What is a PGA Tour Special Temporary member? Explaining Akshay Bhatia’s status
If you hadn’t heard about Akshay Bhatia before last weekend, get ready to see a whole lot more of him.
The 21-year-old pro entered the final round of the Mexico Open at Vidanta tied for second with Jon Rahm, and although he finished solo fourth in Puerto Vallarta, that finish is key for Bhatia’s future.
Why? Because he’s still not a fully exempt member on the PGA Tour, so every point and dollar earned counts. After his runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open in March, Bhatia earned what’s known as Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour.
Not sure what that is? Well you’ve come to the right place. Here are some answers to questions you might have about the unique form of PGA Tour status.
What is a Special Temporary membership?
In simple terms, a Special Temporary member has the ability to accept as many sponsors exemptions to PGA Tour events as he’d like for the rest of the season.
Wait, there’s a limit to how many sponsors’ exemptions a player can earn?
Yes, but only for non-PGA Tour members. Tour members have unlimited sponsors exemptions. They might look to get one when they’re too far down on the priority list to get into a big event (like Sahith Theegala last year in Phoenix). Non-members may only play on seven sponsors’ exemptions each season.
So Bhatia is a non-PGA Tour member still?
Well, sort of. He is still technically a member of the Korn Ferry Tour. He won the Korn Ferry Tour season-opener in 2022 but didn’t play well the rest of the year and finished 30th on the regular season points list. He then didn’t make the cut at any of the three Korn Ferry Tour Finals events, keeping him from a PGA Tour card.
How does one become a Special Temporary Member?
The seven sponsors’ exemptions are basically an audition to earn at least the equivalent number of non-member FedEx Cup points to the 150th-place finisher in the FedEx Cup last year. This year the number was 175.228, which Bhatia eclipsed thanks to 165 points from the Puerto Rico Open.
What are non-member FedEx Cup points?
The FedEx Cup points a player would have earned if they were a PGA Tour member. It’s not the same as when an amateur finishes ahead of someone, but their money goes to the next player on the leaderboard. Bhatia’s points get allocated, just differently.
So can he qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs?
Unfortunately, no. Bhatia is not eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs because he is not a PGA Tour member.
Then what’s the idea behind becoming a Special Temporary member?
If by the end of the season — which will include the fall portion of the schedule, after the Playoffs — a special temporary member has the same or more non-member FedEx Cup points than No. 125 in the standings, he will earn his PGA Tour card for the following season. Based on last season, the No. 125 finisher (with LIV golfers included) had 385 points. Bhatia is up to 396.3 after last week, but this year’s standings will include more events.
Is there any way for him to become a PGA Tour member *this season*?
Win a PGA Tour event. This is the way.
If he does that, his non-member points will automatically convert to regular points and he’d be included in the FedEx Cup standings and able to play in the Playoffs.
Are there any other Special Temporary members this year?
Yes, both Ryan Gerard and Nicolai Hojgaard earned the status after the Valero Texas Open.
Who has earned status recently as a Special Temporary member?
Most recently was Tom Kim. Kim became a Special Temporary member after the Open Championship, secured enough points to guarantee his membership for this season at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, then catapulted his way into the Playoffs by winning the Wyndham Championship.
You may also recall the odd predicament Will Zalatoris was in the season prior. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 Korn Ferry Tour seasons were combined and the 2020-21 PGA Tour season included six majors. Zalatoris — the Korn Ferry Tour points leader at the time — earned a top 10 at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and then kept playing well, earning Special Temporary status by November for the mega-season.
He then went on to finish runner-up at the Masters and record eight top 10s in total that season, amassing nearly $3.5 million. But his season ended at the Wyndham Championship as he still was not eligible for the Playoffs, despite working his way up to No. 29 in the world. He easily earned full status for 2021-22.