Schupak: Web.com Tour Finals has different feel
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. –– Not long after I arrived at the Web.com Tour Championship, the fourth of four events in the Web.com Tour Finals, it dawned on me what the big difference is between the PGA Tour’s new avenue for promotion to the Tour and the now defunct Qualifying School: courtesy cars.
The TPC Sawgrass parking lot was filled with an assortment of brand-new Toyotas. At Q-School, you were more likely to have a player sleeping in his beat-up car in the parking lot.
The problem with the Web.com Tour Championship, with its $1 million purse, is it feels too much like another ho-hum event. Q-School, on the other hand, felt like life or death.
Paul Azinger, the 1984 medalist, once described it as “climbing up a cactus backwards, naked.” Erik Compton said, “it was no place for women or children,” and Joe Ogilvie said, “Shakespeare would have written one hell of a tragedy here.”
The PGA Tour has sucked much of the drama out of earning a Tour card. Under the new scenario, 25 cards will go to the top money winners off the Web.com Tour Finals money list after Sunday who haven’t already secured a card. So many of the cards already have been wrapped up that only 10 to, at most, 14 are really up for grabs this week.
“The Tour is disfiguring the Mona Lisa,” is how Mac O’Grady, who required 17 attempts at Q-School before he made it, put it a year ago.
Q-School used to mess with your head. It made your palms sweaty, and your stomach queasy. Sure, Camilo Benedetti, who made a late bogey to miss the cut by one and drop out of the top 25, said his adrenaline flowed on over-drive.
But Will MacKenzie summed up the consensus among players: “This is a little easier, it’s less stress.” He should know. He celebrated regaining his Tour privileges with an expensive bottle of wine three weeks ago when he finished runner-up at the Chiquita Classic.
The players competing here this week seem to prefer the new format. A common refrain was that one bad round at Q-School and your picture was on a milk carton. You were lost.
Here, bad rounds are forgotten. But the current system still allows for the knock on Q-School of “catching lightning in a bottle.” Trevor Immelman, the winner of the Hotel Fitness Championship, missed three of four cuts and will keep his card. (So may Ricky Barnes with a T-6 in Charlotte and three missed cuts.)
Seung-Yul Noh, Ed Loar, and Patrick Cantlay didn’t even show up for the finale. You might have been eight strokes ahead of the cut line to get your card going into the final day at Q-School but you still had to go out and put up a number.
Paul Goydos, the 49-year-old sage, said people his age have romanticized Q-School into something bigger than it really was.
Count Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, a former Q-School grad, among the romantics who doesn’t like the change in format. He went so far as to voice his displeasure at Tour headquarters.
“They didn’t particularly like what I had to say, but you know, I said, ‘There’s people that this impacts that didn’t get to vote on it,’ ” Chamblee said.
College grads and international pros have the biggest beef.
Said Chamblee: “Are international players going to give up a year to come over here and play a mini-tour to qualify for the PGA Tour?”
The answer to Chamblee’s rhetorical question is not likely.
Roland Thatcher, who has endured the good and bad of Q-School and has kept and lost his Tour card on the final day of the regular season, argued that the new format would “deliver a better product for the Tour.” Goydos echoed Thatcher that a golfer had to accomplish something over a period of time.
I beg to differ. The long-held criticism of the Tour’s top-125 exempt format is that it created a welfare state – a well-compensated one at that. The players who finished Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour and Nos. 26-75 on the Web.com Tour to qualify for the Finals already proved they aren’t good enough for the Tour. By limiting the opportunity to this group, the Tour has never looked more like a closed shop. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: too many re-treads.
“Every year, there were players that came out of Q-School that impacted the PGA Tour,” Chamblee said. “Now, you’re literally costing these players a year of their career.”
He continued: “For crying out loud, Jack Nicklaus won a major championship his rookie year, Hal Sutton won a major championship his rookie year.”
World Golf Hall of Famer and NBC Sports commentator Johnny Miller also prefers the simplicity of Q-School. At the Web.com Tour Championship, there are too many mathematical scenarios in play to determine who gets a card. This is a sporting event, not a math equation.
Heartache and jubilation will both make an appearance on Sunday, but how about offering 10 Tour cards at the Web.com Q-School so a player can still go from obscurity to passing “Go” and collecting way more than $200 in the big time?
“I always say the train is going down the tracks,” Miller said. “I don’t love it, but I guess I’m hopping on.”
This train should be derailed before it goes off the tracks.