The (complicated) case of youngest-ever Q-school grad Si Woo Kim
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Sometimes it’s tough to be a golfing phenom!

South Korean Si Woo Kim shot 18-under total over six rounds at PGA West–Nicklaus Tournament and TPC Stadium–to place T17th and became the youngest player at 17 years, 5 months and 6 days on Monday to graduate from PGA Tour Q-School. Previously, Ty Tryon held that record set in 2001, and unfortunately, as we know, he never lived up to the hype.

Because of the age requirement (18-years-old) to become a PGA Tour member and the condensed 2013 schedule, along with other provisions, Kim’s situation is somewhat complicated.

Let’s break it down. 

First of all, this confusion could have been avoided altogether had Kim checked the “amateur” box instead of the “professional” box on his Q-school application form. Players are allowed to compete as amateurs and then turn pro afterward, allowing them to defer their Tour card to the following year — or in Kim’s case the new split calender 2013-2014 season.


I spoke to player-managers from several different companies, all of whom said they would not have advised Kim to play Q-school as a professional. (In case I wasn’t clear, I’m not blaming the Tour at all for this situation. From what I was able to glean, Kim received poor counsel, but maybe he thought the sponsorship money was worth it. Tough to get them, though, when you’re not guaranteed starts on the PGA Tour until July/August!).

When asked if he intended to check the pro box, he said yes. It was unclear whether his management team fully understood all the stipulations. Words like “reshuffle” are apparently difficult to translate to Korean. (Shocking!)

The headache I’m about to take you through could have been avoided, but I guess it was that important to turn pro for Q-school…

Kim doesn’t turn 18 until June 28, 2013, so he can’t become a PGA Tour member or Tour member until then. He can play no more than 12 Tour events as a non-member on sponsors exemptions (maximum of 7); top-10s (if you place in the top ten at an event, you earn a spot into the next regular tournament); or special exemptions prior to the date he becomes a member. Monday qualifiers do not count toward the 12 maximum starts mentioned above (probably because it’s extremely difficult to do unless your name is Patrick Reed).

The age restriction applies to Special Temporary Membership, so this eligibility category isn’t relevant to Kim’s situation.

Unlike the LPGA, the PGA Tour doesn’t have a provision for a player to petition to join the Tour earlier than his 18th birthday.

Kim turns 18 on June 28, so he’ll get to play in July and August (instead of through October due to the condensed 2013 schedule and the switch to the new split-calender year season), right?

As of now, because of the reshuffles of the Q-school/ Tour category, once the player becomes a regular member he will be placed in the category with the amount of money earned on the Official PGA Tour Money List on the date of the next reshuffle.

However, Kim will miss the one that occurs on the Monday of the U.S. Open and upon joining as a member, he would be placed in the category with $0 and would need to wait until the next reshuffle–which is the week of the British Open–for any money earned as a non-member to count retroactively.

In the Tour’s special info sheet regarding Kim’s situation, it states that the Player Advisory Council will review this subject further in 2013. Hopefully they will change the current rule, so that Kim doesn’t have to wait until the end of July to get starts (only 3 events left). With some luck, he could receive around five (not counting exemptions and Monday qualifiers).

Get all that? Don’t worry if you don’t. Basically, he’s kind of screwed, but since he’s a young phenom, maybe he’ll get sponsor’s invites. Then again, because of the condensed schedule, there are a limited number of invitations with a lot of “big-name” players petitioning for them.

Good news is in light of the condensed season, the Tour has decided to reserve spots that will go to the 2012 grads (so they don’t get totally screwed). According to a player who spoke on condition of anonymity, regular full-field tournaments will have eight invites to hand out. Four of the eight are specifically for Tour/Q-School grad category and will be given based on the list of the priority rankings (aka a player’s “number”).

The tournament directors will dole out the other four invites. Two of these will be unrestricted (meaning the player doesn’t have to be a member or in one of the gazillion different eligibility categories), while the other two will be granted to two member of the Tour. There will not be any special Commissioner’s foreigner exemptions in the condensed 2013 season. So he won’t be eligible for those spots. (Almost seems xenophobic, along with the new system change that makes it more difficult for international players to qualify for the PGA Tour.)

Now let’s breakdown how players will gain eligibility on the PGA Tour for the 2013-14 season. Official money earned as a non-member, along with the official money earned once the player becomes a member, will count toward the top-125 money category, which provides access into standard, open PGA Tour events beginning in the new split-calendar season. Prior to becoming a member, any money Kim earns will be shown on the non-member money list.

For purposes of gaining exempt eligibility on the PGA Tour in the 2013-14 season, FedExCup points (remember, starting in the condensed 2012 schedule, they’re switching it from the traditional money list to FEC points standings) earned as a non-member on the Non-Member FedExCup Points list, along with FedExCup Points earned once the player becomes a member, will count toward the top-125 FEC Points category.

In other words, there will be various lists for money and points to make things more — and less — confusing. Basically, we’ll have more to keep track of to figure out where people stand eligibility-wise, etc.

If Kim were to win a PGA Tour event prior to his birthday, all the benefits that come with a win would be waiting for him on his 18th birthday, effective as if they started on the date of the victory.

As for the Tour, non-members are included on the Official Money List. Kim would show up on the Tour money list regardless of his membership status and all money earned is considered official. There is no limit to the number of sponsor exemptions or on the total number of tournaments Kim can play as a non-member of this Tour, equivalent to Triple A in Major League Baseball.

While Kim can’t petition to waive the age limit requirement, there is something called a “hardship exemption.” Kim’s management team said they’d consider taking this if it were in the cards. But it’s times like this when I wish I spoke Korean (I’m all set for Mandarin when the Chinese start coming in droves in 5-10 years) because it isn’t clear what they plan to do and they probably don’t exactly know themselves. They said on Monday that Kim would try to get sponsors exemptions on the PGA Tour and then if they aren’t successful, they will aim for the Tour.

Well, Kim is only 17, so he has plenty of time and at least he’s now in the system, so to speak, even if it’s kind of a crappy situation (which, again, could have been prevented had he kept his amateur status).

What else? I feel like I’m missing something because there are so many darn twists in this drama. As we’d say on Twitter, #17yearoldphenomproblems.

Oh, I watched the kid play eight holes on Monday and it was mind-blowing. I was impressed. Then again, you’re 17 and you really don’t have much — or anything — to lose.

(Getty Images)