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The out-of-job millionaires

V Krishnaswamy | October 30, 2004

They have earned more than half a million dollars in the past 10 months but still aren't sure whether they will get a placement next year. And when the final US PGA Tour List for the next season goes up on the board this Sunday, they will finally know whether they have secured it or lost out.

Meanwhile, the lists for the lesser leagues like the European PGA, the Ladies PGA and Nationwide Tours, the second-rung US event, are already out. The last man to secure a full job in the European PGA Tour made a little under $150,000 this season, while the last woman to get her job card for 2005 made just over $80,000.

But the richest 'jobless' will be on the main PGA Tour List, where the 125th man with earnings of around $610,000 will be the last person to be assured of a full Tour card which is similar to having a full-time job.

On the Nationwide Tour, the top 20, the last of whom is expected to make anything between $190,000 and $200,000, will get into the coveted PGA ranks for next year. For the rest, it will be a journey back to the Qualifying Schools to grab one of the 35-odd available full cards.

Some players with full cards are privileged enough to pick and choose events, closely followed by those who successfuly come through the Q-schools. The situation is also not so bad for those who manage to get their foot in.

For instance, the 126th to 150th place finishers on the US Tour get what is called a 'Conditional Status', which is like a part-time job with a maximum of 18 starts. That's where Arjun Atwal, India's first player on the PGA Tour, is going to be in 2005.

Atwal almost missed the boat, placed as he was 163rd with three events to go and not quite sure whether he would get an entry in the next three events.

In one swoop, he finished tied sixth, picked up $165,000 at the Chrysler Classic and then added another $20,000 the following week to jump to the 143rd place. He did not get into the last counting event -- at the Chrysler Championships being held this week.

Barring a bizarre result, Atwal will stay inside 150 and get to play a maximum of 18 events, depending on availability of spots. These 'lower focus' events carry a prize purse of between $3.5 million and $4 million. The winner takes home about $720,000 to $800,000.

Daniel Chopra, the Indo-Swede who along with Atwal had come through the Qualifying School, is comfortably placed inside 125 and should finish around 100th with earnings in excess of three-fourths of a million dollars.

Lest one believes that those going to the six-round Qualifying School and not making it to the top 35 for a full card are left starving, that is hardly the case. They have a safety net called the Nationwide Tour.

The next 50 (that is between 35th and 85th places) go to the Nationwide Tour, which has 30-35 events with prizes between $500,000 and $600,000. That is $15 million to $18 million at stake in a year!

Those who fail to get into the top 85-odd at Qualifying School get a conditional status on Nationwide and they, too, get a fair number of starts. A few good finishes mean more invites and a win means a full card while three wins earn a "Battlefield Promotion" to the main US Tour. Or, at the end of the season, if the player is in top 20 with around $190,000, he gets into the following season's PGA Tour.

For those even below 100-120 at the Q-School, there are still smaller Tours like the Grey Goose, Hooters and Golden Bear Tours, which offer prize purses ranging from $100,000 to $150,000 for about 15-20 weeks in a year.

The struggle for the millionaires will continue at the various Q-Schools in the US and in Europe over the next few weeks while Asian players will go through these tense moments in January next year.

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