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NCAA Champion golfer has to turn down $240k after top-five finish at St. Jude Classic

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Ole Miss star Braden Thornberry played his way into contention in a super impressive PGA Tour debut — but he’ll just have to accept a pat on the back for his work in Memphis.

Braden Thornberry may make a lot of money on the PGA Tour in future years, but his T4 finish this week netted him nothing but praise.

Amateurs always know the deal going into a pro event, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to take when you look at all the cash being collected around you. Sunday’s FedEx St. Jude Classic had a total purse of $6.4 million and it was spread out to 70 of the 71 players who made the cut in Memphis.

It’s not uncommon for amateurs to be in the field each week on the PGA Tour. Sponsors usually hand out exemptions to some up-and-coming star or notable college player to try and generate more interest at the bottom of the field. Usually, the goal of an Am is to just make the cut. Winning is often way too steep a hill to climb — the PGA Tour is the deepest collection of talent in the world and these pros do this week to week and have been used to the challenge for years. Phil Mickelson is the last amateur to actually win on the PGA Tour, taking the Northern Telecom Open way back in 1991. When an amateur does make the cut, and actually gets up onto the first page of the leaderboard, it’s always a big story.

This week, Braden Thornberry, who just won the NCAA individual national championship a couple weeks ago, got an exemption into the St. Jude Classic. Thornberry plays for nearby Ole Miss, and given the fan base in the Memphis area, the exemption made sense. The NCAA Champ more than held his own too, making the cut and then making a lot of noise on the weekend.

Thornberry’s Sunday 65 even put him in a share of the lead late in the day and also made him the clubhouse leader, albeit with a lot of players left to finish up behind him.

That one-time clubhouse lead did not hold up in the end, but the Ole Miss star did finish just two shots back and tied for fourth. So how much money could he have made if not for that whole amateur status thing? Gulp ... it would have been $241,280, which is a nice chunk of change when you’re a sophomore in college. Instead, the other players in the field got to split up Thornberry’s forfeited winnings and the guys tied for fourth made $252,000 each (the amount split as if Thornberry did not exist and there was a four-way tie for fourth and not a five-way tie). We saw this last year with Lee McCoy, the Georgia star who admitted he had just $350 in his bank account after turning down a $300k payday at the Valspar Championship.

Here’s the St. Jude results table for the top 10 — it’s always a little jarring to see the big $0 surrounded by six-figure amounts.

St. Jude Classic Payouts

Place Player Score Payout
Place Player Score Payout
1 Daniel Berger -10 $1,152,000.00
T2 Charl Schwartzel -9 $563,200.00
T2 Meen Whee Kim -9 $563,200.00
T4 Billy Horschel -8 $252,000.00
T4 Braden Thornberry -8 $0
T4 Chez Reavie -8 $252,000.00
T4 Kevin Chappell -8 $252,000.00
T4 Rafael Cabrera Bello -8 $252,000.00
9 Phil Mickelson -7 $198,400.00
T10 Harris English -6 $143,200.00
T10 Adam Scott -6 $143,200.00
T10 Steve Wheatcroft -6 $143,200.00
T10 Dominic Bozzelli -6 $143,200.00
T10 David Hearn -6 $143,200.00
T10 Chad Campbell -6 $143,200.00
T10 Ben Crane -6 $143,200.00
T10 Stewart Cink -6 $143,200.00

As Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner noted, Thornberry also does not get the usual top-10 perk of an automatic invite to the next event on the PGA Tour schedule.

After the round, Thornberry got the usual question about turning pro. He deflected it, saying he was happy as a college student at the moment. He’s a stud prospect, has the NCAA title, and given his work this week in his PGA Tour debut, there are probably some big paydays coming his way down the road. But accomplishing something that would otherwise pay you $240,000 is still tough and Thornberry just had to watch it sail away somewhere else.