Want to play a PGA Tour event as an amateur? Here's how
01 Mar 2020
by Chris Brauner of

The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is among the tour events that offer amateurs a chance to compete (PGA Tour video screenshot)
The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is among the tour events that offer amateurs a chance to compete (PGA Tour video screenshot)

Want to play on the PGA Tour? You don't have to be a PGA Tour pro, or even a pro, to do it.

Every year a select group of amateurs gets a chance to tee it up with the world's best, and though it is not easy, there are a surprising number of ways for amateurs to get into a PGA Tour event.

Here they are:

Win one of these 16 golf tournaments

U.S. Amateur
U.S. Amateur Golf Championship
Winning the biggest tournament in amateur golf doesn't just get you a PGA Tour start, it gets you into three major championships: the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open. In fact, even the runner-up gets into the Masters and U.S. Open. So provided that they stay amateur, U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and runner-up John Augenstein have a lot to look forward to in 2020.

British Amateur
British Amateur Golf Championship
If the U.S. Amateur is No. 1, the British Amateur is 1A in the world of amateur golf. The winner here gets into the British Open as well as the following year's Masters and U.S. Open. Ireland's James Sugrue won in 2019, and though he missed the cut in the British Open at Royal Portrush, he still has two more major starts awaiting him this year.

Asia-Pacific Amateur
Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Championship
Created by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A, the Asia-Pacific was established to further develop amateur golf in Asia. Its champion is awarded an exemption into the Masters and the British Open. China's Yuxin Lin won in 2017 and played at Augusta National the following year; with his win in 2019 he gets a second bite at two major chamionships.

Latin America Amateur
Latin America Amateur Golf Championship
Founded by the Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA, the LAAC was established to further develop amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Its champion is awarded a spot in the Masters and, starting this year, the British Open. Argentina's Abel Gallegos is the 2020 champion.

U.S. Mid-Amateur
U.S. Mid-Amateur Golf Championship
If you are 25 years or older, winning the world's biggest mid-amateur championship gets you into the Masters and the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open exemption was added for the 2018 championship, and 2017 champ Matt Parziale took full advantage, becoming the first mid-am since 2003 to make the U.S. Open cut, and going on to earn low amateur honors. Australia's Lukas Michel is the reigning champion.

U.S. Junior
U.S. Junior Golf Championship
This is the only junior event that gives its champion a major professional start. If you are 18 years or younger, a win in this event gives you an exemption into the U.S. Open. Preston Summerhays was the 2019 champion and will be at Winged Foot this summer.

European Amateur
European Amateur Golf Championship
The most important tournament in continental Europe is the only other tournament that awards its champion a start in a professional major. Last year the winner was Mattias Schmid (of Germany and the University of Louisville), who went on to play in the British Open at Royal Portrush.

Jones Cup Invitational
Jones Cup Invitational
This is probably the biggest of the springtime amateur majors in the United States, and has an impressive list of past champions that includes many PGA Tour winners. Davis Thompson's record-setting performance at Ocean Forest has earned him a spot in the PGA Tour's RSM Classic at nearby Sea Island. It will be Thompson's second-straight appearance in the event, having received a sponsor exemption last fall en route to an impressive T23 finish.

Canadian Amateur
Canadian Amateur Golf Championship
The national championship of Canada offers its winner a spot in the PGA Tour's RBC Canadian Open. William Buhl (of Fairhope, Ala. and the University of Arkansas), traveled north last summer and won by eight shots, earning a return trip to Canada this summer to tee it up with the world's best.

Canadian Mid-Amateur
Canadian Mid-Amateur
The national championship of Canada also offers its winner a spot in the PGA Tour's RBC Canadian Open. Another American, Joseph Deraney, took the title -- his second straight -- in 2019 and will make a return trip to the Canadian Open where he shot 75-70 to miss the cut.

Southern Highlands Collegiate
Southern Highlands Collegiate
Hosted by UNLV, this is one of only two full-field college events that awards a PGA Tour start to the winner. Not surprisingly, it has one of the best fields of the year. Last year, Jack Trent parlayed a win here into an appearance in the PGA Tour's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, where he shot four rounds in the 60s and finished T29.

Valspar Collegiate Invitational
Valspar Collegiate Invitational
The other full-field college tournament on this list, the Valspar Collegiate offers its champion a spot in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship. Last year, Matthew Wolff of Oklahoma State won the tournament, but has since turned pro. No matter, he came out and won on tour almost immediately, and is now exempt into the Valspar that way.

Big 12 Championship
Big 12 Championship
Starting in 2019, the PGA Tour's A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier awards the Big 12 champion an exemption into the championship. TCU's Hayden Springer was the first player to earn the exemption, but played as a professional in the Tribute.

Genesis Open Collegiate Showcase
Genesis Open Collegiate Showcase
Held the Monday of the PGA Tour's Genesis Open at Riviera, this is a chance for top college players to earn a spot into the championship. Each amateur is paired with a PGA Tour professional who played at the same college, and there are team and individual competitions. Sean Yu of San Jose State was the winner in 2020.

West Virginia Amateur
West Virginia Amateur
One of two state amateurs on this list, the West Virginia Am gives its champion a spot in the PGA Tour's A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. 19-year-old Mason Williams was the 2019 champion, winning in the playoff.

Mississippi Amateur
Mississippi Amateur
The other state amateur to award its champion a PGA Tour start, the Mississippi Amateur awards its winner a spot in the PGA Tour's Sanderson Farms Championship. In 2019, Joseph Deraney earned one of his two PGA Tour exemptions (the Canadian Mid-Amateur was the other), but had to withdraw from the PGA Tour event because he made it all the way to the final of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, which was held on the first day of the Sanderson Farms event (a first-world problem!).

There was another tournament on this list that fell off this year. The Players Amateur, one of the best in amateur golf for 20 years, traditionally gave its champion a start in the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town, but it was announced that it will no longer be played.

Receive a Sponsor Exemption

Every PGA Tour event gets a handful of sponsor exemptions, and tournament organizers can offer them to whomever they want. Many are given on merit, while a few are more about celebrity. Tony Romo, former NFL quarterback and a very good mid-amateur golfer, received three PGA Tour sponsor exemptions in 2019.

In the past year (as of March 1), four amateurs have made the cut in PGA Tour events after receiving a sponsor's exemption.

Sponsor exemptions that went to amateurs in the past year, and their finish (as of March 1):

Charlie Reiter, The American Express (MC)
Tyler Ota, Sony Open (MC)
Eugenio Chacarra, Mayakoba Golf Classic (MC)
Davis Thompson, RSM Classic (T23)
Cole Hammer, Houston Open (T61)
Tony Romo, Safeway Open (MC)
Trent Phillips, Barracuda Championship (T71)
Cullan Brown, Barbasol Championship (T53)
Chris Crisologo, Canadian Open (MC)
Joey Savoie, Canadian Open (MC)
Josh Whalen, Canadian Open (MC)
Jovan Rebula, The Memorial (MC)
Will Grimmer, The Memorial (MC)
Tony Romo, AT&T Byron Nelson (MC)
Tony Romo, Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship (MC)

Advance through an Open Qualifier

Not all PGA Tour events have open qualifying, but the open events (as opposed to invitationals) still do. They are 18-hole shootouts held the week of the event, and it usually takes a really low round to take one of the the (usually) 3-4 available spots.

Amateurs who open qualified for a PGA Tour event in the past year (as of March 1) include:

Ollie Osborne, Barracuda Championship
Etienne Brault, Canadian Open
Matthew Anderson, Canadian Open
Jarryd Dillas, Bermuda Championship
Kenny Leseur, Bermuda Championship

Do something else amazing

There are other ways to earn a PGA Tour start, but these require more sustained excellence.

The winner of the Mark H. McCormack Medal, awarded annually to the No. 1 ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, earns a spot in both the U.S. and British Opens. Cole Hammer won the award after the conclusion of the U.S. Amateur in 2019.

The winner of the Haskins Award, presented to the Most Outstanding Male Collegiate Golfer of the year, is awarded a spot in the PGA Tour's A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. Matthew Wolff of Oklahoma State was the 2019 winner.

The Jack Nicklaus Award recognizes the top players at the Division I, II, III, NAIA and NJCAA collegiate levels. The Division I winner (again it was Matthew Wolff in 2019) receives an invitation into The PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus himself. The 5 winners then have the chance to play an 18-hole shootout for a chance to compete in the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship. In 2019, Callum Bruce of Midland College won the shootout.

The Ben Hogan Award, sometimes referred to as "The Heisman Trophy" of amateur golf, is awarded annually to top college player in the country and includes all amateur and college competition during the previous 12 months. The winner of the award (it was Viktor Hovland in 2019) is announced at Colonial Country Club during the week of the PGA Tour's Charles Schwab Challenge, and receives an exemption into the championship.

The Byron Nelson Award is awarded to a graduating senior who has excelled across his entire collegiate academic and golf career, and who has displayed character and integrity (like Mr. Nelson himself). Starting with last year's awardee, Ryan Lumsden, the Nelson Award winner receives an exemption into the PGA Tour's AT&T Byron Nelson championship.

The PGA Tour's CJ Cup at Nine Bridges is a high-profile event on the Asian swing, and an exemption is awarded to the amateur ranked the highest based on performance in six amateur championships hosted by Korea Golf Association. In 2019, Yongjun Bae received the exemption.

The Arnold Palmer Cup is a Ryder Cup-style competition features top men and women collegiate players from the United States against their International counterparts. Upon the conclusion of the event, players on both teams choose a player to receive an exemption into the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational. Chun An Yu (of Taiwan and Arizona State), the 2019 Player of the Year and current No. 1 in the Golfweek/ World Amateur Ranking, earned the distinction in 2019.

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