With LIV threatening, PGA Tour offers college stars new membership fast track

College players like Michael Thorbjornsen and Ludvig Aberg will have new pathways to the PGA Tour thanks to changes from the PGA Tour U program.

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The PGA Tour is making significant changes to its PGA Tour University college eligibility program.

The program, started in 2020, previously provided top NCAA seniors limited status on the Korn Ferry Tour, but now all college golfers will have the opportunity to earn a direct path to the PGA Tour thanks to changes approved by the PGA Tour Policy Board.

PGA Tour University

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For seniors, the top player in the PGA Tour University rankings after the NCAA D-I National Championship will instantly become a PGA Tour member. This is effective starting this season, good news for Texas Tech’s Ludvig Aberg, who is tops in both the PGA Tour U ranking and the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Players earn points based on their average performance in events including D-1 team competitions, PGA Tour events and select DP World Tour events.

Texas’ Pierceson Coody was No. 1 in the ranking last season and won in his third start on the Korn Ferry Tour. But he didn’t record a top-10 after the win and finished outside the top 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour points list, missing out on a PGA Tour card for the 2022-23 season.

Had the new system been in place, Coody would have been a full PGA Tour member and able to earn FedEx Cup points. If he was unable to secure enough points to retain his card, he would have been exempt into the final stage of Q-School. Q-School this upcoming season will have added significance as it will once again award PGA Tour cards.

The perks for finishing 2-20 on the PGA Tour U ranking will remain the same. Nos. 2-5 will be full members of the Korn Ferry Tour for the remainder of the season (as Coody was this season) and exempt into the Final Stage of Q-School while Nos. 6-10 will have conditional status. Players finishing Nos. 6-20 will have full status on the PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica and be exempt into the Second Stage of Q-School.

The Tour said PGA Tour eligibility for PGA Tour University graduates is not yet determined for 2024 and beyond.

PGA Tour University Accelerated

Completely new this season is a pathway for underclassmen to PGA Tour membership. PGA Tour University Accelerated will award membership to players who earn 20 points in a newly established system by the end of their third year of NCAA Eligibility.

The points system breakdown is below:

  • Win a major college golf award: Haskins Award (3 points), Hogan Award (3 points), D-I Nicklaus Award (3 points), D-I Outstanding Freshman Award (2 points)
  • Career-best rank in WAGR (No. 1 = 5 points, No. 2 = 4 points, No. 3 = 3 points, No. 4 = 2 points, No. 5 = 1 point)
  • Tournament wins: D-I NCAA individual (3 points), U.S. Amateur (3 points), The Amateur (3 points), Western Amateur (2 points), European Amateur (2 points), Latin America Amateur (2 points), Asia-Pacific Amateur (2 points)
  • Participate in a national team competition: Walker Cup (2 points), Palmer Cup (1 point), World Amateur Team Championship (1 point)
  • Performance in official PGA TOUR events and Major Championships. Points are accumulated for each of the following achievements:
    • 1 point = Made cut in an official PGA TOUR event
    • 1 point = Top-10 finish in an official PGA TOUR event
    • 1 point = Compete in a Major Championship (Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, The Open Championship)
    • 1 point = Made cut in a Major Championship
    • 2 points = Top-20 finish in a Major Championship

Once a player earns 20 points, he can then join the PGA Tour following that season’s NCAA Championship. This leaves an interesting possibility if a junior were to amass nearly enough points to earn PGA Tour status by the end of his junior year, then cross the threshold the following summer, potentially with a U.S. Amateur win. If the player was a senior, he would still have to finish atop the PGA Tour U ranking to earn status.

But PGA Tour University senior manager Chris Richards told GOLF.com the cutoff point and PGA Tour entry point were designed with college programs in mind.

“The member benefits we’re providing PGA Tour U players are built around that early-June entry point,” Richards wrote in an email. “This is also true if a player earns his 20th point in November of his junior season — he isn’t eligible to accept membership until after NCAAs. The cutoff being the end of their 3rd year of eligibility aligns with this entry point, and it also ensures college coaches have a full understanding of their rosters. If a rising senior won the U.S. Amateur in August, earned his 20th point, and suddenly accepted Tour membership just weeks before the fall season began, the coach and team would be left in a bad spot.”

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The Tour said since 2010 only three players — Patrick Cantlay in 2012, Justin Thomas in 2013 and Patrick Rodgers in 2014 — would have earned membership through PGA Tour Accelerated. Stanford junior Michael Thorbjornsen leads the current points standing with 12.

Like the changes to PGA Tour U, PGA Tour U Accelerated begins this season.

This new fast track is surely a response to LIV Golf, which has lured away a couple of top college-age talents from a PGA Tour career path. In the last five months, two star NCAA players, David Puig and Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, left school to join LIV Golf; the new tour also has 2021 U.S. Amateur winner James Piot under contract. Coody is a prime example of why the trio joined LIV Golf — i.e., exceptional play while in college guarantees a player nothing when they decide to turn pro.

With this move, the PGA Tour likely is banking on college stars having a more direct route to the Tour helping the Tour retain more top talent, instead of losing out to LIV.

“Success at the highest levels of college and amateur golf has proven to be a strong indicator of a player’s potential as a professional golfer,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement. “The first two classes of PGA Tour University alumni have shown us that these players are ready to compete and win immediately, and these two additions to the program further strengthen our commitment to college golf and will provide future stars with direct access to the PGA Tour.”

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.