Austin Cook has finished in the top 25 in six of his nine career starts on the PGA Tour. He clearly has the game to compete on golf’s biggest stage.
The other 130 golfers who will begin play Thursday in the 27th annual Albertsons Boise Open at Hillcrest Country Club can say the same — yet less than 40 percent of them will be on the big tour next season.
Their fates will be determined during the four-event Web.com Tour Finals. The Boise Open, the second leg, makes its finals debut this year — complete with a record $1 million purse and return to the tournament’s traditional September dates.
“Obviously the top 20 guys in the world, they’re at another level right now,” Cook said Monday during the pro-am at Hillcrest, “but for the most part, the majority of players out there and the majority of players out here, they can win on either tour.”
The difference is in the stakes.
The largest purse on the Web.com Tour is $1 million.
The smallest purse on the PGA Tour is $3 million — with most topping $6 million.
Every birdie this week in Boise puts players a little closer to tapping into that massive pool of money. Twenty-five of them already have clinched PGA Tour cards for 2016-17 by leading the Web.com Tour money list at the end of the regular season. Twenty-five more will get spots on the PGA Tour based on their total earnings during the four finals events.
The finals fields are compiled from the top 75 players on the Web.com Tour, the players who ranked No. 126 to No. 200 on the PGA Tour and select other players, like rising star Bryson DeChambeau. DeChambeau, who contended for two rounds at the Masters in April as an amateur, won last week’s finals opener in Ohio to secure his tour card for next season.
The finals also determine the pecking order by which players receive entry into tournaments next season and, for the lowest-ranked PGA Tour entrants, whether they’ll even have a spot on the Web.com Tour next season.
Cook missed a cut, tied for 21st, tied for 56th and tied for 43rd in his first Web.com Tour Finals last season. He earned $16,634 during the series, about half of what it took to move to the PGA Tour.
Players know that a top-five finish in any of the finals events — one hot week — usually is enough to advance.
Cook, who used Monday qualifiers, top-10 finishes and sponsor’s exemptions to get into seven PGA Tour events last season, figured he could do that. He finished in the top 11 three times and top 25 five times in those PGA Tour starts.
“I need to stay a little more patient,” Cook said. “With the year that I had ... I was expecting too much coming into the finals and I was getting angry too fast, so I need to stay a little more patient and just let things happen.”
He has three top-10 finishes and seven top-25s in 21 starts this season on the Web.com Tour. He has secured a spot on the Web.com Tour for next season but hopes to upgrade to his first season as a PGA Tour member instead.
“It is real hard not to think about that,” Cook said, “but the less you think about it, the more relaxed you’ll be, and you won’t be so uptight.”
Boise Open fan facts
▪ Where: Hillcrest Country Club, Boise
▪ Thursday: 7:45 a.m. to 7 p.m.
▪ Friday: 7:45 a.m. to 7 p.m.
▪ Saturday: 9 a.m.; leaders tee off at approximately 11:30 a.m.
▪ Sunday: 9 a.m.; leaders tee off at approximately 11:30 a.m. (awards ceremony after 4 p.m.)
▪ Who: Top 75 players on the Web.com Tour, Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour and select other golfers
▪ Purse: $1 million ($180,000 for winner)
▪ TV: The Golf Channel
▪ Tickets: $15 daily grounds, $25 weekly grounds ($35 at the gate), $50 weekly clubhouse ($70 at the gate). Youths 17 and younger get in free with a ticketed adult. Purchase, or get more info, at albertsonsboiseopen .com/tickets-info.
▪ Parking: Free shuttle from the airport economy lot at Victory and Orchard.
▪ Free junior clinic: Idaho Statesman Junior Clinic, 5 p.m. Wednesday. All junior golfers will receive an official tournament cap, a commemorative gift and poster, hot dogs and drinks. Clubs will be provided if needed.
▪ Free post-golf concerts at the course: Pilot Error (Friday) and Lounge on Fire (Saturday).