EVERY YEAR the PGA Tour welcomes its own boys of summer: young, newly-minted pros aiming to play their way onto the circuit. They are allowed to enter seven tournaments via sponsors‚Äô exemptions, and if they can match the earnings of the 150th-place finisher on the previous year‚Äôs money list, they get an unlimited number of exemptions the following year. (The magic number in 2004 is $348,976, but the very ambitious can hope to finish in the top 125 on this year‚Äôs money list, thus earning a Tour card.) This season‚Äôs group, led by the four players below, is the most promising in years, but the odds are against them. The Tour doesn‚Äôt keep records, but it‚Äôs believed that about 15 players have earned a Tour card this way. The last one to pull it off was Hank Kuehne, in 2003.
1. NICK FLANAGAN
RéSUMé: 2003 U.S. Amateur champion
EXEMPTIONS USED: 1
BEST FINISH: MC
2004 EARNINGS: 0
SKINNY: Young Aussie, a long way from home, will be babysat by countryman Stuart Appleby, with whom he shares a swing coach, Steve Bann.
2. BILL HAAS
RéSUMé: Three-time first-team All-America at Wake Forest; 2004 Jack Nicklaus Award winner as best college player
EXEMPTIONS USED: 5
BEST FINISH: 17th (B.C. Open)
2004 EARNINGS: $107,365
SKINNY: Long and straight, with no glaring weaknesses. Has made the cut three times. Papa Jay Haas is showing him the ropes.
3. CAMILO VILLEGAS
RéSUMé: Three-time first-team All-America at Florida
EXEMPTIONS USED: 3*
BEST FINISH: 7th (B.C. Open)
2004 EARNINGS: $108,784
SKINNY: Native of Medellin, Colombia, broke most of Chris DiMarco‚Äôs records at Florida. Has made cut in three straight events. Will soon return to the U.S. after brief sojourn home to Colombia.
4. CASEY WITTENBERG
RéSUMé: Top-ranked amateur in 2003; one of two (Woods is the other) to enter college as No. 1 amateur; low amateur at 2004 Masters (13th)
EXEMPTIONS USED: 4
BEST FINISH: 20th (John Deere Classic)
2004 EARNINGS: $44,270
SKINNY: Only 19, Leadbetter Academy product has determination to spare but has missed the cut in three of four starts.
* Played a fourth event (U.S. Bank Championship) by virtue of a top 10 at the B.C. Open.