First Cut: Hudson Swafford likely earns 2021 Masters reward after picking up Corales Puntacana victory

There are innumerable spoils that come with being a professional golfer, but even more so when you win a PGA Tour event. From a six-or seven-figure check to the rich lode of FedEx Cup points to the OWGR bump you receive to a spot in the following year’s Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, each reward is seemingly more enjoyable and more profitable than the last. But maybe the best one of all — especially in a weak field like the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship — is a berth to a little tournament played at Augusta National Golf Club next spring.

The Masters is unique in the way it puts its field together. Unlike other major championships (or even most of the big events globally), its list of players is smaller and more exclusive. Rarely does the Masters feature a field close to 100. It has not exceeded triple-digits since 103 golfers played in 1966. Think about that — of all the tens of thousands of professional golfers on the planet, fewer than 100 of them get to play in the most prestigious event of the year. And from there, anything can happen. Just ask Charl Schwartzel, Angel Cabrera and Mike Weir.

So when Hudson Swafford won the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship on Sunday by a stroke over Tyler McCumber, the $720,000 that hit his bank account this morning and all the aforementioned rewards were nice, but the Masters invite is … well, the Masters invite.

“It’s good to go back to the Masters,” said Swafford. “I’m ecstatic. Hopefully they extend that invitation. My caddie lives in North Augusta, caddied at Augusta. I mean, easy week for him. And then I’ve got a guy that’s been around there numerous times, so I’m looking forward to going back. My first trip there it was blowing 20 to 30, gusts over 35, the par 3 was rained out. It’s kind of a bummer, but, you know, to take my son back for the par 3.”

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Originally, this Corales Puntacana event in the Dominican Republic was scheduled for late March and would not have resulted in a Masters bid because it was not considered a full-strength event. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the event was rescheduled and deemed a 500-point FedEx Cup event, which means the winner will almost certainly be invited by the Augusta National Golf Club to the 2021 Masters.  Interestingly, there is another Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in March, and the winner of that event will not get into the Masters.

All of it is a bit confusing, but it will almost undoubtedly result in Swafford getting into his second Masters in April, even though there is another Masters between now and then (in November). Swafford is 0-for-4 in making major championship cuts and 0-for-1 at Augusta (he played the Masters in 2017 won by Sergio Garcia). None of that much matters, though, because as we’ve seen throughout golf history, all it takes is one hot week to change your professional life forever. Worse players than Swafford have won major championships, and while all the other riches are great (and the money probably more appreciated), the 2021 Masters invite is the most important result of Swafford taking home the second PGA Tour win of his career.

Other notes from the weekend …

Mackenzie Hughes Invitational

So many events have their own designated player who thrives at that event. The Corales Puntacana player might be Mackenzie Hughes. Following his T2 at this tournament in 2019, he posted a third-place finish this time around and moved inside the top 50 (to No. 48) for the first time in his career (Hughes has never finished any professional year inside the top 100). Hughes is the personification of something Matt Kuchar once said about PGA Tour careers. There is often a 10-year learning curve to the PGA Tour. And while Hughes has not quite reached that mark, he did recently pass the 100 PGA Tour events played mark, which is significant. Data Golf has his projected career comparisons here, and there are some interesting names who have had long, successful careers on the PGA Tour. 

Data Golf

Will Zalatoris, certified star

I didn’t need to see another top-10 finish from Zalatoris to know this, but shooting 65 on Sunday to finish in the top 10 and get into this week’s Sanderson Farms Invitational (by way of finishing in the top 10 the week before) was big boy stuff. His Data Golf ranking of No. 24 (just behind Tiger Woods) remains unchanged, but he does have an outside chance of playing his way onto the PGA Tour — just like Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff did recently — over the next few months.

Tony Finau being sued

This story will maybe fly under the radar between the U.S. Open and the Masters, but Tony Finau and many people around him are being sued for $16 million by a man named Molonai hola, who apparently once supported the Finau family financially and was expecting something in return over the course of Tony’s professional career. 

The suit claims Hola paid for the Finau family’s mortgage payments, medical insurance, a new car as well as golf-related travel expenses for Tony and Gipper, including living expenses for the Finau family to reside in Florida for approximately a year while they received lessons from renowned golf instructor David Leadbetter.

Later, Hola helped form the Finau Corporation to help promote the young golfers and was designated as the corporation’s registered agent. The expenses, according to the suit, added up to $592,371.37 over several years.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that Tony Finau — widely considered one of the better dudes on the PGA Tour and in professional sports — would have been this far in the wrong here, but it will be something to monitor as everything plays out.

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