How brand names risk losing Tour Champ. to count their seasons?

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – There are no foul lines on the PGA Tour. It’s a series of numbers. Black and white.

The top 125 retain game status.

The top 70 advance to the playoffs.

The top 50 earn a spot in next year’s signature event series.

And this week: The top 30 to reach the Tour Championship, with an $18 million bonus for the eventual FedExCup champion.

You fall on the right side of those numbers, it seems, and it’s been a successful year. Progress. But at this level, for these players, it’s not always that simple. Professional careers are not always so binary, judged solely by numbers or scores, by benchmark cuts and clearances.

“It’s so results-driven,” Max Homa said. “It’s just this tour and golf in general that rewards high finishes over consistency. But I think the people who are most successful are the ones who know inside, Hi, I’m getting better.”

And that’s what brings us here to the BMW Championship, where by Sunday night the playoff field will be reduced from 50 to 30. Right now, at least, there are some surprising names on the wrong side of the number that should find consolation lanes amid season-long disappointment.

Full field standings from the BMW Championship

It starts with 2022 US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who entered the week at No. 40. Asked to assess his season to date on Thursday, the Englishman didn’t mince words.

“It’s disappointing, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “There’s not really much to add to that. It’s disappointing. I wanted it to be better.”

Did he regress horribly? Not by any reasonable measure. He remained in the top 10 players in the world. He won a signature event, the RBC Heritage, as a playoff favorite. He had a top-10 at the Masters and a top-20 at the US Open. But he also knew that he often didn’t have his best stuff.

At Los Angeles Country Club, his partner, Billy Foster, said, “How the hell did you finish in the top 20 at the US Open driving the ball like I did?”

Indeed, short in stature, Fitzpatrick has built his career on driving the ball to a string and being neat in and around the greens. But that hasn’t been the case this year – he’s 58th in strokes: off the tee, including 141st on Tour in accuracy. This is down significantly from 10th and 51st place, respectively, a year ago.

“For me who’s always relied on good driving and hitting the net has been a strength of my game,” he said, “it just makes it difficult.”

And yet he was also quick to point out his improvement in his iron game, especially his distance control. These are the areas where he has made significant gains this year, even if it doesn’t always show in the stats. And after making a driver adjustment with swing coach Mike Walker last week in Memphis, Fitzpatrick hit a dead target Thursday at rain-soaked Olympia Fields to rank third in the field in approach, opening at 4-under 66 that left him a shot. the early lead. It has him, finally, optimistic about a big finish to the year, first in the playoffs and then the Ryder Cup.

Fitzpatrick comfortable at Olympia Fields

“Really pleased,” he said. “Really, really, really, really, really, really, really pleased. He just hasn’t played well lately. it’s pretty obvious. But I feel like we’ve turned a corner.”

He joins Sahith Theegala, for a second consecutive year on the FedExCup bubble, at No. 31 in the standings. A year ago, the dynamic rising star was 28th and barely made the final. He then spoke passionately about his “dream” rookie season and his desire to make it all the way to East Lake to stand among the Tour’s top 30 players of the season.

“It would mean everything,” he said at the time. “It’s the validation of the season.”

But Theegala didn’t speak as he did Thursday at Olympia Fields, where he posted one of his best ball-striking rounds of the year and shot a 66. He said he tries not to compare himself to others but to his former self. And in that regard, he said, he is in better physical shape. He feels he has more energy for a playoff push. He has acquired some intangibles simply with more experience.

“All you can do is grow and practice what’s best for you and hope you get the most out of it,” Theegala said. “You could be doing the hardest practice you’ve ever done, and the scores might be getting worse, but you know you’re making progress and going in the right direction.

“You carve a rock and you hit it 100 times, and it’s the 101st time it breaks, but it’s the 100 hits before. That’s something I’ve kept in mind as well, because I feel like I’ve gotten better, but I had a bit of a struggle in the middle of the season and I had to remind myself of that.”

And it ends with Cameron Young, who was No. 46 in points and, surprisingly, hasn’t made the jump since his 2022 Rookie of the Year campaign. Asked to grade his season, he first offered a “C-minus” before reducing it to “B”.

Last year, Young was a major factor, a consistent presence on the leaderboard, an extremely impressive one who had seven top-3 finishes without a win. But this season? “There aren’t many tournaments where I look back and think, Man, I played so well that week,” he said. “I feel like last year there was more of it, but I don’t think the golf was that different. That’s why I kind of moved back up (in the standings).

Without the myriad opportunities to win – apart from losing the Match Play finals to Sam Burns – Young had to look at success differently. During a seven-tournament streak this summer, he needed a late birdie or two just to make the cut. All but two, he succeeded.

“So even though I struggled,” he said, “I think I did some things that I’m proud of.”

So even for the notoriously harsh self-critic, his sophomore season wasn’t entirely disappointing.

“I’m a better professional golfer than I was a year ago,” he said.

Better routines. Most productive tournament weeks. Greater efficiency in his work at home.

“I’m understanding my golf more and more,” he said, “and I think it’s really hard to measure those things, but I know they’re there, even if some of the results don’t really speak to it.”

Like Fitzpatrick and Theegala, Young started with a solid first round at BMW. They are two off the early lead, a welcome sign if US captain Zach Johnson studies the results of the Ryder Cup contenders. For now, Young is only projected to move up to 35th in the FedEx race. It wouldn’t be enough to get us to next week. He would be on the wrong side of the Tour’s arbitrary cut-off line.

“There’s no pressure from any of that stuff – it’s all from me,” he said. “It’s the same things I feel every week, trying to prove to myself that I can do what I want to do out here, and just trying to be the best I can be at the game of golf. That’s why we show up every week.”

For the feeling that cannot be quantified – hours of effort turning into moments of joy.

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