Q-School changes could slow rise to stardom

John Huh celebrates with his caddie Zeke Salas after winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic.

John Huh celebrates with his caddie Zeke Salas after winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic.

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The sports world has been enthralled recently with blink-of-an-eye ascensions from the sidelines to stardom. Tebowmania was followed shortly by Linsanity. Now John Huh has authored a similar storyline on the PGA Tour, winning in just the fifth start of his rookie season.

I’m not audacious or ignorant enough to imply Huh will become a cultural phenomenon on par with Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin. No golfer, save one, can have an impact like that. Huh’s victory at last week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic came in the shadow of the WGC-Match Play, south of the border, and was displayed only on a tape-delayed telecast.

Huh won’t hog headlines or dominate SportsCenter. He won’t need added security at this week’s Honda Classic. TV ratings won’t skyrocket if he contends again on Sunday.

But what Huh has done is add fire to the heated debate surrounding the PGA Tour’s proposed changes to its qualifying structure. Huh is a PGA Tour rookie after earning his card through Q-School, the very institution that could be eradicated in a month.

The PGA Tour Policy Board could vote as early as March to implement dramatic Q-School changes. Under the proposal, PGA Tour cards would be available only through a season-ending series of events that would pit the bottom of the PGA Tour against the Nationwide Tour’s top performers. Q-School would offer only Nationwide Tour status.

The new system undoubtedly favors members of the PGA and Nationwide tours, while erecting barriers in the path of such outsiders as collegians, internationals and mini-tour players. Q-School, the avenue of immediate promotion to the PGA Tour, would be closed. Under the new system, Huh would be on the Nationwide Tour after spending 2011 in Asia.

Huh's Mayakoba victory led PGA Tour veteran Bob Estes to tweet, “In a couple of years you may not have any more John Huh stories so enjoy it while it lasts!”

We love underdog stories because they inspire. Huh, who has finished in the top 12 in three of his first five PGA Tour starts, barely squeaked through Q-School. He advanced out of first stage without a shot to spare. Same for Q-School finals, where he tied for 27th, the final position to earn a Tour card.

He has risen 406 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking in just eight weeks, to No. 137, earning $1,047,132 in that time.

Estes isn’t the only one who thinks the proposed qualifying system would remove the Cinderella storyline from the PGA Tour. The new system undoubtedly would make it harder for outsiders to crash the PGA Tour’s party. It doesn’t bar them from entrance, though.

Consider two of 2011’s top rookies: Jhonattan Vegas and Keegan Bradley. Vegas’ route from a Venezuelan oil camp to the PGA Tour winner’s circle included two seasons on the Nationwide Tour.

Bradley didn’t bother asking tournament directors for sponsor exemptions when he turned pro in 2008. Why waste the ink? He had been overlooked for his entire career. Bradley worked his way through the Hooters and Nationwide tours, becoming a major champion in just three years as a pro.

The new system undoubtedly slows the ascension of new stars. They’ll find their way to the PGA Tour, though. Lin spent time in the NBA's Developmental League when he wasn't being waived. And even the vaunted Tebow had to sit on Denver's bench for a season.

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