Players such as Jordan Spieth, Daniel Berger and most recently Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay have made qualifying for the Tour Championship look easy in recent years, getting to East Lake in their first full seasons on the PGA Tour.
Truth is, being among just 30 players in the FedEx Cup Playoffs finale is a difficult task. Of the eight first-timers in this year’s Tour Championship field, no one knows that better than Pat Perez.
At 41, Perez makes his East Lake debut in his 11th try since the PGA Tour added its lucrative postseason in 2007.
“For me, this was the No. 1 goal, making the Tour Championship,” Perez said. “And it’s not even close.”
Perez, whose highest FedEx Cup finish before this year was 46th (twice, in 2007 and ’15), knows all about the perks of making it to East Lake: guaranteed spots in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, as well as the PGA Tour invitational events. Finishing in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup also makes a PGA Championship invite likely.
Perez is 35th in the Official World Golf Ranking, which would be good enough to earn him four major invites – assuming, of course, he doesn’t fall out of the top 50. (As Bubba Watson and Danny Willett proved this year, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.) Teeing it up at East Lake eliminates all doubt.
“Everybody wants to win a major and all these kind of things, but you have to be in them first,” Perez said. “Getting into the Tour Championship … it sets you up for a whole year, and I’ve always wanted to get there. If you’re in the Tour Championship every year, then you’re doing unbelievable.”
Perez can’t complain about the season he’s had. Last year he spent nearly a month on his couch recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum. Callaway dropped his sponsorship, and this season Perez had 15 events to earn enough money to keep his card via a major medical exemption.
Just three events into this season, Perez won the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He followed that with a T-3 at Kapalua, T-4 at Torrey Pines in his native San Diego, T-2 at Wells Fargo and T-6 in the second FedEx Cup playoff event, the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston.
“I didn’t even know if I was going to even have a job this time last year,” Perez said. “Coming back, I was only going to have 15 starts; who knew how I was going to do? The whole thing on how it’s all gone for me this year has been unbelievable.”
Perez isn’t alone. Brian Harman, 30, made it to the Tour Championship in his sixth try, as did Kyle Stanley, 29. For Tony Finau, 28, and Adam Hadwin, 29, it took three tries apiece, but many more if you count the six-plus additional years it took each of them to make it to the PGA Tour.
“When you sit back and go over the year, to have won, to have gotten to the Tour Championship, Presidents Cup, to take stock of the year, it’s been really good,” said Hadwin, who won the Valspar Championship in March. “Just being there and being with the best 30 guys of the year and being able to plan a schedule next year around major championships is something I’ve never been able to do.”
Said Harman, who bested Perez in winning the Wells Fargo in May: “Making it to East Lake, it’s the main goal every year. First time in six tries for me, so I’m excited. … It’s gratification for a long year of playing well.”