnings, as follows: 1. Players among the top 50 in career earnings as of the end of the preceding calendar year may elect to use a one-time, one-year exemption for the next year and; 2. Players among the Top 25 in career earnings as of the end of the preceding calendar year may elect to use this special exemption for a second year, provided that the player remains among the Top 25 on the career money list.
11. Sponsor exemptions (a maximum of eight, which may include amateurs with handicaps of 0 or less), on the following basis: 1. Not less than two sponsor invitees shall be PGA TOUR members not otherwise exempt and; 2. Not less than two of the top 25 finishers and ties from the last Qualifying Tournament, as well as 2-25 from the 2007 Nationwide Tour money list, if not all of them can otherwise be accommodated. (Note: PGTA TOUR members may receive an unlimited number of sponsor invitations. Non-TOUR members may receive a maximum of seven per year.)
12. Two international players designated by the Commissioner.
13. The current PGA Club Professional Champion for a maximum of 6 open events (3 must be opposite British Open and World Golf Championships events), in addition to any sponsor selections.
14. PGA Section Champion or Player of the Year of the Section in which the tournament is played.
15. Four low scorers at Open Qualifying which shall normally be held onMonday of tournament week.
16. Past champions of the particular event being contested that week, if cosponsored by the PGA TOUR and the same tournament sponsor (except for Team events), as follows: 1. Winners prior to July 28, 1970: unlimited exemptions for such events; 2. Winners after July 28, 1970 and prior to Jan. 1, 2000: 10 years of exemptions for such events; 3. Winners after Jan. 1, 2000: five years of exemptions for such events.
17. Life Members (who have been active members of the PGA TOUR for 15 years and have won at least 20 co-sponsored events).
18. Top 30 on the previous year’s FedExCup points list.
19. Top 125 on previous year’s Official Money List: If not exempt under “Special Exemptions,” the top 125 PGA TOUR members on the previous year’s Official Money List, in order of their position.
20. Players who finished in the Top 125 on the 2007 PGA TOUR Money List as non-members.
21. Major Medical Extension: If granted by the Commissioner, if not otherwise eligible, and if needed to fill the field, Special Medical Extension.
22. Leading Money Winner from 2007 Nationwide Tour.
23. Top-10 and Ties among professionals from the previous open tournament whose victory has official status are exempt into the next open tournament whose victory has official status.
24. Top 25 and Ties from the previous year’s PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament, in order of their finish, and players 2-25 on the 2007 Nationwide Tour money list.
25. Nationwide Tour 3-Win Promotion to any player winning 3 times during the current season, in priority determined by the date in which they win their third event.
26. Minor Medical Extension.
27. Next 25 members after the Top 125 members from previous year’s Official Money List. If needed to fill the field, the next 25 PGA TOUR members after the top 125 PGA TOUR members from the previous year’s Official Money List, in order of their position on the list.
28. Non-Exempt, Major Medical Extension
29. Past Champions, Team Tournament Winners and Veteran Members Beyond 150 on Money List: If not otherwise eligible and as needed to fill the field, Past Champion members, Team Tournament Winners and Veteran members beyond 150th place on the previous year’s Money List, in order of their combined official PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour earnings in the previous year.
30. Past Champion Members: If not otherwise eligible and if needed to fill the field, Past Champion members, in order of the total number of cosponsored or approved events won, excluding Team events. If two or more players are tied, the player who is higher on the PGA TOUR Career Money List shall be eligible.
31. Special Temporary: If during the course of a PGA TOUR season, a nonmember of the PGA TOUR wins an amount of official money (e.g., by playing in PGA TOUR events through sponsor exemptions, Open Qualifying, etc.) equal to the amount won in the preceding year by the 150th finisher on the official money list, he will be eligible for the remainder of the year.
32. Team Tournament Winners: If not otherwise eligible and if needed to fill the field, winners of co-sponsored team championships, in order of the total number of team championship tournaments won. If two or more players are tied based on the number of such tournaments won, the player who is higher on the official PGA TOUR Career Money List shall be eligible.
33. Veteran Members: If not otherwise eligible and if needed to fill the field, Veteran members (players who have made a minimum of 150 cuts during their career), in order of their standing on the PGA TOUR Career Money List.