Three American players, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, Julian Suri of St. Augustine and former Oklahoma State star Peter Uihlein, are in the Open Championship field this week at Royal Birkdale after launching their professional careers not through the Web.com Tour but on the European Challenge Tour.
Chase Koepka did not make the Open field but the former University of South Florida star is on the European Challenge Tour with Suri, and has three top-five finishes in his last six starts. He’s eighth on the money list.
Earlier this year, when Taylor Funk of Ponte Vedra announced he was leaving the University of Texas to turn professional, he said the European avenue was one he was seriously considering.
Detect a trend here?
Suri said more American players may realize that the European PGA Tour qualifying tournament can still result in a European Tour card or, in his case, and that of the Koepka brothers and Uihlein, a spot on the Challenge Tour — which offers a schedule that so far this year has enabled players to compete in 27 tournaments in 21 countries, with the top-15 earning full European Tour status for next year.
The only path to the PGA Tour is through the Web.com Tour regular season or Web.com Finals. The national qualifier in the U.S. only gets players onto the Web.com Tour for the next season.
Playing in Europe still offers world golf ranking points and the chance to play in World Golf Championships. That, in turn, can get players in PGA Tour events, or, such as Koepka, get enough notoriety to earn sponsor invitations, then cash in with strong finishes, as he did in 2014 to earn his Tour card through non-member points.
“I think you’re going to start seeing more and more Americans coming over here,” Suri said. “It’s another way to reach the top of the food chain. Golf is a global game and there’s no reason to lock in on one particular avenue.”
Suri said the experience is proving invaluable because of the extensive travel, the different types of courses (links, parkland tracks, courses in mountainous terrain) and the extremes of weather.
“In the U.S., it’s very rare you play nine holes, let alone 18, in steady rain,” he said. “Usually there’s lightning and you’re pulled in. It’s been hot, cold, windy … you feel prepared to compete in any kind of conditions on any kind of course. And one part of professional golf is learning to handle the challenges of travel.”
The Challenge Tour has events in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Its players experience a change in cultures quite different than Web.com players going from Utah to Nebraska to Kansas.
Koepka said earlier this week at Royal Birkdale that competing on the Challenge Tour was better than sweating out Monday qualifiers for Web.com and PGA Tour events.
“Coming over here was important for my career, he said. “I needed to get over here and just play, play golf for four rounds, and not trying to get over on Monday and qualify. It was the plan all along to come over here, and obviously it worked out pretty well. I enjoyed it. I had the best time I’ve ever had being over here, playing the Challenge Tour, doing things like that. We had four guys packed in a taxi, trying to go from place to place, from the airport to the golf course, which is pretty fun. The camaraderie over here is pretty unique and special.”
Brandt Snedeker, who has already missed The Players Championship this season because of injury, withdrew from the Open because of a rib injury that has plagued him for several years.
Danny Lee got into the field because of the withdrawal. Jim Furyk of Ponte Vedra Beach is the next alternate but is in Ope-lika, Ala., playing the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship. This is the first major for which Furyk was not exempt into the main draw since 1995.
Woods out of top-1,000
Tiger Woods fell out of the top-1,000 on the World Golf Rankings this week, dropping to No. 1,005. He’s one spot ahead of Henric Sturehed of Sweden.
Woods, who is out for the rest of the year after his fourth back operation, has only seven tournaments recorded on the two-year revolving system and has points for three starts, a tie for 10th at the 2015 Wyndham Classic, a tie for 15th at the 2016 Hero World Challenge and a tie for 18th at the 2015 Greenbrier Classic.
Woods holds the record for being ranked No. 1 for 683 weeks, or just over 13 years.
Stadium Course stymies McCarron
Scott McCarron broke Bernhard Langer’s stranglehold on the Constellation Senior Players last week, shooting 66 to come from six shots down to win at Caves Valley. Langer had won the previous three Senior Players.
With the victory comes an exemption into The Players at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. But McCarron has never played well there. In 13 career starts, he made only four cuts and his best finish was a tie for 35th in 1998. He broke par only seven times in 30 rounds.
Event: Open Championship, Thursday-Sunday, Royal Birkdale, Southport, England.
At stake: $10.25 million purse ($1,845,000 to the winner).
Defending champion: Henrik Stenson.
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 1:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30-7 a.m.; Sunday, 4-7 a.m.); NBC (Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.).
Area players entered: David Duval, Brian Harman, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson, Russell Knox, Matt Kuchar, Sandy Lyle, Julian Suri.
Notable: Stenson shot 63 in the final round at Royal Troon to hold off Phil Mickelson by three shots. … Stenson’s final score of 20-under-par 264 tied the major championship score in relation to par and set the record for fewest strokes overall. … Leading the field are world No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson, Masters champion Sergio Garcia, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.
Event: Barbasol Championship, Thursday-Sunday, Grand National (Lake Course), Ope-lika, Ala.
At stake: $3.5 million purse ($630,000 to the winner).
Defending champion: Aaron Baddeley.
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 5-8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 4-7 p.m.).
Area players entered: Blayne Barber, Jonathan Byrd, Matt Every, Jim Furyk, Rick Lamb, Frank Lickliter, Davis Love III, Dru Love, Len Mattiace, Sam Saunders, Steve Wheatcroft.
Notable: Baddeley defeated Si Woo Kim with a birdie on the fourth playoff hole, after Kim came from six shots behind with a final-round 63.
Event: Marathon Classic, Thursday-Sunday, Highland Meadows Golf Club, Sylvania, Ohio.
At stake: $1.6 million purse ($225,000 to the winner).
Defending champion: Lydia Ko.
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 8-10 p.m.; Saturday, 7-9 p.m.; Sunday, 9-11 p.m.).
Area players entered: Marina Alex, Katie Burnett, Chella Choi, Amelia Lewis.
Notable: Ko needed four playoff holes to beat Miriam Lee and Arijya Jutanugarn. … Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis are also playing.
Event: Pinnacle Bank Championship, Thursday-Sunday, The Club at Indian Creek, Elkhorn, Neb.
At stake: $600,000 purse ($108,000 to the winner).
Defending champion: First-year event.
Area players entered: Vince Covello, Roberto Diaz, Luke Guthrie,
Notable: The Web.com Tour returns to the Omaha area after a three-year absence. The Tour had an event in the city from 1996-2013.