Tour makes its case for latest tweaks
The consternation is considerable, the fallout understandable. The PGA Tour went to great lengths to fix something that was not necessarily broken, and in the process, will all but close its doors to outsiders looking for a way to compete on the world's most competitive tour.
That is a snapshot view of the situation, one that has been brewing for months as the tour sought to find a new title sponsor for its developmental tour (now the Web.com Tour), revamp the way players earn their way onto the PGA Tour and wrap its season around the calendar with one season beginning soon after another ends.
The idea wasn't necessarily to kill Q-School, or as it's known formally, the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. But that was the result, although tour officials are not necessarily unhappy with the plan that will now do away with a decades-old avenue to playing with the big boys.
"I firmly believe it is a better system to identify high-caliber players who have the ability to succeed on the PGA Tour,'' said Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour's executive vice president and chief of operations. "In the 22-year history of the Web.com Tour [formerly Nationwide, Buy.com, Nike and Hogan tours], those players have consistently outperformed players who have come through the qualifying system. I feel strongly that this is a better system.''
The tour has done research that suggests that just 28 percent of those players who graduate to the PGA Tour each year through Q-School retain their cards by finishing among the top 125 money winners. That number, according to the tour, grows to 40 percent for those who make it through the developmental tour.
On Tuesday, the PGA Tour announced how a system that has been in overhaul mode for more than a year would work, finally settling on a plan that will have the top 75 Web.com Tour finishers and 75 players from the PGA Tour who finish 126th to 200th on the FedEx Cup point list compete in a three-tournament series of events known as the Web.Com Tour finals.
The top 25 on the Web.com money list are assured of getting their PGA Tour cards -- just as is the case now. But instead of the other 25 cards being decided through Q-School, this three-tournament series to be conducted around the time of the FedEx Cup playoffs in September will determine the other 25 spots.
The leading money winner on the Web.com Tour is assured of being fully exempt for the following year, as is the leading money winner of the three-tournament series. The results from there will determine priority status for getting into tournaments, so a player who finished second on the Web.com money list could fall back numerous places if he fails to have a good three-tournament run. Or, a player who narrowly missed keeping his card on the PGA Tour could have a great three-tournament run and be back at the top of the priority list.
The reason for concern, of course, is that there will no longer be an immediate path to the PGA Tour for college or international players who have no status on either tour -- unless they are fortunate enough, such as Bud Cauley was last year, to earn enough money in limited starts on sponsor exemptions to gain a tour card.
Failing that last year, Cauley could have still gone to Q-School to try and make his way through the six-day, 108-hole drama-filled tournament. Now that avenue will be closed starting in 2013. A form of Q-School will still exist, but it will feed the Web.com Tour only. The plan -- still to be approved -- is to have the top 45 players at Q-School gain full status on the Web.com, Pazder said.
Those who fail to earn their PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour Finals will either have full status on the Web.com Tour (if they finish 51st through 75th in the three-tournament series), conditional status on the PGA Tour (based on 126th to 150th on the final PGA Tour FedEx Cup point standings) or conditional status on the Web.com Tour (those who finish outside of the top 75 in the three-tournament series).
And for those with conditional status, they can return to Q-School to try and get a fully exempt Web.com Tour card.
Pazder has heard plenty of negatives.
"The Cinderella angle, the romanticism,'' he said. "Guys like John Huh [a rookie who has won on tour this year after making it through all three stages of Q-School], Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes [all made it on tour through Q-School].
"But for every one of those guys, I can give you 20 more who would be a great 'where-are-they-now' feature. Or look at some of the guys who have come off the Web.com Tour. Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day ... going back Stewart Cink, David Toms, David Duval. I'd put those stories up against those others all day long.''
Maybe so. But undoubtedly the charm that is Q-School will be missing. And college players will likely turn pro earlier, looking for more playing opportunities to avoid Q-School. Or they might go to Europe. Otherwise, they are being forced to serve an apprenticeship on the Web.com Tour, which the tour obviously feels has some merit.
And that will be debated as the new system unfolds in 2013.
Regardless of how you feel about the fallout, there are some clear benefits to the new system.
Those players who are competing for a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Finals will be doing so while playing for purses of $1 million each week. (Q-School offers a small purse.) And three tournaments is a far better gauge of a player's aptitude than one six-day, 108-hole event.
And another is the clear end to the regular season. It will now officially be over at the conclusion of the Wyndham Championship, the event prior to the FedEx Cup playoffs. At that point, the top 125 in FedEx Cup points move on to the four-tournament playoff series. Those who finish 126 to 200 head to the Web.com Tour finals. (And yes, FedEx points, not money, determines this.)
Since the FedEx Cup began in 2007 and through this year, the playoffs began in late August and those who did not qualify had to wait more than a month to play another tournament, with Fall Series events counting on the current year's money list.
It has been an awkward end to the season, with a FedEx Cup champion being crowned at the Tour Championship -- the alleged season finale -- and then a series of tournaments to be played that still count toward the same season.
Starting in 2013, one season will end, and another will begin a few weeks later. Next year, following the Tour Championship, there will be a week off, then the Presidents Cup, then the Frys.com Open, which will kick off the 2013-14 season.
That will present another set of challenges and concerns, still to be debated.
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