On the surface, Brad Fritsch is off to a solid start to his rookie PGA Tour season.
The 35-year-old Manotick, Ont., native has already earned $209,800 US, making four of five cuts and posting his first Top 10 a few weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open. Those totals have him roughly a third of the way toward the expected money and FedEx Cup points needed to restamp his PGA Tour card for 2014.
However, there is a more subtle ledger on which Fritsch has done much better and that is the continued improvement of his priority ranking that all first-year players live and die by on the PGA Tour. The tour will reshuffle its rankings after this week's WGC-Match Play event and Fritsch is expected to move up slightly on the giant leap he made after coming T7 at qualifying school in December.
In total, since earning his PGA Tour card by finishing 18th on the Web.com money list last fall, Fritsch will have improved his PGA Tour status by some 25 spots once the reshuffle is made Sunday night.
"Basically, there aren't enough spots for every for everyone who wants to play," Fritsch said, when asked to explain in layman's terms the PGA Tour's order for granting players playing opportunities.
"In my category, there are 50 guys and most weeks [early in the season], only about one-third or even a quarter get [into the tournament]."
'I now have access'
To crunch the numbers, had Fritsch not gone to Q-school, he would be 20 notches lower each week. But his impressive Q-school showing afforded him at least two more playing opportunities on the west coast and then his play on that early-season swing has had a similar positive effect as the tour moves east.
"I now have access to a lot of bigger tournaments like Wells Fargo and Honda," Fritsch said. "Also, guys behind me [in priority ranking] won't have the opportunity to pass me because they aren't going to be getting into these events."
It may seem harsh, but the reality of life for a PGA Tour rookie or a journeyman who has earned his way back is that the opportunity granted to Q-school and Web.com grads is more akin to a hockey player getting an invite to an NHL training camp or a baseball player to spring training. In theory, the chance exists, but the actual amount of playing opportunities is often determined by events out of their control or in how well a player can perform when granted limited starts.
That reality is especially difficult this season because the PGA Tour has effectively eliminated its Fall Finish for this year. Instead, the handful of events that used to serve as a last-chance opportunity for players to solidify their cards will count toward the 2014 money and FedEx Cup ledgers and will only be open to players who have re-earned full status.
While Fritsch has taken advantage of his chances so far, he's not completely satisfied with his play to date, pointing to some indifferent stretches at Pebble Beach a couple weeks ago.
"If you were with me for every shot, you can see that [there have been] some simple things," Fritsch said of areas he could improve. "They are more mental, trust and confidence issues."
'A lot of fun'
Fritsch has already had one opportunity in his brief PGA Tour tenure that most players have to wait much longer to experience.
During the weather-affected Farmers event, Fritsch played in the second-to-last group in front of a trio that included eventual winner Tiger Woods. During the brief changeover at the end of the third round on Sunday, television cameras showed Fritsch staying loose on the range with Woods nearby.
That sedate picture was much different than the ones that took place on the course. The large crowds that followed Woods were often a factor for Fritsch's group as much of the gallery jockeyed for position.
"It was a lot of fun to see how the crowd would conduct themselves [around Woods]," said Fritsch. "It was interesting, but [the potential distraction] doesn't bother me."
Indeed, after appearing as though he was going to fade during the final round, two late birdies moved Fritsch into an eventual T9 showing and earned him about an extra $80,000 US and 20 FedEx points.
After two weeks off, Fritsch is expected to return to action next week at the Honda Classic.
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