Sam Burns looked like he was about to follow the lead of Jordan Spieth and use a solid finish at the Valspar Championship to leap on to the PGA Tour in less than a half year as a professional golfer. Instead, the 21-year-old former LSU All-American will have to wait at least one more week to try to make that dream happen after a bruising final few holes on Sunday at Innisbrook Resort outside Tampa.
The reigning college player of the year, playing at the Valspar thanks to a top-10 finish two weeks ago at the Honda Classic, started the final round in a tie for fifth. A two-way tie for third or better would have earned Burns the enough FedEx Cup points (259, or the equivalent of 150th place on tour in 2017) to secure special temporary membership through the rest of the 2018 season. And when Burns shot two under through the opening nine holes, putting him in a tie for third, it looked like he might just pull off the storybook finish, á là Spieth in 2013 when the now three-time major winner finished T-7 to earn enough money as a non-member to get temporary status. Later that summer, he would win the John Deere Classic.
Burns, who is also 13th on the Web.com Tour money list this year, was still two under for his round, after a bogey-birdie exchange on the 13th and 14th holes, when he stepped to the par-4 16th tee. And then, well, the Copperhead course’s famed Snake Pit got in the way. A pulled drive by Burns earned him a gruesome lie in the left rough. He proceeded to pull his second shot well left of the green, en route to a triple-bogey 7.
After a par on the par-3 17th hole, Burns was still inside the top 10. It wouldn’t be enough for the temporary membership, but would allow him to secure a spot in the next non-invitational event on the PGA Tour, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in two weeks. Burns, however, missed the fairway right, put his approach in front greenside bunker, and couldn’t get up and down for par. The resulting bogey dropped him into a tie for 12th with a two-over 73.
If there’s some solace for Burns, it’s the fact he had already had a sponsor’s exemption into this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational (thanks to his college player-of-the-year honors). If he can earn the equivalent of 88 FedEx Cup points at Bay Hill (roughly a seventh-place finish), he can still grab that special temporary membership, which would allow him unlimited sponsor’s exemptions through the rest of the 2018 season.