Air Capital Classic could shake up race for PGA Tour cards

Andrew Putnam, second on the Tour’s earnings list, prepares to take a shot on the first hole during Wedneday’s Pro-Am at Crestview Country Club.
Andrew Putnam, second on the Tour’s earnings list, prepares to take a shot on the first hole during Wedneday’s Pro-Am at Crestview Country Club. The Wichita Eagle

A part of Andrew Putnam would love to be in Wisconsin this week, teeing it up with his older brother Michael in the U.S. Open.

The putt he missed with darkness looming at a sectional qualifier – one that left him one stroke out of a playoff for a spot at Erin Hills – still stings.

But little else has gone wrong for the 28-year-old Putnam this year. While planning an August wedding and remodeling his first home, Putnam has hovered around the top of the Tour money list.

With top earner Stephan Jaeger and a large group of players playing in the U.S. Open, Putnam enters the 28th Air Capital Classic with a different type of opportunity.

“It could be a good thing for me to be here,” Putnam said Wednesday on the eve of the $625,000 tournament at Crestview Country Club. “U.S. Opens are pretty exhausting things. There’s a lot of stuff going on.

“It could be good for me to just be here and not get super worn out doing that.”

Fourteen golfers are in the U.S. Open field, and a 15th is likely as first alternate Roberto Diaz awaits a spot that could be provided by PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson, who will attend his daughter’s high school graduation Thursday in San Diego.

Whatever the number, those at Crestview aren’t expecting a cakewalk. Twenty of the’s top 25 season money winners and 15 former PGA Tour champions are among the 156-player field that will begin play at 7 a.m. Thursday on Crestview’s par-70 North course.

“There’s a lot of guys who are getting the opportunity to play here who are hungry to win,” said third-year player Andrew Yun, No. 6 on the money list. “It’s not that the competition is any easier because these guys can play just as well.”

Still, the absence of players like Jaeger, who earned his second victory in three tournaments at last week’s Rust-Oleum Championship, can affect the jockeying for position for a 2017-18 PGA Tour card. Even if the Air Capital Classic is just the 12th of 26 tournaments on the schedule. The top 25 players on the Tour’s money list are assured a spot on the PGA Tour for the following season.

“I feel like this is a great week to really capitalize to try get myself into the top spot,” said Andrew Landry, who is third in earnings, $35,006 behind Jaeger. “Coming off three top-five finishes, I’m playing very, very well. And this course suits my eye very well.”

Landry was on the PGA Tour last season and made a first-round splash in the U.S. Open at Oakmont by firing a 66. He finished tied for 15th, but said the experience of that week continues to pay dividends.

“I’m just playing good golf right now,” Landry said. “It’s one of those deals where you kind of have to ride the wave.”

In addition to Jaeger, Ted Potter Jr., Conrad Shindler and Kyle Thompson are current top-10 performers who aren’t in the Air Capital Classic field. All but Shindler are competing at Erin Hills.

“With a lot of the guys gone, if you play well this week, you definitely have a chance to jump back up and maybe get that No. 1 spot,” said Putnam, who surrendered it to Jaeger on Sunday in suburban Chicago. “That would be awesome if that would happen.”

Putnam and Landry voiced their support for Jaeger to continue his hot streak and win the U.S. Open, a Cinderella scenario that would instantly send him to the PGA Tour. Both will be there next season, but are intrigued by this week’s possibilities at Crestview.

“I feel like I’ve always played somewhat well here,” Putnam said. “I don’t know if I’ve had a super-high finish, but I love the course and I love the layout.”

Said Landry: “I feel like this is a great place for me. I feel like this could be a good week for me to win. The wind’s going to be blowing a little bit, and the last two wins I’ve had have been in some pretty strong winds.”

Air Capital Classic