Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Trying To Make Sense of All These Q-School Changes

PGA Tour Q-School is dead. It is. A bummer for just about anyone that has ever dreamed of hitting that little round ball in front of a gallery larger than your family circle, it is happening. Read the word "proposal" all you want, but this thing will be different next year and there is no doubt in my mind that is happening.

So first we must find out, why in the world would they change arguably the coolest qualifying thing in sports? Well, I hope you're sitting down, but it is because of ... money. Yes, Nationwide Insurance is most likely going to be ditching out after this year, meaning the minor leagues of the golf world will be looking for a new sponsor to shell out millions of dollars to be the name behind the PGA Tour's little brother, and there needs to be more incentive than, "You'll be that thing that people play in when they can't play in that THING." 

The Nationwide Tour is an incredible tour. It was back when it was the Nike Tour. It still is great. The players on it are arguably more talented today than PGA Tour players were in the early '90s, and it is an incredible place to learn how to play professional golf at a level that will make you richer than you ever dreamed. It's where a ton of big names started, and it is where a ton of big names will come from in the future. The PGA Tour is making sure of that. 

The only drawback of the Nationwide Tour is nobody outside of the guys actually playing in the tour care about it (I did a search online of big Nationwide Tour stories last year, and the ones that people cared about were that Georgia player winning an event last year as an amateur, Erik Compton winning, and that guy making an ace on a par-4 ... that's about it). 

So the problem the PGA Tour has is it has to make the Nationwide Tour more relevant not form a golf side, but from a business side. Why are people going to care? 

And the answer is simple. And complicated. Make playing on the Nationwide Tour more of a big deal.

Right now, 25 guys a year get bumped up to the PGA Tour, not counting anyone that wins three times in a season and is automatically battlefield exempted up to the big leagues. There are plenty of guys on the Nationwide Tour that could make a career on the PGA Tour if they had the chance, and if not make a career, at least vacation there for a couple of years and enjoy the fancy buffets, the nice hotels and not rooming with another golfer that smells like his golf shoes. 

Q-School offers everyone an opportunity to strut their stuff and becoming a PGA Tour member (and a few times a year, a guy goes through all three stages and does just that). 

But, if you are talking about which is a better way to prove you've got the goods, I actually have to side with the PGA Tour on their decision that came out of the mandatory players meeting at Torrey Pines this week. Putting more emphasis on the Nationwide Tour's entire season is the way to go.

Steve Elling of CBS did a great job of explaining the upcoming changes that will eventually take place. Here they are ...

As part of the pitch to attract a replacement for Nationwide, the new plan is for the PGA Tour to run a wraparound season, a La the NBA and NHL, starting after the FedEx Cup series ends in mid-September. The new qualifying series will be contested in the same time frame, at different venues, with tour cards at stake. As it stands, the three-event qualifying series will be include players finishing No. 126-200 on the PGA Tour money list, with Greensboro's Wyndham Championship serving as the last chance to crack the top 125, cement a card and gain entrance to the FedEx sessions. 

Those who missed will be joined by the top 75 from the Nationwide money list for a seeded, three-stop stretch in which the top 50 will earn promotions the following season ... which will start a matter of days later. The three-tourney series will be weighted and college players will have a crack at earning one of the big-league cards, too. In the proposed seeding, the player finishing No. 126 in PGA Tour earnings will start the new qualifying sweepstakes with the same adjusted dollar figure as the player who topped the Nationwide money list in the regular season. 

Likewise, No. 127 in PGA Tour earnings will begin the series with the same money as No. 2 in Nationwide earnings, and so forth down the line. The 50 players with the most combined regular-season and series money will earn a card. Landing a top seeding or winning one of the three events essentially ensures a promotion to the PGA Tour.

Now, the good thing for the PGA Tour is they already addressed the issue of great amateur or college players missing out on a chance to show that they are good enough RIGHT AWAY to go play PGA Tour stuff. Sure, they could still become full-time members the Tiger Woods way by earning enough money to crack the top-125 with sponsors exemptions, but what about the Rickie Fowlers of the world that went to Q-School right after they turned pro and got right into the PGA Tour?

Those players will have a shot at this. If you play in a tournament as an amateur, and play well, your "fake" earnings will be recorded, and those will be included the same way a PGA Tour or Nationwide Tours earnings would be included. That way, they get in the three tournament spread as well.

I know, it isn't exactly "see ball, hit ball," but it's also not the soliloquy that "Tin Cup" spouts out about the golf swing while trying to impress Rene Russo. It makes sense if you really, really focus on it.

Here is the easiest way for me to explain it.

If you're on the PGA Tour and don't get your card, but finish in the top-200 on the money list, you're in a three-week tournament. If you are in the top-75 of the Nationwide Tour money list, you're in a three-week tournament. If you're a bomb amateur that showed that in pro tournaments, you're in a three-week tournament. Finish in the top-50 over those three weeks, and congrats, you're a PGA Tour member for the next season.

Here are the pros, in my opinion:

-- Makes people focus on the Nationwide Tour players over the year to see just who is playing well (not not as much as the PGA Tour thinks).
-- Gives lesser known events a big boost because all that six-day Q-School pressure is on the line.
-- Makes finishing in the top-125 even bigger of a deal, which means the end-of-year events add a ton of pressure.

The cons:
-- I don't think the Nationwide Tour benefits as much as the tour might think it does from this. Yes, playing on it for a season is basically your only way of going about making the leap, but I think people still won't care.
-- Q-School is still one of the coolest events of the season, and a fan favorite amongst big golf fans, and you're killing that.
-- Mini tour golf outside of the Nationwide Tour is basically made obsolete. Listen, I played Gateway Tour golf before, and everyone that was anyone was playing on those tours to get amped for Q-School. Kevin Streelman used to play in our money game, and got through three stages and is now a big shot. Those stories are dead.

So, I guess what it boils down to is what you like. Want the Nationwide Tour, or whatever it will be called, to become the warm-up before the big show, or do you still want the PGA Tour to have something distinctive only to the PGA Tour?

For now, the decision is in the air, but it won't be for long, and I think I'll be the first to say R.I.P. to Q-School.


seak said...

1) Only Amateurs who can get sponsors exemptions can get into the series

2) International players (mostly Asians) get hosed. YE & KJ are just the two most prominent names, but look at this years class

3) If it was all about play over a season, then why does it turn into a 3 week dash?

4) Nationwide tour is far to closed a shop, if q-school isn't a good predictor of who should be on the pga tour, it shouldn't be the only good way on the nationwide tour

5) A whole season is a better identifier, but when you're giving out 50 cards (rather than 25) the people who are getting the extra cards are mostly the same ones who are getting them through q school. Guys who weren't good enough to make top 25 on nationwide or top 125 on PGA

6) It's still the minor leagues, people don't care about the minor leagues (and why does it need an umbrella sponsor anyways)

chris_villasenor said...

While this is definitely an attempt to solidify a "Nationwide Tour" lineup each year. But will guys like David Duval or John Daly make regular appearances anyway? Will those 126-200 guys just play on exemptions in the US and Europe to make money? You say that Q-school is for the hardcore but perhaps this is a change for the PGA to catch the "casualcore" if more big names play on the 2nd tour then boost the Fall Series. Should be interesting if nothing else. Now they need to fix the FedEx Cup.

Mark said...

Terrible, terrible, terrible.

Why do sporting authorities insist on tampering with perfectly good systems? I'm sure they could have found a better way of doing this.

What if they had introduced a system whereby only the top 75 or 100 keep their cards and increase the number given on the Nationwide. That makes the PGA tour more exciting and rewards the very best. It also means we will see more 'big' names on the Nationwide, thus increasing the interest they are looking for. Of course, the journeymen would have complained but why should being the 101'st best automatically entitle you to earn over $900k!

Q school could have remained as per the current system.

See, they should have asked me first.

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