Status is the main prize on Tour

‘Status’ is a word you hear dropped a lot on the Tour.

Formerly known as the Nationwide Tour, the junior to the PGA Tour makes its annual stop in Athens this week for the Stadion Classic at UGA. One hundred and fifty-seven golfers will battle for the $600,000 purse in tee times that start at 7:15 a.m. Thursday.

But as much as anything, they’ll compete for status.

“It’s very difficult to get through this tour,” said UGA graduate Hudson Swafford, who is defending champion in this event, but who ranks 66th on the money list this year. “If it was easy everybody would do it. There’d be more than 25 guys making it through this year. It’s definitely a grind for sure. And there are some great players out here.”

That’s evident in the field. Among the participants are three major champions and a multitude of players who have won on the PGA Tour, including nine players who won multiple times on the big stage.

Even major winners John Daly (1991 PGA Championship, 1995 British Open), Lee Janzen (1993, '98 U.S. Opens) and Todd Hamilton (2004 British Open) get no special consideration.

“They just shake your hand and say, ‘good job,’” Hamilton quipped.

Current qualifying changes have made the golf’s “minor league tour” even more difficult. Starting this year, only the winner of PGA final-stage qualifying will earn a card directly onto the PGA Tour. The other top finishers will get full status on the tour and have to play their onto the big tour.

“That’s the goal, where hopefully I can get my card back for the tour,” said Daly, who finished in a tie for 53rd in the South Georgia Classic last week in Valdosta. “But I think coming out here is going to prepare me, as well as the European Tour, and at least I’m home.”

Daly played the European Tour last year, but said it left him too tired to play in PGA events when he came back to the States.

“I want to keep playing,” Daly said. “I’ve got three more years until the senior tour, and I’m still exempt from the British and the PGA. I’m still going to get in eight or nine more PGA events this year.”

Etc.: There are 10 current or former Georgia students in the field, an all-time high. As usual the two players on the current team with the lowest cumulative scoring averages received sponsor's exemptions. This year they are junior Keith Mitchell and senior T.J. Mitchell. The other Bulldogs are Swafford, Paul Claxton, Ryuji Imada, Kevin Kisner, Richard Scott and Brendon Todd. Scott Parel is a former UGA student who did not play on the golf team. Several players pulled out Wednesday because of the chance to play in the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C.