The PGA Tour is adding a new pathway from the amateur ranks to the highest levels of professional golf, and it's a big deal for college golf.
The Tour announced June 1 the creation of PGA Tour University, which is a ranking system that will afford collegiate seniors opportunities to play on tours under the PGA Tour umbrella based on their performance before joining the paid ranks.
PGA Tour University creates a ranking system for NCAA Division I male golfers that will be finalized at the end of the annual NCAA men's Division I individual national championships. The ranking will work in consultation with the World Amateur Golf Ranking, which is the amateur equivalent of the Official World Golf Ranking. Only eligible players from the WAGR will land on the PGA Tour University ranking. NCAA Division I men's events and PGA Tour-sanctioned events will count toward the ranking.
Players are eligible for PGA Tour University if they play four years of NCAA Division I college golf or complete three years and show proof of pending early graduation. A player must compete in at least nine events, including a NCAA Division I men's regional championship, in their final season to qualify.
The top five players in the ranking will earn exempt status into all open events on the Korn Ferry Tour starting the week after the NCAAs, through to the end of the regular season. The players will also earn an exemption to the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, if necessary.
Players who finish sixth through 15th on the list will receive membership to one of three feeder tours to the Korn Ferry Tour -- either Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latinoamerica or PGA Tour Series China -- exempting them into all open events on the tour of their choice starting the week after the NCAAs, through to the end of the season. The players will also earn an exemption to the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School.
Players who finish in the top 15 in the PGA Tour University final ranking may want to wait to turn pro so they can compete in the present year's Walker Cup or World Amateur Team Championship. Those players can participate in those events and still accept their earned status, provided they declare their intention in writing to the Tour within three days of the release of the final ranking. They can participate in events they earned entry into, but they will do so as a non-member until they declare themselves pros.
This is a huge step opportunity for collegiate golfers, who previously have faced difficult decisions regarding when to turn pro and how to get a boost in their early career on the back of their amateur performance. PGA Tour University creates that opportunity for top-tier players, while allowing them to remain an amateur to compete in events like the Walker Cup. For players who look to take advantage of potential PGA Tour exemptions, they can take up to the maximum seven exemptions available to them with the assurance that they'll have a fallback plan in Korn Ferry Tour Q-School.