The perks of winning on the PGA Tour include better tee times

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Sepp Straka of Austria kisses the Honda Classic trophy after winning the final round of the golf tournament on Sunday, February 27, 2022 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

AP

Whether it’s a seven-figure check or a two-year exemption, some of the benefits of winning the first game on the PGA Tour are obvious. For tournaments that offer full FedEx Cup points, there is always this invitation to the Masters.

Another advantage is not so obvious until the next tournament.

Instead of being among the first tee times, the winners will move into the group of other PGA Tour winners midway through the draw.

Sepp Straka is a good example. He was in the second group on Thursday morning at the Honda Classic last week with two other players who didn’t win on the tour. He’s birded two of his last three holes for a one-shot win and now he’s on his way to the Masters.

The first stop is the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Straka will play the first two rounds with Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, both Major Champions, former world No. 1 players who have a combined 57 global wins.

Max Homa won his first PGA Tour event in 2019 at the Wells Fargo Championship. At his next PGA Tour event, he played alongside Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau.

“It’s a big deal,” Homa said. “It is fun. We play as kids and imagine playing with Tiger and Phil, so it’s cool.”

Scottie Scheffler thought more about the timing. He was in a different situation than Homa and Straka because he played at the Masters and even the Sentry Tournament of Championship before winning the Phoenix Open for the first time.

The next stop was Riviera where the first start time was at 6:40am and the range had to be lit for the early starters. The clubhouse usually doesn’t open until 5 a.m. A year ago, Scheffler was eliminated from the second group at 6:51 a.m. He was in the middle of the draw this year alongside Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm.

“My coach and I were pretty excited that we weren’t in this little ‘first off’ group, which is nice. Get a few more minutes of sleep,” Scheffler said. “These start times are tough. You literally warm up in the dark until you tee off.”

RYDER CUP MOMENT

Zach Johnson believes there are moments early in a career that give players a boost of confidence. He first attended games at The K Club in Ireland in 2006 on the day he was named US Ryder Cup Captain.

It was Friday afternoon during Chad Campbell’s first foursome against Irish duo Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.

The situation was dire. They were 2 down on the par 5 16th hole where the River Liffey separates the fairway from the green. Campbell hit a good drive, and while Johnson could come home with a clean 3-wood in two, he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the shot. He thought about giving up.

“Captain (Tom) Lehman pulled over and asked me where we were in the game,” Johnson said. “We were 2 down with three going. “What’s the discussion?” it really mattered. And he just gave me some nice advice. He says: “You are here for a reason. Just hit it.’”

Johnson said the shot came off better than he imagined on the green. They won the hole by a birdie. Johnson potted a 15-foot birdie putt to halve the 17th and a 4-foot birdie on the 18th to halve the match.

“It’s the recording that I come back to that I think has really helped inspire confidence in the most difficult of situations,” Johnson said. “But also one that kind of shaped me and said, ‘Hey, you belong.'”

CHAMPION PURSUIT

Cameron Young tied for second at Riviera and followed with a tied 16th at the Honda Classic. In two weeks he climbed 62 places in the world rankings to 51st.

Young will move into the Players Championship next week after finishing 15th in this year’s FedEx Cup standings (which will be used to fill in the 144-man field). He’s also a suspension for the Dell Match Play two weeks later, the final date to make the top 50 for the Masters.

The bubble for entering the Masters is getting fuller and fuller.

Seamus Power is at No. 47. Harold Varner III rose to world No. 45 by winning the Saudi International, only to miss the cut in his next two tournaments. He is ranked 49th.

Further up is Cameron Tringale, who finished just outside the top 50 late last year, which would have earned a place in the Masters.

LET’S PLAY TWO

The LPGA Tour is spending two straight weeks in Los Angeles making it easy for fans.

The JTBC LA Open returns to Wilshire Country Club for the fourth time April 21-24. The following week the first JTBC Championship will take place at the Palos Verdes Golf Club.

Both tournaments have $1.5 million in prize money and feature the “LA LPGA Dual Ticket,” which gives spectators a weekly pass to both tournament venues. It is the first time that a ticket is valid for two tournaments.

Wilshire is one of the few courses that hosts tournaments for the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions. Palos Verdes has hosted a college event for women for 25 years. This will be the club’s first professional tournament.

THE OLD DAYS

One of the more underappreciated technologies is the smartphone, which provides instant feedback when used to record the golf swing.

At 45, Ben Crane is old enough to appreciate that.

“I used to film my swing on a little tape,” Crane said. “I went to the FedEx box and put it in the mail for my bus in Palm Springs the next day. He would get it at 10 a.m. and at 11 a.m. he would call me.”

Crane said that was only 20 years ago.

“And now he’s literally watching me live on the track.”

DIVOTS

The Mexico Open in Puerto Vallarta received a major boost on Tuesday when world No. 1 Jon Rahm signed up for the April 28-May 1 tournament. … The British Masters, the Soudal Open in Belgium, the Dutch Open and the Porsche European Open in Germany will be the four European tour events awarding 10 spots to the US Open from a special points list. They are played over five weeks, with the PGA Championship sitting in the middle and not counting on the list. …Longtime golf writer and author Michael Bamberger has been selected to receive the Memorial Golf Journalism Award. … The European Tour added two tournaments in Spain in back-to-back weeks at the end of April. The second, the Catalunya Championship from April 28 to May 1, replaces the Volvo China Open. … Six players have not defended a PGA Tour title this season. The youngest are Bryson DeChambeau (Bay Hill), who retired with an injury, and Branden Grace, who is not defending in Puerto Rico because he was eligible to play for Bay Hill.

STAT OF THE WEEK

The average world ranking for this year’s PGA Tour winners is 81. The world rankings, if they have won, range from No. 15 (Scottie Scheffler) to No. 176 (Sepp Straka).

LAST WORD

“I don’t think you need a hostile takeover to change the game.” – Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America.

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