While most golf fans tend to ask "Who is the next Jordan Spieth?" in the context of who is the next great American golf star, it can also apply in a different context as well. In 2013, Spieth went from being a non-member with no status to a PGA Tour winner and an exempt player through the 2015-16 season.
While that fate is not common, going from a non-member to having your PGA Tour card for the following season is a lot more feasible and realistic. As a result, from time to time during the season, we'll check on these non-members and see how they're doing in their quest to secure tour status.
This all happens in three steps:
1. Non-members get into PGA Tour or PGA Tour co-sanctioned events (like majors or the World Golf Championship events) either through sponsor's exemptions or by that event's particular entry rules. If they make the cut, they can start accruing Non-Member FedEx Cup Points, which is a separate points list kept by the PGA Tour in addition to the regular FedEx Cup Points List. These players are NOT eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs unless they win an event like Spieth did last year.
2. When a player earns at least the points of the 150th golfer on the 2013 PGA Tour FedEx Cup points list, he receives a "special temporary membership," allowing access to unlimited sponsor's exemptions.
3. After the regular-season finale Wyndham Championship, if a player has at least earned the points of the 125th golfer on the 2013-14 PGA Tour FedEx Cup points list, he receives a PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season.
Three players chose to take up membership through this system at the conclusion of last season: Hideki Matsuyama, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Thorbjorn Oleseen.
With all that in mind, here is a look at the five players leading the Non-Member FedEx Cup Points standings:
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 176 points - Aphibarnrat used the PGA Tour's two-tournament fall swing through Asia, the CIMB Classic and the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, as his major point earner. He finished third in Malaysia - where he earned the majority of his 176 points - and a bit of a lift with a T55 finish one week later in Shanghai. At 58th in the world, Aphibarnrat's next goal should be to get into the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship next month, an event that would get him a major spotlight on the PGA Tour and an opportunity to earn mega FedEx Cup points.
Robert Karlsson, 153 points - Karlsson got two sponsor's exemptions into the final two events of the fall portion of the 2013-14 PGA Tour schedule and made the most of them. He tied for 10th at The McGladrey Classic with a final-round 65 and posted a T6 the next week at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, aided by an opening-round 63. If he can get one or two more sponsor's exemptions, then watch out, because he has all the talent in the world to quickly double his point total and get that special membership.
Brooks Koepka, 134 points - Koepka is a fascinating story. He took the Peter Uihlein route - an American who went to Europe instead of the Web.com Tour to gain travel experience, get playing opportunities and to help elevate his World Golf Ranking. It worked. He won three times on Europe's version of the Web.com Tour in 2013, earned a "Battlefield Promotion" to the European Tour and received a sponsor's exemption into the PGA Tour's Frys.com Open last fall. He nearly won the event - he tied for third - and got a nice world rankings boost while at it. He missed the cut in both of his remaining PGA Tour starts in 2013 - Las Vegas and Mayakoba - but if he can keep an elevated world ranking (he's 88th), then we may see him at some bigger events with a chance for him to prove his worth on a grand scale.
Max Homa, 114 points - Homa, who recently turned professional after being part of the recent Cal-Berkley dynasty in college golf, received a sponsor's exemption into the Frys.com Open and made the most of it. He tied for ninth, which got him into the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas where he tied for 30th. He earned his Web.com Tour card last December at qualifying school, but made enough waves on the PGA Tour where he could get a spot start or two and an opportunity to turn those 114 Non-Member FedEx Cup points into something much larger.
Jamie Donaldson, 83 points - Donaldson is a unique case because his yearning to get America is more unclear than the others in the top five. He plays in Europe - he's won twice on the European Tour, including in Abu Dhabi last year - and has really only step foot in America for majors. As a result, his only PGA Tour start so far this year was the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai where he tied for eighth. At 25th in the world, expect to see a lot of Donaldson in the US when the majors and stateside WGCs come around starting late next month.