From Outside to In, MacKenzie Hughes Enjoys Top-50 Treats
04 Jan,2024 Credit : Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

By Tim Liotta


From Outside to In, MacKenzie Hughes Enjoys Top-50 Treats

Fifty is the magic number dividing PGA Tour professionals in 2024, and Tour veteran MacKenzie Hughes has already felt both sides of the dividing line. 

Hughes, a two-time winner who has earned more than $14 million in seven full seasons on Tour, finished the 2022-23 season at No. 51 on the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, but moved inside the top 50 when Jon Rahm defected to LIV Golf in December.  

"To finish 51st, you know, it was my fault, and I didn't play very well in the summer, so it was just, yeah, it was a tough pill to swallow," the 33-year-old Canadian said this week at PGA Tour's first event of 2024, the Sentry in Hawaii. "I pretty much was upset for 24 hours, and then I was, when I was home I was pretty determined to try and find my way into those (Signature) events, and to play great in the fall, just to work my way towards those."

MacKenzie Hughes' Major Championship Record

In the weeks after his second-place finish at The RSM Classic, his final event of '22-23, "it started to dawn on me that there was a possibility (to move up)," Hughes said. "Obviously, being the 51st guy I just needed one guy to go, I didn't need 12 guys and a mass exodus, so I definitely thought there was a chance there, but that wasn't really on my mind until I got home after RSM, and I was home for Thanksgiving.

"I heard the Rahm stuff start to circulate on Twitter. I would say for that, I don't know how long it was,

but it seemed like a long time those rumors were flying around for awhile, and we never really heard what was

happening one way or the other. Then he finally announced it. I knew before, well before he announced that he was going, what was going to happen if he did go."

The move from 51st to 50th is huge for Hughes, as it would be for any not-so-famous veteran player, because the FedEx Cup's top 50 players automatically qualify for the Tour's eight 2024 Signature events, limited-field events offering purses of $20 million or more.

Hughes may be the perfect example of the not-so-famous PGA Tour player whose fortunes can be determined by the change of a single place on the FexEx Points standings. The three prior seasons to last year's 50th-place finish, he placed 48th (in -21-22), 67th (in '20-21) and 52nd (in '19-20).

"I probably was going to start at Palm Springs or Torrey Pines and kind of just go from there," said Hughes of his 2024 prior to the bump. "Then I got into all these events, and I sort of had to quickly start gearing up for (The Sentry in Hawaii), and then, yeah, just kind of trying to now lay out the schedule became a lot easier because I was, like, not wondering if I was going to qualify for these events, it's like, hey, I can write these in and then build around that. So, that was really nice."

The story nobody is talking about is how the new, eight-month, January-August schedule has totally turned the PGA Tour`s FedEx Cup points race on its head. In previous years, the Fall schedule provided not-so-famous players nine or 10 events to amass FedEx points while star players played only sporadically.

Last season, Hughes won the Sanderson Farms Championship in October, and was ranked third in the FedEx Cup standings going into the New Year, and held on to be included in the top 50 and open his 2024 season in Kapalua.   

Hughes may serve as the perfect example of the not-so-famous player whose fortunes can be determined by the change of a single place on the FexEx Points standings. The three prior seasons to last year's 50th-place finish, he placed 48th (in -21-22), 67th (in '20-21) and 52nd (in '19-20).

This year, the PGA Tour's 35-event season begins with The Sentry, limited to players who won PGA Tour full-point tournaments last year, and the Top 50 players on the 2022-2023 FedEx Cup points list. Sixty players qualified, and a field of 59 will tee it up on Thursday at Kapalua. 

The only qualified player missing is Rory McIlroy, who once again skips Hawaii in favor of beginning his season with two DP World Tour events in the Middle East.

Once things get going, Signature events will also include the next 10 - the 10 highest-ranked players on the FedEx Cup Standings through the previous tournament not already qualified - as well as the Swing 5 - the five players amassing the most FedEx Cup points in the tournaments between Signature events. 

Sure, the Signature events' big purses are nice, but maybe for the PGA Tour pro who has to fight for his place on Tour, it may be more important that they offer 4,750 FedEx points that lower-ranked players will have to fight for the opportunity to compete for.

The difference between being ranked 50th and 60th last year (after Rahm left) was 144 points.  

And the math gets worse when the major championships are factored in.

The four majors each offer a possible 750 FedEx points in 2024, meaning a player ranked 70th or so on the PGA Tour who is not qualified for any of the majors misses out on competing for that 7,750 points that the four majors and eight Signature events combine to offer. 

The other 23 PGA Tour events - non-Signature and opposite field events - offer 10,950 possible points. Total. 

 So life on the PGA Tour in 2024 tilts heavily toward the star players with a schedule constructed around Signature events - the Tour's response to LIV Golf - and major championships, and a not-so-famous veteran player like Hughes to fight an uphill battle to hold onto their place on the tour. 

"I'm not a star of the PGA TOUR, but I'm not a slump either," Hughes said. "I don't have like a, you know, but anyways, it's kind of the way it is right now. I get it, to an extent. Like, I get the fact that you have to listen to your top guys right now in a threat like this, where you feel like, Hey, this guy might leave if we don't listen to what he's saying. 

"But they don't care if Mackenzie Hughes probably -- like, if I'm not playing the PGA TOUR tomorrow, it doesn't matter to the PGA TOUR probably - not - I shouldn't say that, but like, you know what I mean? 

"Like, if Scottie Scheffler went (to LIV), obviously it's a bigger impact than if I go. So, it's like,

they're listening to those guys because of where we are, right, and they're making accommodations and doing

things based on what these guys want. I get it, but - I don't love it, but I get it."