Why this PGA Tour fall series carries so much intrigue

Why this PGA Tour fall series carries so much intrigue
By Brody Miller
Sep. 13, 2023

If you’re confused as to why the PGA Tour’s final fall season matters for 2024, you’re not the only one.

Take the case of the veteran PGA Tour golfer, a name you no doubt recognize but whose identity has been withheld here because it hardly matters in the grand scheme. He acknowledged at a tour event last month he was unlikely to make the FedEx Cup top 50 and clinch a spot in next year’s signature events, but he remarked to a veteran media member that he was also going to probably take the fall off anyways.


But, he was told, a strong performance in the fall could get him into January’s first two signature events, and from there …

“Well, I might need to add in a fall event or two,” he said.

That golfer is in the field at this week’s Fortinet Championship in Napa.

The next seven events carry significance in spite of so few understanding all the little nooks and crannies of the exemptions and qualifications for tournaments next season. The very short version: The top 10 golfers in FedEx Cup points after the fall (2022-23 points carry over through the end of the calendar year) that are not already qualified will make the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational, with the accompanying big purses, limited fields and no cuts.

And for that reason, this fall carries more intrigue than any before. Big-name golfers like Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, Billy Horschel and Shane Lowry all finished outside the top 70 this season. Sweeping changes to the tour over the last year have meant actual consequences for those who fell off. And now they have to earn their way back into big events.

Well, maybe. One slightly controversial choice by the tour was to include four sponsor exemptions at the signature events (the PGA Tour changed the name from elevated to signature). If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, it’s difficult to imagine Thomas not being invited to most events he wants to go to. Same for some of the other big names.

Jon Rahm was vocally against these sponsor exemptions. Not necessarily that they shouldn’t exist — Rahm pointed out he earned his PGA Tour card through exemption opportunities — but that he wants to make sure they go to people who deserve it or need it and can actually use the chance.

“I’m hoping those events realize the position they’re in and give it to people that truly, truly can do something out of it,” he said. “There is a way for players not into those events to somehow qualify into those events, so I’m hoping they use some of those to people who were close and didn’t quite make it, players that have earned it throughout their play in the past. Just hope they use them in a way that it can be meaningful for somebody for the year or their career in golf.”


Regardless of how those exemptions play out, there are only four. Big players will likely be left out. There’s quite a bit on the line this fall. Here’s a look at some players who need a strong end to the year.

The big names

The decline of Justin Thomas was arguably the biggest story of the final month of the season, but it also gave some cover for a strange run of good players missing the FedEx Cup playoffs and taking a big step back. Thomas playing in Napa will be the most followed narrative as people analyze whether he’s in good enough form for the Ryder Cup this month.

Adam Scott had the worst ball-striking season of his career and had only six top-20 finishes all year. Granted, Scott is a handsome, wealthy 43-year-old major winner, so he probably isn’t sitting around panicking about his 2024 schedule, but still, he’ll want to get back into form after a really nice 2022 campaign put him back in contention. Like many big-name non-American golfers, Scott is playing this week at the BMW PGA Championship in London, but it will be interesting to see if he plays any fall tour events.

Shane Lowry is still on the Ryder Cup team and is playing in London, but as of now he still needs to play his way into signature events. He’s a major winner, but it’s not as if he’s the huge name in America of Thomas or even Scott. I don’t know if he can bank on exemptions. Granted, Lowry’s year didn’t include a ton of missed cuts or rounds in the 80s like JT. He simply didn’t put himself at the top enough.

Billy Horschel has been transparent about his troubled season. It seemed like he was about to have a nice second phase of his career, winning the 2022 Memorial and finishing second at Bay Hill that year. But in the 2023 calendar year he entered August with just two top-20 finishes. It was bizarre, but it was encouraging to see his strong finish. He finished T13 at the 3M Open before playing a fantastic Wyndham Championship as he tried to claw his way into the playoffs. If he finished first or second, he would have qualified, but he finished fourth.


And Joel Dahmen has become one of the more popular guys in golf — the likable, self-deprecating 35-year-old journeyman who almost won the 2022 U.S. Open and won fans as a subject of Netflix’s “Full Swing” documentary series. He had just one top 10 in 2023 and finished No. 84 in points. He’ll likely be grinding this fall.

The young guys

There’s a really fun group of golfers under 30 who didn’t quite crack the top 50 but have the talent to enjoy nice falls. Taylor Montgomery had such a great fall last year immediately after earning his tour card, but he struggled from February on. Can he bounce back after a tough few months? Or there’s 27-year-old Nick Hardy, who missed nine cuts in 2023 but won the team event Zurich Classic. The same goes for Hardy’s Zurich partner Davis Riley, who made a name for himself by being in the mix at the 2022 PGA Championship. Hardy and Montgomery finished 52nd and 53rd in points, so they’re in a position to qualify.

Then, 21-year-old Akshay Bhatia won the alternate field Barracuda Championship but got zero FedEx points for that because he was a non-member, so he finished No. 102. He’s a really exciting young prospect going through the ups and downs that most would in college but instead dealing with it on the Korn Ferry Tour and now the PGA Tour. At the end of the day, he had a win and four top-10s in 2023, and this fall is a huge opportunity to make a name for himself and earn some points in the process.

Justin Suh is a 26-year-old who isn’t quite in the hype discourse but showed the ability to hang with the best when given opportunities. He finished T6 at the Players Championship and then finished top 30 in both majors he qualified for. That’s not nothing.

The golfer I’m most interested in: 24-year-old Oklahoma State product Austin Eckroat. The former Walker Cupper was kind of all-or-nothing this season. He missed a lot of cuts. But then he got hot in big tournaments and went T2 at Byron Nelson, T16 at Charles Schwab, T30 at the Memorial, T10 at the U.S. Open with a nine-hole record 29, and T24 at the Travelers. That’s a big-time talent, and Eckroat is an awesome ball striker. But then he fell off a cliff and missed the final two cuts to finish 74th. I really wonder if Eckroat can have a good fall.

The injured ones

The sneaky storyline of this fall will be whether we see Will Zalatoris and/or Daniel Berger return to play after back surgeries ended their seasons.

It’s a shame. Zalatoris clearly would have been on this Ryder Cup team. By 26, he had an absurd six top-10 finishes in majors. He won the playoff event in Memphis last year (in a playoff), then finished fourth this spring at Riviera before the back problems flared up. Hopefully one of the most exciting players in the game makes an appearance.


And at 28, Berger was on the 2021 Ryder Cup team after winning at Pebble Beach and earning two top-10 finishes at majors. He was on the come-up, but then his back problems surfaced and he hasn’t played since June 2022. He teased a return two weeks ago on social media, but it’s unclear when he might take that step.

(Top photos: Andrew Redington, Mike Mulholland, Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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Brody Miller

Brody Miller covers golf and the LSU Tigers for The Athletic. He came to The Athletic from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A South Jersey native, Miller graduated from Indiana University before going on to stops at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Indianapolis Star, the Clarion Ledger and NOLA.com. Follow Brody on Twitter @BrodyAMiller