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Chiquita Classic gives golfers a chance to go full-time on PGA Tour

By Ron Green Jr.
Correspondent
Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr., a former Observer staff writer, will write golf columns occasionally for the newspaper.

DAVIDSON Trevor Immelman didn’t intend to be here this week.

Neither did Sean O’Hair. Nor Chad Campbell. Nor Jhonattan Vegas.

Nor any of the other familiar names from their years on the PGA Tour, who find themselves teeing it up Thursday in the first round of the Chiquita Classic at River Run Country Club, trying to play their way back to full status on the PGA Tour.

This is where two golf paths cross: Young players chasing the dream of graduating from the Web.com Tour to the land of Phil and Tiger; and guys who have been there before and find themselves forced to play for that privilege again.

“It’s another chance. Before that, I didn’t have the chance,” says Rod Pampling, a two-time PGA Tour winner in 12 full seasons.

“You obviously wish you weren’t here. It means you haven’t played well enough. The year was not good but I have four weeks now to pull something out of the fire. It’s all positives. There are no negatives. It’s a fresh start.”

This is the second of four weeks in the new four-event season-ending series that will determine which 50 players will earn their PGA Tour cards for the 2013-14 season that begins, strange as it sounds, next month.

Remember the old qualifying school? It’s gone, at least as a path to the PGA Tour. Now it’s for players trying to get on the Web.com Tour.

This is how you get to the PGA Tour – or get back to it – now.

The top 25 money winners on the Web.com Tour this year (Michael Putnam was No. 1) have already earned PGA Tour cards. Now they’re playing for priority status, meaning the better their cumulative result after these four events, the better their chances of getting in the events they want to play on the big tour.

The players who finished 26th through 75th on the Web.com money list and the players who finished 126th through 200th on the big tour money list have these four events to punch their PGA Tour ticket. The challenge is to be among the top 25 earners (excluding the 25 PGA Tour-bound players already qualified from the Web.com money list) when these four events are completed.

It’s why Robert Karlsson, Arron Oberholser, Rickie Barnes, Jonathan Byrd, Nick O’Hern, Vaughn Taylor and Chris DiMarco, among others, are at River Run this week.

The FedEx Cup playoffs, worth a total of $67million to the 125 PGA Tour players involved, are taking this week off before the final two events.

Three years ago, Heath Slocum won the first FedEx Cup playoff event, beating Tiger Woods. Slocum has a 1:37 p.m. tee time Thursday at River Run, playing for a chance to chase the FedEx Cup playoffs again.

Immelman knows the feeling.

He won the 2008 Masters, earning a piece of golf immortality along with a green jacket. Immelman believed he could play through a wrist problem that developed after his Masters victory and wasted most of two seasons before having surgery in October 2009.

Since then, Immelman has been rehabbing his left wrist, regaining his lost strength and chasing the form that made him so good before his injury created swing flaws that have taken years to eradicate. He has been good at times but not good enough.

Immelman finished 155th on the 2013 PGA Tour money list, costing him his PGA Tour card. It was a bitter reality.

“I turned pro in July of ’99 and I had never been in this situation before on the European Tour or the PGA Tour. It was terribly disappointing. I’m not going to lie,” Immelman said.

“After going home and seeing the family, I tried to change my attitude to being thankful for the opportunity to go out here and earn it back.”

With conditional status on the PGA Tour next year by virtue of his place on the money list, Immelman figured he could possibly play 10 to 14 events next season if he didn’t make it through the Web.com series.

On Sunday, Immelman birdied the last hole to win the Hotel Fitness Open, the first event in this new series. The $180,000 first prize assured Immelman a spot on the PGA Tour next season. Along with his card, Immelman got another bit of his confidence back. His goal is to be the overall champion of this four-event series.

“It was very satisfying for me to win. It doesn’t matter what tournament it is,” Immelman says.

“I had the same feelings coming down the stretch on Sunday as I did at Augusta when I won. Winning is winning.”

It will have its own rewards at the Chiquita Classic this weekend.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post ( www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to The Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.
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