PGA Tour takes big step toward Q-School change
SAN DIEGO — The PGA Tour is one step closer to eliminating Q-school as a path to earning a tour card, a significant overhaul that would include starting the official season in the fall instead of waiting for the next calendar year.
At the heart of the proposal is making the Nationwide Tour the primary means of getting to the big leagues.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem presented the basics of the plan Tuesday night during a mandatory players meeting at Torrey Pines ahead of the Farmers Insurance Open.
The biggest change involves Q-school. The plan is for the top 75 players from the Nationwide Tour and the top 75 players who failed to keep their PGA Tour cards to play a three-tournament series. Players would be ranked based on how they fared on their respective money lists, and the top 50 after that series would earn cards.
The rest would have the option of going to Q-school, where only Nationwide Tour status would be available.
The proposal was not much different from what The Associated Press first reported in December. There were a few tweaks, and there might be more to come as tour officials get feedback over the next few weeks.
The 16-member Player Advisory Council plans to meet in three weeks at the Northern Trust Open. The earliest the overhaul could be approved by the policy board is in March, though it likely will be later.
Reaction predictably was mixed.
Dustin Johnson, who made it through Q-school on his first try out of college and has won in each of his four years on the PGA Tour, said on Twitter, "Just left the player meeting here in San Diego!!!! I don't like any of the ideas about changing the tour!!! There is NO reason to!!!!!!!!!"
Rod Pampling, who had to rely on low status and sponsor exemptions to regain his card last year, said he needed more information before he could figure out why such a big change was needed.
"I guess they're looking for a new direction, but I'm still on the fence," Pampling said. "I understand both sides. We just need to get more information. We were told how last year was one of the greatest years on tour. So why are we reinventing the wheel? Obviously, it's forward progress. But is this the right way? I don't know."
Geoff Ogilvy also said he liked the way the PGA Tour was now.
"But I quite liked the way the tour was before the FedEx Cup, and I actually like the tour better now with the FedEx Cup," he said. "I thought it was ridiculous having the FedEx Cup, but now it happen, and I'm like, 'This is pretty good.' Every year it's gotten better. So the tour hasn't made that many missteps in the last 20 or 30 years.
"It's probably going to end up the right thing to do."
According to one manager involved in meetings, the tour said total compensation to PGA Tour players — including items such as their pension plans — was $205 million in 2010, which increased to $319 million in 2011. That figure is expected to be $377 million this year.
The manager spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
But such prosperity prompted several players — including Brandt Snedeker during a Q&A portion of the meeting — to ask: "If everything is so good, why risk change?"
One reason for change is to make the development tour attractive to a title sponsor — Nationwide's sponsorship ends after this year.
When the FedEx Cup began, the regular PGA Tour season ended with the Tour Championship in late September. Then, there were as many as six "Fall Series" events, which gave players a chance to earn their cards by being in the top 125 on the money list.
Those fall events have smaller purses and are not part of the FedEx Cup.
There are indications, however, that at least two title sponsors of the Fall Series might not be willing to renew contracts unless they are part of the FedEx Cup. That would lead the tour to start the new season in October.
"It looks likes to me they're wanting to have a non-calendar year, which means you've got to change Q-school," Phil Mickelson said. "You always have to have change to have growth."
Q-school, a chance for players to earn their way onto the big tour, is now held in December.
Finchem has said he's not looking to add tournaments in Asia. What he presented to the players was a start of the season that included the Frys.com Open, Las Vegas, the McGladrey Classic, the Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, with the year (but not the season) ending at Disney.
There also was a tournament "to be announced," which might not be on American soil, but not far away.
One of the arguments against the plan is that it eliminates the long shot that plays six great rounds at Q-school and fulfills a dream by reaching the PGA Tour. Now, such a player would only get to the Nationwide Tour, where he would have a year to prove himself.
Another is that it would hamper a young college player from going straight to the PGA Tour. Johnson and J.B. Holmes are among those who recently have gone from Q-school to winning in one year, while Rickie Fowler went from Q-school to playing in the Ryder Cup.
Among the biggest issues still to sort out is how to seed the 75 PGA Tour players who finish out of the top 125 on the money list with the top 75 from the Nationwide Tour money list.
Currently, the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour automatically get PGA Tour cards.
The original plan was for players to be alternately seeded from each tour — No. 1 on the Nationwide and No. 126 from the PGA Tour would be jointly seeded No. 1, for example. Feedback over the last month, however, indicated that because the top 25 players from the Nationwide Tour got cards, they should be given preferred status.
Now under discussion is how to seed them. One idea was to take the top 25 seeds off the Nationwide Tour, and then alternate between the two tours. Another was to put the top 15 from the Nationwide Tour atop the rankings for the three-tournament series.
Nationwide Tour earnings would be the used to keep score in the series. No matter how much money a PGA Tour player made, he would be assigned the money equal to his counterpart on the Nationwide Tour.