Bubble boys find Sunday at the Wyndham is all about controlling the nerves, the swing and the cursing
GREENSBORO, N.C. — You could hear the shouted expletive before you saw Roberto Diaz emerging from the brick scoring building where a PGA Tour official had just imparted the bad news. Despite shooting nine under on the weekend, and 14 under for the tournament, Diaz was going to finish outside the 150th position on the FedEx Cup points list, which meant he won’t enjoy even conditional status for the 2019-’20 PGA Tour season … unless he goes to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, a three-event series featuring 75 golfers from the PGA Tour and another 75 from the developmental tour, and finishes top 25. (If that sounds complicated, well, buckle up, because Sunday at the Wyndham Championship is the most complicated day on the PGA Tour.)
Basically, it was bad news for Diaz, and the margins at stately Sedgefield Country Club were so thin that he thought his bogey on 17 may have been the difference. Considering the stakes, and the result, it was remarkable that he managed to compose himself in the time it took to walk the 15 feet from the scoring building's doorway to the footpath leading away from the clubhouse, the anger giving way to resignation.
“I didn’t play good enough the rest of the year, but I can’t blame myself for what I did today,” he said. “It is what it is. F--- it, I don’t know. I mean, I have to go to the Korn Ferry finals and try to get my card, or I get it in the regular season. I don’t give a f---.”
Despite how they may read, the curses were delivered with the world-weary acceptance of a 32-year-old who has seen the future and found it tolerable, if less than ideal. And perhaps there was a bit of defiance, too—whatever hoops Diaz has to jump through, well, that’s life. He’ll jump through them.
As far as perspective goes, Diaz landed on a good one. As is the case each year at Sedgefield, the Wyndham Championship as the regular-season finale on the PGA Tour plays host to a kind of off-off-Broadway theater, starring golfers who are peripheral, up-and-coming, or fallen on hard times. Sunday is Bubble Day, but there are multiple bubbles. There’s the bubble at No. 125 on the points list. Find yourself on the right side here and you not only make the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but you guarantee yourself full PGA Tour status for the next season.
Then there’s the No. 150 bubble. Players ranked 126th through 150th gain conditional PGA Tour status for the following season, which is a little like conditional love in the sense that you’ll gain some of the benefits (but not all) and you better not slip up. Those players can also try their luck at the Korn Ferry finals, giving them a tenuous backup plan, but one that can yield even better status.
Finally, there’s the No. 200 bubble. Miss this one, and you don’t even get the Korn Ferry chance. It’s straight to second stage of Korn Ferry Q School (and, yes, that is just as bad as it sounds if you’ve just played on the PGA Tour).
These bubbles are moving targets, with players sliding above and below the cutoff as the day progresses, including those who aren’t even on the course. Robert Streb, for instance, began the day just inside the full-status line at 124th. It was a precarious position, though, because he missed the cut in Greensboro and could do nothing to improve his fate. On Sunday, wherever he was, he watched his position fall to 128th when he was leap-frogged by Patton Kizzire and Andrew Landry, among others.
Kizzire and Landry are the physical opposites of each other—Kizzire, tall and diffident, moves in what you’d call a slow lope, while Landry practically marches with a Napoleonic strut. Both, though, fought their way into Greensboro’s version of paradise on Sunday, doing just enough to send Streb and Alex Noren (No. 125 to start the week) packing for conditional-status land. The irony, in the case of Kizzire and Landry, is that both already have full PGA Tour status for next year based on tour wins in 2018. It’s an open question what Streb or Noren thought of Kizzire’s post-round remarks, in which he seemed to somewhat regret having to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“A few weeks off for me wouldn’t be that bad of a thing heading into the fall,” Kizzire said. “A lot of my success has been in the fall, and if I was rested for that, it would be great.”
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Shawn Stefani (pictured above), who was in tears at the Wyndham in 2016 after squeaking inside the top 125, found himself unable to make it to the other side of the bubble on Sunday, finishing 127th after starting the week 134th. After his round, it wasn’t exactly clear where he’d fall, but Stefani knew he needed Landry and Kizzire, still on the course, to stumble. After mentioning that they were both his friends, and noting that they already had status for next season no matter what, Stefani allowed himself a wry smile and a hopeful request for the universe:
“Help Shawn out a little.”
The universe did not heed his prayers.
Thankfully, not all the stories are tragic, and not all bubbles are burst. Josh Teater started the day 156th and turned in a blazing 64 to finish 146th and give himself conditional status. Teater may owe his good fortune to hometown mojo—he wore the hat of the minor league Greensboro Grasshoppers all week. Turns out, he met the GM a few years ago, and after they watched a ballgame earlier this week, Teater made him an offer: “I don’t have a hat sponsor, so if you’ve got some hats, I’ll wear them this week.”
Ditto for Johnson Wagner, whose own psychological trick was to treat Sunday like he was charging to make a cut as he would on any Friday. It brought him from 156th to 141st with a closing 66. Harris English turned in a 64 to move up two spots to 149th. All three will likely try their luck at the Korn Ferry Finals, but the conditional status they earned is a welcome safety net … and comes at the expense of Jonathan Byrd, Stephan Jaeger and Scott Langley, all of whom missed an expensive cut.
The last drama to play out Sunday was the curious case of Viktor Hovland, who needed to win the Wyndham in order to make this year’s playoffs, and finish in a tie for second, at worst, to earn his full card for next year. Agonizingly, he finished solo fourth. Like Streb, and Noren, and English, and Stefani, and Teater, and Wagner, Hovland’s headed for the Korn Ferry Finals—golf’s answer to purgatory.