(Photo credit: Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Mackenzie Hughes will be defending more than his second career PGA Tour victory at this week's Sanderson Farms Championship.
The Canadian qualified for the first leg of this year's FedEx Cup playoffs, but did not advance further and finds himself at No. 51 in the standings. As part of the PGA Tour's revamped system, only the top 50 after the Tour Championship in August are fully exempt for next year.
The Sanderson Farms is the second of seven events that are part of the new FedEx Cup Fall schedule. Nos. 51-60 at the end of the series will earn spots in two signature events next year: the ATT Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Genesis Invitational.
Meanwhile, Nos. 126-150 will earn Korn Ferry Tour status and conditional status on the PGA Tour next year.
It's a massive difference in status, but Hughes said he's not focused solely on maintaining his current place.
"It will be on my mind, and I've thought about it. But I think for the most part, I'm just trying to play some good golf this fall and get some momentum heading into next year," Hughes said on Tuesday. "Whether I get those two events or not is not going to make or break my year, but certainly it would be nice to be in those events."
Hughes is one of the more accomplished players in this week's field. Argentina's Emiliano Grillo is the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 35 in the world.
That doesn't mean Hughes has clear sailing in his effort to stay in that coveted 51-60 range.
In his past 10 starts dating back to the PGA Championship, Hughes has missed five cuts, withdrew from another event and failed to finished higher than T30 in the other four.
He did take advantage of last fall's weaker fields, posting three other top-25 finishes in addition to the victory in Jackson. Hughes is coming off a T52 at the Fortinet Championship last month, after which he returned home to spend time with his family and rest up for the grind ahead.
"I just want to play some good golf and get myself in position to feel those things again because that's what we all love to do the most is to compete for trophies and try and win tournaments," he said.
"Definitely motivated to try and recapture those feelings from last year."
--Field Level Media