Hate to be Rude: Q-School changes miss the mark

Signage displayed at the 2010 Nationwide Tour Championship.

Signage displayed at the 2010 Nationwide Tour Championship.

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ORLANDO, Fla. – The PGA Tour has given preliminary approval to a concept in which Q-School graduates would no longer head straight to the Tour. Rather, Q-School would provide spots only to the Nationwide Tour.

I profess to be open-minded, but my first reaction is that I don’t like the proposal. It strikes me as too much of a closed shop, too restrictive, too protective of current members making the rules, too much of a half-dream for Q-School entrants and too little of the concept of keeping immediate hope alive.

Golf has too many closed shops. It has gotten too far away from the pre-1980s top-60-exempt structure when players qualified on Mondays, hungry champions were created and two Q-Schools were held a year, one to accommodate college kids.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Hall of Famer Lanny Wadkins, who finished 10th on the 1972 Tour as a rookie out of Q-School. “It sounds like old guys trying to cover their butts. Is this an old boys’ club or who the best players are?

“Playing the Tour isn’t a birthright. The problem is, the exempt list is too high at 125 instead of 75. There’s not enough turnover. Too many of the same guys finish between 75 and 125 every year.”

Wadkins was a member of perhaps the best Q-School class ever, in 1971, one that also produced Hall of Famer Tom Watson and other major champions David Graham and John Mahaffey. If that wasn’t the best class, then perhaps it was the 1981 group that included major champions Payne Stewart, Hal Sutton, Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia and Larry Mize.

Under the proposal, which probably wouldn’t go into effect until 2013, about 75 players who don’t make the FedEx Cup playoffs would compete for 50 Tour cards in a series of three tournaments with the top 75-100 from the Nationwide. Players would be seeded under a weighted system entering the series, and Tour cards would go to the top 50 in points at the end.

In a memo to players, a copy of which was obtained by Golfweek, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said “the proposed format enhances the Nationwide Tour from a competitive perspective while making it more compelling for television viewers and fans.” He said the change also “increases the attractiveness of the Nationwide Tour for the umbrella sponsor as well as local tournament title sponsors.”

The problem with that vision is that water flows downhill, not uphill. Focus should look up to the PGA Tour, not down to the Nationwide. Major League Baseball doesn’t fixate on Triple-A.

The Tour is in the discussion-and-feedback stage, though Tour Policy Board member Paul Goydos, a veteran player and free-thinker, said he thinks the plan will go through.

Currently, the top 25 from the Nationwide and top 25 and ties from Q-School get Tour cards. J.B. Holmes and Dustin Johnson are among those who have gone straight from college through Q-School and won as rookies. Rickie Fowler went from Q-School to the 2010 Ryder Cup team. Y.E. Yang went from Q-School to winning the PGA Championship.

The latest example is Gary Woodland. He got through Q-School last fall after recovering from injury and has four top-6 finishes already this year, including victory Sunday at the Transitions Championship.

“I don’t like (the proposal),” said longtime player manager Rocky Hambric, whose agency manages Johnson and Woodland. “Forcing players to the Nationwide is not right. In essence, you’re telling the top college players they can’t play the Tour right away. You can’t restrict people like that.”

Robert Damron, 38, winner of the 2001 Byron Nelson Classic, also panned the idea, saying, “For a guy like me who has been around, going to Q-School would be a huge drag if I knew I could only go to the Nationwide. The system isn’t broken, so why mess with it? It’s been fine for years and years.”

The Tour has been increasing the number of cards through the Nationwide and decreasing cards for Q-School graduates. The next step, though, would be going way too far.

Host and namesake of the Arnold Palmer Invitational said Wednesday that he is a “little surprised” Tiger Woods is overhauling a swing with which he has been so successful.

“I did not make swing changes,” Palmer said. “My father was my coach. I saw him at least once a year for 70 years. He never changed anything. He’d watch me for five minutes and go home.”

Seemed to work out all right. 

PGA Tour slugger Gary Woodland, the Transitions Championship winner Sunday, played shortstop and batted leadoff as a teenager on a traveling Kansas all-star baseball team that played in national tournaments. 

Question is, if Woodland, who has carried drives around 400 yards, was the leadoff hitter, what kind of power did the cleanup hitter have?

“We had four guys shaving when we were 12; we had a bunch of kids that matured early,” Woodland said. “We had some big guys; we just did. We were a power team, and we were fortunate that we all matured very young.”

Martin Kaymer might be ranked No. 1 in the world, but he hasn’t even been the best Martin in golf in March. 

That would be Martin Laird of Scotland. The last two weeks, Laird tied for 10th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and for fifth at the Transitions Championship. In those two events, Kaymer tied for 24th and 20th, respectively.

What’s more, Laird tied for third at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. As a result of his 2011 success, he has moved up to 40th in the world.

Youth movement update: Players in their 20s occupied three of the top four spots at the Cadillac. But the top of the board got even younger last week at Transitions.

1.) Woodland, 26.

2.) Webb Simpson, 25.

3.) Scott Stallings, turns 26 Friday.

If the future isn’t now, then it’s tomorrow.

 Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

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