If the first seven tournaments of the PGA Tour’s 2015-16 season provide a clue, South Carolinians are set for a banner year.
The Tour ends its holiday hiatus this week with the Tournament of Champions, with four state players in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings – and their number does not include three tournament winners from 2014-15.
Heading the list is Kevin Kisner (Aiken), who posted a win and a second in four starts in the fall and leads the FedEx standings. William McGirt (Boiling Springs/Wofford) posted two top-10s in three starts and is 14th. Russell Henley (Charleston) enters the new year at No. 20, and Scott Brown (Aiken/USC Aiken) is 30th.
Down the list are 2014-15 tournament winners Dustin Johnson (Columbia/Coastal Carolina) at 66th after one start, Ben Martin (Greenville/Clemson) at 105 and Bill Haas (Greenville) at 147 after one start.
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In the world rankings, Johnson is No. 8, Kisner No. 17, Haas No. 42, Henley No. 64 and Martin No. 84.
Johnson is coming off another stellar year that included top 10s in three of the four major championships and top 10s in three of the four FedEx Cup playoff tournaments – plus a victory in the WCG Cadillac Championship at Doral.
Kisner dominated in posting his first PGA Tour tournament win in the RSM Classic in the final fall event and said afterward, “If I play the way I have since Hilton Head, I feel like a top-20 player, absolutely.”
His statistics agree. Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season through the RSM victory, he has a win, three seconds after playoff losses, a solo second, eight top 10s and 13 top 25s in 34 starts. Prior to that, he had four top 10s and 10 top 25s in 75 events.
McGirt finished 2014-15 strong, qualifying for three of the four FedEx playoff tournaments, and he began the new season the same way. He posted a final-round 62 to vault into a tie for eighth in the Shriners’ tourney in Las Vegas, then missed a playoff for the Sanderson title in Mississippi after his putt to tie stopped one revolution short.
Johnson, Kisner and Haas will be in the Tournament of Champions field this week, then full-field events begin with the Sony Open.
Overall, the Tour will include 14 players from the Palmetto State with varying eligibility.
The Tour has 37 categories for eligibility and players in the top 19 are guaranteed spots in any PGA Tour – sponsored event except a couple of invitations. Using that for a yardstick, seven state players – Johnson, Haas, Henley, Martin, Kisner, McGirt and Brown – can set their schedules.
Three more – Sam Saunders (Clemson), Kyle Stanley (Clemson) and Lucas Glover (Greenville/Clemson) – earned 2015-16 playing cards through the Web.com Finals and can play in most non-invitational events.
The other four – Jonathan Byrd (Columbia/Clemson), Tommy Gainey (Hartsville), D.J. Trahan (Mt. Pleasant/Clemson), and Matt Bettencourt (Inman) – fall into the past champions category, the 33rd priority.
In addition, players can earn spots in tournaments during Monday qualifying and sponsor’s exemptions. But high priority relieves the stress and McGirt provides the perfect example. He had assured his 2015-16 playing card by finishing in the top 125 in FedEx points. Then, in the second of four tournaments in the FedEx Cup playoffs, he eagled the 17th hole in the final round – with a 7-iron shot from 169 yards.
The shot enabled him to climb into the top 70, which qualified him for the third FedEx playoff tourney and, more important, most of this year’s invitationals.
Golfweek Amateur Tour of Columbia
The Golfweek Amateur Golf Tour of Columbia will hold early-bird registration at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Harbison on Saturday from 10 a.m-noon.
“Signing up now saves about 20 percent on membership fees,” said John Livoti, who heads the Columbia chapter of the national organization.
The Columbia season opens on Feb. 20 at the Windermere Club. Other courses on the 14-event schedule include the Members Club’s Woodcreek Course, Cobblestone Park, the CC of Lexington, Fort Jackson GC and Orangeburg CC. The tour is open to amateurs of all ages, and players compete in flights based on handicaps. For more information, call Livoti at 864-982-0876.
Senior Golfers of South Carolina donated $3,400 to the American Red Cross to assist with flood relief in the Midlands. “We remember our heritage and take the position to help others in need,” said George Cobb, executive director of the 400-member organization that stages 12 tournaments a year. … South Carolina Golf Day will be held Saturday at Columbia Country Club. Players of the year will be honored, and Charlie Rymer will be inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame.