PGA Tour qualifying has never been easy - earning that tour card and the right to call oneself a member of the PGA Tour has always been a difficult endeavor. Beginning in 2013, it gets even tougher.
From 1965 through 2012, the "easiest" method of PGA Tour qualifying was through PGA Tour Q-School. "Q-School" was a series of qualifying tournaments culminating in a final tournament, after which a certain number of the top finishers were awarded PGA Tour membership for the following season.
Beginning in 2013, Q-School no longer gets a golfer onto the PGA Tour. Q-School still exists, but award spots on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour's developmental circuit. And the route to the PGA Tour switched from Q-School to the Web.com Tour Finals, a series of season-ending tournaments whose fields are comprised of the Web.com Tour's top money earners, plus PGA Tour golfers who failed to qualify for the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs.
So the short answer to the question, "What is the primary way of qualifying for PGA Tour membership?" is: Become a Web.com Tour member (via Q-School), then perform well enough during the season and in the Web.com Tour Finals.
Earning PGA Tour Card Through Web.com Tour
Remember, a golfer has to first earn Web.com Tour membership via the new Q-School. Once a golfer is on the Web.com Tour, he can "graduate" to the PGA Tour one of two ways:
- Battlefield promotion: Win three times in a single season on the Web.com Tour, and that golfer immediately gains PGA Tour membership. This is referred to as the "battlefield promotion" way to reaching the PGA Tour.
- Web.com Tour Finals: Or earn a PGA Tour card by advancing through the "the Finals."
Here's the short version of how the Web.com Tour Finals awards PGA Tour cards:
"The Finals" is a series of four Web.com Tour tournaments that follow the conclusion of the Web.com Tour "regular season." Golfers who finish in the Top 75 on the Web.com Tour money list, plus golfers who finish 126-200 on the PGA Tour FedEx Cup points list, make the fields for these tournaments. The first Web.com Tour Finals took place in September 2013.
A total of 50 golfers earns PGA Tour cards through the Web.com Tour Finals process. Golfers who finish 1-25 on the Web.com money list are guaranteed 25 of those cards (but still play the Finals to establish priority ranking); the other 25 cards go to the golfers earning the most cumulative money in the Finals tournaments.
Other Methods of PGA Tour Qualifying
So, beginning in 2013 the Web.com Tour Finals replaced PGA Tour Q-School as the means of earning a PGA Tour card; and Q-School only gets you onto the Web.com Tour, not the PGA Tour.
Are there any other ways - aside from advancing through the Web.com Tour - to earn PGA Tour membership? Yes, there are several other ways, but they are all very unlikely to happen.
Win a PGA Tour Tournament or Major: Hey, we warned you it was unlikely! But if a non-PGA Tour member gets into a PGA Tour event (for example, as a sponsor exemption or through Monday qualifying), or into a major, and then wins that tournament, he gains PGA Tour membership.
Earn Lots of Points In Just a Few Tour Appearances: As with above, this PGA Tour qualifying method requires a non-member to get into events through sponsor exemptions or via Monday qualifiers. If a golfer can get into enough tournaments in this fashion - and then perform well enough in those tournaments - he might be able to earn a PGA Tour card. If such a golfer earns enough FedEx Cup points that he would rank in the Top 125 at the end of the season were he a member, he earns a PGA Tour card for the following year.
A golfer earning his PGA Tour card through this method does happen, but it is very rare.
Earn In-Season 'Special Temporary Membership': A golfer can earn "special temporary membership" on the PGA Tour for the current season if he compiles enough FedEx Cup points. He must compile the amount of FedEx Cup points equal to or greater than the points earned by the player in 150th place on the FedEx Cup points list at the end of the prior season. However, such a golfer would still have to earn a tour card for the following season through one of the methods outlined above.
There are other ways for a golfer to remain on the PGA Tour (rather than losing his card) if he is already a PGA Tour member. But for non-members, the above methods are the only ways to qualify for PGA Tour membership.