Tour rookie ‘shocked’ that win and nearly $2 million not enough for playoff spot
In the aftermath of Akshay Bhatia’s breakthrough victory at the Barracuda Championship last week, the 21-year-old was euphoric.
“I’m in the playoffs now, which was a huge goal for me,” Bhatia said Sunday. “My goal is to win. Obviously, to get in the top 50 for next season. And, yeah, I think it changes a little bit of the plans. I mean, I’m just excited. I love playing golf, I love playing on the PGA Tour and it’s just a dream come true to have it.”
Bhatia’s enthusiasm for his accomplishment was obvious, and for good reason. The win was worth $684,000, the biggest check of his young career, bringing his season total to $1,913,058. But there was one hiccup: Unbeknownst to Bhatia at the time, his win is still not enough to guarantee him a berth in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
A Tour winner not making the post-season? What gives?
The answer requires a deep dive into PGA Tour regulations. Bhatia played a full season on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 and failed to earn a PGA Tour card for the following season. He did notch a Korn Ferry win, though, thereby earning enough points secure his place on the KFT for 2023.
But after finishing second at the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open in March, everything changed for Bhatia. He had earned enough points with the finish to accept Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour, which meant he could then accept unlimited sponsor invitations throughout the rest of the season. (Non-members are restricted to seven total sponsor exemptions per season.) Though this status can be lucrative, Special Temporary Members are still not eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs — unless they win. And that’s exactly what Bhatia did at the Barracuda.
One problem: Though Bhatia was now eligible for the Playoffs, he didn’t have enough points to get in. His current ranking of 92nd is well short of the 70th-or-better rank needed to qualify. How could that be, when he had not only just won but also finished T9 at the Barbasol Championship the week before? As it happens, those tournaments don’t award FedEx Cup points to non-members, so Bhatia was forced to miss out on points that would have easily elevated him into the first FedEx Cup Playoff event, the FedEx St. Jude. A bummer for Bhatia, to be sure.
“I was just, like, really shocked, because my caddie and I talked about going to play Barbasol and Barracuda, and with Special Temporary [status] obviously, you’re just trying to win within these next four events to get into the playoffs,” Bhatia said this week on SiriusXM PGA Tour radio. “That’s the whole goal.”
He added: “The fact that I finished top 10 and then I win and I’m not technically — I’m not in the playoffs and I don’t get the points, it is a little frustrating because you work so hard. It’s not easy to win a PGA Tour event.”
Why is a FedEx Cup berth so important? The series of three limited-field events have heightened meaning heading into next season. Qualifying into the top 50 opens a whole new level of opportunity for 2024, when cut-free, invitation-based tournaments with guaranteed money will be even more prevalent.
The good news? Now that Bhatia is a Tour winner, not only is his Tour member status secure through 2025, but he also has one more chance to make a run at this year’s Playoffs. He’s not in the field at this week’s 3M Open, but a solo-fourth or better finish at next week’s Wyndham Championship would punch his card to Memphis.