How a PGA Tour finishes in the regular season FedEx Cup standing has a huge effect on their tour card and their playing status for the next season. This is particularly true since the PGA Tour has ended its exemption for the following season for players who finish inside the top 125 on the season-long money list.
Making the FedEx Cup playoffs is what you want, but if you can't make it into the playoffs, then you want to shoot for two important numbers. Let's take a look.
If you finish inside the top 125 in regular-season FedEx Cup points, then two good things happen.
First, you get in the playoffs and get at least a crack at advancing all the way to East Lake and the Tour Championship (which has lots of great benefits unto itself). You're in The Northern Trust, which is the first leg, and have an opportunity to battle to get into the top 100 at the end of The Northern Trust, then into the top 70 after the Dell Technologies Championship, then the top 30 after the BMW Championship.
Second, you get to keep your PGA Tour fully-exempt status. Yea! Everyone who finishes in the top 125 in FedEx Cup points earns exempt PGA Tour status for the following season. You can't play in every tournament you want, but you can build a somewhat reliable schedule and start to focus on doing it all over again. Great.
So, what if you don't finish inside the top 125 in regular-season FedEx Cup points?
It's not necessarily all bad. If you've won a PGA Tour event and still have exempt seasons left from that win, then you're OK. You get two extra seasons of exempt status for a regular PGA Tour win; three seasons for taking home a World Golf Championships event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial Tournament or the Tour Championship; five seasons for winning a major or The Players or the FedEx Cup.
If you don't fall into that category, you could also remain exempt for the next season if you're in the top 50 in all-time PGA Tour earnings. You can use that status once in your career to get a one-season exemption. There's another one-time, one-season exemption available if you're in the top 25 of all-time PGA Tour earnings.
If you've won 20 times on the PGA Tour, then you've earned lifetime status, so you keep your card, too.
Alright, if you're not in those categories, you now have an issue. You're not going to be fully exempt for next year. That means the next goal is to finish between 126th and 150th in regular-season FedEx Cup points. That earns limited status on the PGA Tour, usually meaning anywhere from 10-15 starts are somewhat assured. They're not in the best events, and you can still get exemptions and special invitations to other tournaments. Not horrible but also not ideal.
At a minimum, you want to finish between 126th and 200th in regular-season FedEx Cup points. That'll get you into the Web.com Tour Finals, which is a four-event series combining those 75 players with the top 75 earners on the Web.com Tour. If you finish in the top 25 in earnings (excluding the top 25 earners in the Web.com Tour regular season), then you get a PGA Tour card back. It's subject to status reshuffling multiple times per year based on FedEx Cup performance, but it's better than nothing.
If all of that fails, then you're likely playing on the Web.com Tour, trying to Monday qualify and hoping for invites to fill spots in not-so-strong tournaments.