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PGA Tour card joy for China's Yuan

China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-14 09:17
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Carl Yuan Yechun will tee up on the PGA Tour next year by virtue of Jon Rahm's suspension for joining LIV Golf. [Photo/ GETTY IMAGES]

Chinese putter earns full playing rights following Jon Rahm's decision to join Saudi-backed circuit

China's Carl Yuan Yechun received an early Christmas present this week — a PGA Tour card thanks to Jon Rahm's suspension from the circuit.

Yuan endured a tough rookie reason on the tour this year and then suffered the heartache of failing to retain his card by a mere point in the FedExCup standings, where the top 125 finishers earn full cards for next term.

Yuan still had a chance to earn his place at the tour's qualifying school, however he now avoids that stress due to Rahm's expulsion.

The Spanish world No 3 has been suspended by the PGA Tour after announcing last week that he had signed with Saudi-funded LIV Golf.

Rahm's removal lifted Yuan up one spot to No 125, giving him a full PGA Tour card, which comes with exemptions into "full field" events and The Players Championship.

After just falling short of the top 125 with a tied-68th finish at last month's RSM Classic in Georgia, Yuan put on a brave face as he faced up to the prospect of Q-School.

"Coming into the week, definitely it was a pressure week, not going to lie. I did pretty good getting in the weekend, but on the weekend physically I didn't feel great, my back was really bugging me. But I was really hanging tight in there, trying to do the best I can. I didn't leave anything out there, I gave it all. If it's good, it's good. If it's not, play better," he said after putting up a gallant fight with rounds of 66, 70, 69 and 70 at Sea Island Resort.

"I think definitely I had a rough start during the season … my rookie year. Definitely things to be learned."

Now he can look forward to putting those lessons learned into practice on the elite North American circuit on a weekly basis. Prior to Rahm's suspension he was at least guaranteed conditional status on the tour, which would have given him around 10 starts next season.

Yuan had been planning to go for his full playing card at this weekend's Final Stage of Q-School at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, where the top five finishers and ties will earn PGA Tour cards. China will still be represented in the Q-School field by Marty Dou Zecheng and Cao Yi.

Canadian Mackenzie Hughes was the other big beneficiary from Rahm's suspension, going from No 51 to No 50, and is now eligible for all seven of the $20 million signature events in 2024.

In a memo to players on Monday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Rahm's suspension "due to his association with a series of unauthorized tournaments" removes his name from the FedEx Cup eligibility points list.

The tour last year distinguished between the FedEx Cup standings and a separate list related to eligibility for the postseason and for status. The distinction was so players defecting to LIV would not have a negative impact on those who stayed behind.

This year, Hughes narrowly missed out on the top 50. He kept his 51st position through the fall, which only would have guaranteed him spots in the first two $20 million events. Now the Canadian can count on the likes of the Wells Fargo Championship in his home residence of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Alex Smalley rose to the No 60 spot and is assured of two $20 million events. The changes also affect Paul Haley, who moves to No 150 and now has conditional status.

The movements were allowed because the new season has not started. If more PGA Tour players leave for LIV before the end of the year, that could lead to more changes.

Rumors on social media suggested Tony Finau could join his close friend Rahm on the LIV circuit. However, in an Instagram post on Monday, Finau said he was "looking forward to playing my 10th season on the PGA Tour". "See y'all in Maui!" he concluded in a reference to the PGA Tour's season opener, adding the hashtag "imnotleaving".

Monahan also said in the memo that the policy board and management recently met with a group of players upset that signature events will offer disproportionately more FedEx Cup points than the other events, leading to concerns it will be difficult for players outside the top 50 to fairly compete.

Monahan added the board will review how the new system is working in June and evaluate whether changes are in order for 2025.

The PGA Tour sanctioned Rahm even as it negotiates with LIV Golf's financiers, the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, to hammer out a final version of their so-called framework agreement.

The tour said eligibility for the 2024 season would be finalized on Dec 31, and any other changes before then will be reflected in the FedEx Cup standings.

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