FARGO-Tom Hoge's driver is working better this year. He's driving himself into the ranks of becoming an established PGA Tour golfer.
Another step in that process is this week when the Fargo South High School graduate tees it up in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, a slate that takes the top 125 players on tour and plays four tournaments to determine a champion.
It starts this week with The Northern Trust event at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
"That atmosphere is a bigger stage with more people and more energy," Hoge said after a practice round on Tuesday. "You could tell even on Tuesday. It gets you pumped up to want to get this in order."
That's followed by the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston from Aug. 31-Sept. 3, the BMW Championship in Newtown Square, Pa., Sept. 6-9 and the Tour Championship Sept. 20-23 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
The bottom 25 players in the season-long FedEx points total after The Northern Trust will be eliminated from further play. The field is reduced to 70 during the BMW with the final 30 vying for the Tour Championship. The top prize is $10 million.
Wherever Hoge finishes, he's guaranteed full status for his PGA Tour card next year. It's a nice change from previous years, like last fall when he had to grind through the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
"It's nice to know that's locked up," Hoge said. "I've been in pretty good shape since January and it's nice that you can play and not worry about the card. You can play a little more free. If you have a bad tourney here and there, at least you know it's not going to kill you."
Hoge is 88th on the money list at $1.34 million-almost $1 million more than last season's total of $373,092. His previous career high was $690,319 in his first full season in 2015.
More importantly, he's 80th on the FedEx points list, meaning he just has to move up 10 spots this week to reach the next stage. Points are quadrupled in the FedEx Cup.
The difference has been his driver. He has consistently been in more fairways and on the PGA Tour, where the rough can really be rough, that's been huge. He's 52nd on the PGA Tour in average birdies per round.
"You get in the rough in a lot of these courses, especially this week, and you're just hacking out to get to the front edge of the green and making par," he said.
In the Ridgewood Country Club, Hoge is finding par-4 holes in the 470- to 490-yard range with thick rough. That makes for a few approach shots of 200 yards or so with a 4- or 5-iron.
That's the PGA Tour, however.
His full status means he'll probably play in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and and the CJ Cup in South Korea for the first time when the PGA Tour calendar season starts in October.
"That can get you jump-started next year," Hoge said.
For now, the hope is to make his way through the FedEx Cup.