Ben Evans did all he could to try to secure his European Tour card for next year when he closed with a 66-65 weekend and tied for 11th at the Hong Kong Open.
The Englishman needed a little help, and it came from an unlikely source: Brooks Koepka.
Evans narrowly missed his card by finishing 111th on the European Tour money list. His big break came when Koepka chose to give up his European membership. That removed him from the money list, and moved Evans up one spot.
Koepka will not defend his title this week in the Turkish Airlines Open and is not playing the HSBC Champions next week in Shanghai. He will be short of the required 13 events, and he informed the tour he would no longer be a member.
It was the second straight week that an American came to the rescue of a European. Rich Beem agreed to give up his invitation in the Hong Kong Open to Ian Poulter, who otherwise would not have met the minimum requirement and been ineligible for the Ryder Cup next year.
Koepka’s decision figures to help one other player on the Race to Dubai. For the moment, Stephen Gallacher moved to No. 60, though the field of 60 players for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai won’t be determined until after the BMW Masters, the third event in The Final Series.
Beyond the help, Koepka’s decision reflects the difficulty of maintaining cards on two tours.
His manager, Blake Smith at Hambric Sports, said one reason Koepka chose not to defend in Turkey was a change in the schedule. The Turkish Airlines Open typically is the third event in The Final Series. It switched spots with the BMW Masters to avoid a conflict with the G20 Summit in Antalya that week.
Koepka likes playing the Frys.com Open, which gave him an exemption that ultimately paved his way toward getting a PGA Tour card, and Las Vegas. To go to Turkey and the HSBC Champions would have been four straight weeks going halfway around the world after what already has been a long year.
Koepka has played 13 of the last 16 weeks dating to the Scottish Open, including the Dunhill Links in Scotland between the Tour Championship and the Frys.com Open.
FALL START: The new PGA Tour season already is unusual because both winners were rookies.
Also worth noting is the strength of the fields.
Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose were at the Frys.com Open as the trade-off from playing a Turkey exhibition three years ago. Their presence, along with Brooks Koepka, meant 46 world ranking points to the winner, up from 36 a year ago. Rickie Fowler and Koepka were among those in Las Vegas, and the ranking points to the winner went from 38 last year to 44.
Look for the CIMB Classic in Malaysia to get a bump from last year with the addition of Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson.
The Frys.com Open field was equal or stronger than 13 PGA Tour events from January to September this year.
SCORECARD RAMIFICATION: Starting next year, players will not be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard if the wrong score is a result of penalty strokes they didn’t know about when they finished their rounds. They will be penalized for the violation (one or two strokes), and docked an additional two shots for the scorecard error.
So what happens if the additional three or four strokes causes a player to miss the cut?
”If it were to happen in a USGA championship, our position would be to remove the player if that penalty would have resulted in them missing the cut,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules.
Tyler Dennis, the senior vice president of competitions for the PGA Tour, said the same would apply in a full-field event with a cut.
There could be a case where 70 players make the cut, but one of them is discovered to have violated a rule and the new penalty causes him to miss the cut. The other players who would have made the cut are simply out of luck.
”Once the cut has been made, we do not recalculate the cut,” Dennis said.
While a penalty wasn’t involved, Dennis recalls the Wyndham Championship when Erik Compton made the cut, and then the next morning was too ill to play and withdrew. If he had withdrawn on Friday before the end of play, an additional 18 players would have made the cut. Instead, the weekend featured 69 players.
Dennis said the tour was happy to see the limited exception of Rule 6-6d.
”It’s good for professional golf,” Dennis said.
DEFINITION OF A ROOKIE: According to the PGA Tour, Emiliano Grillo (Frys.com Open) and Smylie Kaufman (Las Vegas) were the first rookies to win back-to-back since Charl Schwartzel (Masters) and Brendan Steele (Texas Open) in 2011.
That led to a question: How was Schwartzel a rookie?
The South African had played 37 events on the PGA Tour before his ”rookie” season in 2011, including 16 majors and nine World Golf Championships. Patrick Rodgers, on the other hand, is not considered a rookie this year even though he has played 10 times and no majors going into this season.
The definition was changed not long after Schwartzel’s rookie season. Now it’s a player who in his first year as a member plays 10 tournaments or finishes in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup or the money list. Also, a player is not a rookie if he has played in more than seven PGA Tour events in any prior season.
Vijay Singh was rookie of the year in 1993 at age 30 and in his 11th year as a professional.
Schwartzel, meanwhile, won the Masters and wasn’t rookie of the year in 2011. That went to Keegan Bradley, whose two wins included the PGA Championship.
DIVOTS: The Dell Match Play is moving to Austin, Texas, next year and already has sold out. It will be played March 23-27 at Austin Country Club. Rory McIlroy is the defending champion. … Patrick Rodgers and Daniel Berger are among the newcomers in the 24-man field for the Franklin Templeton Shootout on Dec. 10-12 at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. The tournament will end on Saturday, with Fox Sports televising the final round. Jason Day and Cameron Tringale are the defending champions. … Smylie Kaufman was the seventh PGA Tour winner this year to be outside the top 200 in the world ranking.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The last six winners on the PGA Tour were all in their 20s – Smylie Kaufman (23), Emiliano Grillo (23), Jordan Spieth (22), Jason Day (27), Rickie Fowler (26) and Day. The streak dates to Davis Love III, who won the Wyndham Championship at age 51.
FINAL WORD: ”I’ve been to the No. 2 spot before. I’ve been to the No. 1 spot before. Both doesn’t feel that bad.” – Inbee Park.