Notes: PGA Tour need not worry about player exodus

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem

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It was laughable at the time and is even more so now as we grasp the reality of the landscape that is global professional golf: The tour that truly resonates is based in the United States.

Yet, as far back as four years ago, there was talk of this Race to Dubai putting a headlock on the American PGA Tour, that players would be seeking out European Tour membership in droves. One writer opined that even Phil Mickelson was going to seize upon the too-much-to-turn-down opportunity. Heck, eight of the world’s top 10 players were claiming dual memberships, including – are you ready? – Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim.

Then in harmony with a series of events that spoke well of European golfers or those who honed their pro game in Europe – major wins by Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer in the summer; Ryder Cup glory in Wales in early October; and Lee Westwood’s ascension to the top of the world order a few weeks later – late in 2010, some reporters became downright giddy, predicting that the American PGA Tour had to be nervous about an exodus of its best members.

Those big-money stops in the Middle East and the chance for fall bonanzas in Asia, not to mention sprinkling in some trips to Sweden, Italy, and France? Well, it was going to be too much to resist. Or so some overzealous and reactionary folks thought.

OK, in late February 2011, Europeans occupied the top four spots in the world ranking (Kaymer, Westwood, Luke Donald and McDowell, respectively), and European Tour pride bubbled over when Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open), and Darren Clarke (Open Championship) stretched to six the winning streak in majors by European Tour-bred players.

And when Kaymer, Westwood and McIlroy turned down membership on the American tour and spoke unpleasantly about – gasp! – The Players Championship, it was if some American golf writers envisioned Tim Finchem putting up the “out of business” sign.

Fortunately, Finchem & Co. have a firmer grasp of their product than the press and aren’t prone to riding the emotional waves that tickle some so-called media folks. Which brings us to a status report on a comparison of the two tours in November 2012, boiled down to this:

Those sitting 17th (Jamie Donaldson), 18th (Alex Noren) and 31st (Ross Fisher) on the current Race to Dubai list are entered into the PGA Tour’s second stage of the qualifying tournament.

Repeat, second stage, which might be the least enjoyable competitive golf environment known to golfers at this level. Yet the desire to have membership on the American tour is appealing to Donaldson, a winner at this year’s Irish Open; Noren, six times in the top 10 in Europe this year; and Fisher, a former Ryder Cupper. We doubt Nos. 17 (Jim Furyk), 18 (Rickie Fowler) and 31 (Martin Laird) on the PGA Tour’s regular-season FedEx Cup points list would consider going through second stage of Q-School in Spain to try and get European membership.

• • •

BLAH, BLAH FROM BUBBA: If you haven’t become golfed-out by Dec. 6-9, pencil in the Thailand Golf Championship. Hunter Mahan has and so, too, has Sergio Garcia and the stars from Chubby Chandler’s ISM crew: Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Darren Clarke.

Oh, and Bubba Watson, who is perhaps trying to show that he can travel well, has called in his commitment. When he was asked about the upcoming trip to Thailand, the Masters champion said, “I heard there are some islands which are beautiful and I would like to do some sightseeing.”

Be careful with that sightseeing stuff, Bubba. Remember how you reminded everyone of what it means to be an “ugly American” while in Paris earlier this summer? Sulking about a tournament he didn’t much care for and spectators who apparently upset him, Watson hardly endeared himself to the locals, and newspapers had a field day at his expense. He talked of a big tower (that would be the Eiffel) and a circle in the road (Arc de Triomphe) and hardly seemed impressed, though he liked his hotel next to a castle (Versailles).

Let’s hope the Thais aren’t as offended.

• • •

CONTINENTAL DASH: Sightseeing won’t be on the docket for Kelly Kraft or Scott Pinckney when they conclude their golf business in Spain. That’s because they’ll hopefully conclude their European second-stage Q-School work at Las Colinas Golf & Country Club on Saturday, then get back pronto to keep their second-stage appointments in the U.S.

(Both got off to less-than-stellar starts in Wednesday’s first round. Pinckney shot 74, Kraft 75.)

Kraft, the 2011 U.S. Amateur champ, is entered into the site at Redstone Country Club in Houston (Nov. 13-16), while Pinckney will tee it up at Craig Ranch (also Nov. 13-16). This year, Pinckney struggled while dividing his time between the European PGA Tour (10 tournaments) and Challenge Tour (14).

While there are far more Europeans taking on the U.S. Q-School than vice versa (which frankly is a shame), Kraft and Pinckney do have company with their Euro route. Another U.S. Amateur champion, Peter Uihlein, is exempt into the final stage of Q-School (Nov. 24-29 in Spain), thanks to finishing 26th on the European Challenge Tour money list. Also exempt into the final stage is last season’s ACC Player of the Year, Brooks Koepka, 43rd on the Challenge Tour money list.

• • •

STRONG STUFF FROM THE KID FROM STRONGSVILLE, OHIO: That would be Jake Scott, an apprentice pro at Elyria (Ohio) Country Club. After having finished T-13 to easily make it through the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying in Kannapolis, N.C., the onetime Cleveland State golfer romped to victory in the National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship at Port St. Lucie, Fla.

With rounds of 69-65-67-70, Scott finished at 17 under to win by seven, one shy of the largest margin of victory in the 36-year history of the tournament.

For those eight rounds of torrid golf, Scott shot a cumulative 23 under. But hardly can he rest, because he’ll tee it up next Wednesday in Brooksville, Fla., in his second-stage of Q School.

• • •

HE’LL SIT IT OUT: The list of former major winners signed on for second stage of Q-School is a startling commentary about the fickleness of this game. Lee Janzen, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton are among those who are penciled into various fields.

David Duval was going to add another name to that list, but he has withdrawn from the site in Murrieta, Calif. According to a spokesman for Crown Sports, Duval has a broken toe and cannot compete.

• • •

NAMES IN THE GAME: Six second-stage sites will commence next week – three in Florida, two in Texas, one in California. This has become the most crucial of all the stages, because the majority of players who fail here will be without any status next year on the PGA or Web.com tours.

Though the bulk of the entrants are trying to make their way onto the big stage, quite a few have been there, seen their games slip, and would like to re-establish themselves. Perhaps the most notable name presently signed on is Villegas, who just four years ago won back-to-back in the FedEx Cup playoffs and eventually got to No. 7 in the world order.

But he slid from seventh in money in 2008 to 77th a year ago and currently sits at No. 150. If he doesn’t stay within the top 150 at the conclusion of this week’s tournament at Disney World and get exempt into final stage, Villegas will indeed be forced to play at second stage. If he does, one of his competitors in Plantation, Fla., will be his brother, Manny.

Robert Karlsson, 161st on the money list, is another notable who’ll need a big push at Disney to avoid second stage.

Other noteworthy names who are signed on for second stage: Jamie Lovemark, Jesper Parnevik, Michael Sim, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Hank Kuehne, Woody Austin, Matt Jones, Charles Warren, Cam Beckman, Daniel Chopra, Ryuji Imada, Erik Compton, Brett Wetterich, Duffy Waldorf and Joe Durant.

• • •

SPEAKING OF SLIDES: Few have tossed it into reverse in 2012 quite like Alvaro Quiros. Sitting 21st in the world rankings to start the year, he’s now 77th. Because he is 70th in the Race to Dubai, he’s not even in line to make it to the European Tour’s farewell party.

Stunning, perhaps, because some folks were touting him as a possible Ryder Cupper. (Now that’s funny.)

But Quiros has had four full seasons of major championships to demonstrate an all-around game, and he has failed miserably. He has missed the cut in 12 of the 16 majors since 2009 – including having missed 'em all in 2012. In 11 European Tour events since mid-May, he has failed to finish in the top 40. With an average of 31.57 putts per round, well, it’s not hard to see why it’s been going backward.

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