Some of the best mail during the holidays is a simple white envelope from Augusta National, officially extending invitations to those who have met criteria for the Masters Tournament (and for past major champions no longer exempt who will be honorary invitees).
At the end of the year, 80 players already were eligible and expected to compete, a list that includes (for now) Tiger Woods.
That’s two fewer than at this time a year ago, increasing the odds that the Masters again will meet its target of having fewer than 100 players at Augusta National the first full week in April. Having a small field is important to the club. The Masters has not had more than 100 players since 1966.
One spot awarded next month is reserved for the Latin American Amateur champion. No more than 13 spots will be available for winners of PGA Tour events (except for the new Dominican Republic event held opposite the Match Play). One of those is at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where all but seven players at Kapalua already are exempt.
There also is one more chance for players to qualify by being among the top 50 in the world on March 25.
ON A DIFFERENT LEVEL: Aiken’s Kevin Kisner has learned all about the different levels of the PGA Tour based on performance.
It starts with getting a PGA Tour card, a big deal until players realize they are limited in where they can play. Kisner didn’t play a tournament with guaranteed money and no cut until two years ago at the Bridgestone Invitational.
The next stage is keeping a full tour card, followed by winning.
At the close of a year that saw him win Colonial for his second PGA Tour title and make his first U.S. team at the Presidents Cup, Kisner noticed something else about his change in fortunes.
“The tournaments I play now, I don’t even see half the guys I used to see all the time,” he said.
There’s also the case for fellow Aiken resident Scott Brown, who is a member with Kisner at Aiken’s Palmetto Golf Club.
“It’s almost three levels of the tour,” he said. “But that’s fine. It’s part of it.”
Brown was a rookie in 2012, and Kisner had returned for a second season on the PGA Tour after losing his card. They played 23 of the same 24 events that year, the difference being Brown played the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook and Kisner played the Houston Open.
Fast forward five years, and Brown played 32 times in 2017. Kisner was only in 17 of those tournaments. The seven tournaments Kisner played that Brown didn’t were three majors (Masters, U.S. Open and British Open), three World Golf Championships and the Tour Championship.
Kisner doesn’t play the tournaments he did in 2012. He builds his schedule around the big events.
“Any time you move up in the world ranking, you change your schedule and your outlook,” Kisner said. “You start working around majors and World Golf Championships instead of playing every tournament you want to play.”
WORLD RANKING: Only one award is given for the Official World Golf Ranking, and Dustin Johnson earned that three months ago. He will be presented next year with the Mark H. McCormack trophy for most PGA Tour events in a calendar year.
But to look only at ranking points earned in 2017, it was tight at the top.
Jordan Spieth earned 450.43 points, finishing one-third of a point ahead of Johnson (450.12). PGA Tour player of the year Justin Thomas kept it even closer by earning 446.43 points. They were followed by Jon Rahm and Justin Rose.
The other players in the top 10 were Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood.