Finchem’s Announcement(s): Q-School Dead As We Know It, Tour Schedule Makeover
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Details? Well, we're still working those out...


Folks, it’s a sad, sad day. We knew it was coming, but it was still impossible to prepare for today’s announcement. The Q-School deathwatch is over. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem officially pronounced it dead at approximately 1:30pm on Tuesday, while speaking to the press at Bay Hill. He discussed the “restructuring of the Qualifying System for the PGA Tour via the Nationwide Tour,” and changing the schedule from the calendar year to a fiscal year. Recommended reading: My post in January breaking down the new system (in English).

Here’s the media blast, followed by excerpts from Finchem’s (long, rambling) presser:

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem announced today that the Policy Board has approved significant changes to the structure of the qualifying system for the PGA TOUR, dramatically elevating the importance of the Nationwide Tour by establishing it as the primary pathway to the PGA TOUR. Additionally, the Policy Board approved changing the start of the PGA TOUR season, beginning in October 2013.

With these changes, all 50 PGA TOUR membership cards will now be awarded through the Nationwide Tour; the three final tournaments on the Nationwide Tour will combine PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour players to determine who earns those 50 cards; and the annual Qualifying Tournament will become a pathway exclusively to the Nationwide Tour.

The start of the PGA TOUR 2013-14 season will begin in October, 2013 and conclude in late September, 2014 with the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, the fourth and final FedExCup Playoff event. In making this change, the fall tournaments will begin awarding FedExCup points in 2013.

Finchem said that certain details must still be finalized, such as the competition system which will determine the 50 PGA TOUR cards, the level of FedExCup points to the PGA TOUR’s fall tournaments and other details. The fields for the three final Nationwide Tour events, which will be held during the FedExCup Playoffs, will include the top 75 players on the Nationwide Tour’s money list, the players ranked 126-200 on the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup points list and non-members who meet certain eligibility standards.

“We are excited to announce these significant changes, as we strongly believe that they will strengthen both Tours,” Finchem said. “The Nationwide Tour, which has proven to be the most effective indicator of future success on the PGA TOUR, will now become the primary path to the TOUR starting in 2013 by awarding all 50 cards. And with the restructuring, those final three events will create a particularly exciting and dramatic finish to the season.

“In regard to the change to the start of the PGA TOUR season, the fall tournaments certainly will benefit by becoming part of the FedExCup season. But the benefit also extends to FedEx, our telecasts of those tournaments and the understanding among fans that there’s a true finality to the season, with the FedExCup and eligibility for the PGA TOUR concluding at the same time.”

Now, we’ll start with Finchem’s opening monologue. I’ve done my best to cut it down to a reasonable length, but I figure those of you who are interested will take the time to read it. Oh, by the way, you’ll noticed that “details are yet to be worked out” is a theme highlighted throughout the presser.

I think the fundamental thing coming out of the meetings clearly is that our policy board has approved a restructure of the Nationwide Tour and indeed a restructure of our entire qualifying process, setting forth the Nationwide Tour as the pathway to the PGA TOUR.

And a lot of the detail here as been reported during the course of the last 14 months as we have looked at this development, but I’ll share with you some of the detail, and a couple of details that are yet to be determined.

But I think the most important thing is that all 50 cards that are awarded to non-members through a qualifying process will be awarded through an expanded Nationwide Tour.  We will add to the normal schedule of the Nationwide Tour three final events, if you will, that will combine PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour players at the end of the Nationwide Tour season to determine the next year’s PGA TOUR membership.

The annual qualifying tournament, which we know as Q-School, will award cards to the Nationwide Tour going forward.  This process will begin in 2013.  The top 75 players off the Nationwide Tour will continue on into the finals, and they will be joined in those three final events by the players who represent the 126 to 200 category on the PGA TOUR at that point in time in the season.

In addition to those two groups, any non-members who also would be included in those lists, that they appear in the listings based on their money.

I think that the only remaining things in terms of that qualifying process, there are a number of little details, but the one thing that has been something that’s been discussed a lot, but we are not quite ready to make a final determination, is the method by which those two groups will come together in the competition.  I think a lot of you are aware that there is a couple of different seeding scenarios that have been looked at in terms of seeding within those, say, 144 players, or roughly that number.  How that process works out, exactly where we end up on, that is going to go back to our Player Advisory Council for additional comment. 

Also, there will be additional discussions with the other sponsors on the Nationwide Tour and other stakeholders in the Nationwide, in addition to the players, and we will make a decision on that later in the year.  But the fundamentals of what we are doing here, other than that, have been determined and we’ll go forward in 2013.

I think that on that new process, I’ll just say that we believe strongly this is a very exciting moment for the Nationwide Tour, and for the PGA TOUR, as well.  I think the decision by the policy board is a recognition of the historical performance of the Nationwide Tour in player development; developing elite players to the PGA TOUR level.  I think all of you are aware that since 1990, we have studied year-in and year-out the comparative performance of players off of the Nationwide Tour versus players off of the Qualifying School.  And this is a reaffirmation that we have great confidence based on this many years of history what the Nationwide Tour does to prepare a player for the competitive challenges of the PGA TOUR.

I know the NWT is a great training ground for the bigs, but not everyone needs that extra year in the minor league. Case in point so far this year: John Huh. Another Q-school grad Harris English has made 6 of 7 cuts and played in the final group with Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic (you know, when Rory won to become No. 1 for two weeks).

So that was just the first “reason.” Here are the second and third ones:

Secondly, I think this process clearly makes the Nationwide Tour the primary path to the PGA TOUR, and in doing so, it will tie the Nationwide Tour in the minds of fans, particularly, much more strongly, tie them much more strongly to the PGA TOUR, to the PGA TOUR brand and what the PGA TOUR is all about.

Thirdly, we think that the three final events create an exciting and dramatic finish to the season.

For a moment I was confused and felt like he was selling me the FedExCup for the gazillionth time. Now, for the change to the fall start of the season — so, basically, the Tour Championship will mark the conclusion of the season, and then the next season would begin a couple of weeks later in October. The “Fall Series” official money events will now kickoff the season and receive FedExCup points. But, wait, there’s an asterisk:

Here again, there is one lingering question that will be determined later in the year, and that is the distribution of FedExCup points among those events that have not been included in the FedExCup thus far; but the decision to include them in the FedExCup is final.

Why wouldn’t the those tournaments get full FEC points? Is the Tour saying they’re — gasp — second-tier events?

Also, the Tour’s events in Asia will award FEC points and official money. Later in the presser, I asked what was to happen with the Malaysia event:

That’s one of those little details I mentioned earlier that maybe you will would about.
Malaysia will be restructured.  And we have some work to do on that one because of the weather pattern there, the ability to get it in; when you have international travel, it kind of  it’s very similar to if you’ve watched at all the tournament in Singapore that gets delayed every year.
So we have to pay attention to that a little bit.  But it will be restructured, and then we’ll take a look at HSBC, too.  But we anticipate HSBC, if it changes its structure, it would mean it’s more inline with the other WGCs.

OK, what will happen to the traditional season opener at Kapalua?

The season will continue after the break for the holidays with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and eligibility of the top 125 going forward will be FEC points as the primary eligibility category.

I’m not sure what that means.

Here now, Finchem goes through the six “advantages” of killing Q-school and starting the season in the fall:

  • One is, we strongly believe that we will have a better qualifying system because this qualifying system will include seasonlong, TOURlike playing conditions with at the end, the intense pressure of a playoff-type series.
  • Secondly, I think those people in this room, because you follow the sport very closely, and a good number of our fans have been excited over the years to watch the conclusion of the Qualifying School, because of the pressure on the players and the results of that pressure…We feel will much more effectively communicate the drama of that unique competition of the Qualifying School, because there will be a year-long buildup.  It will be promoted on television during the course of the year.  The final events will be positioned on an off-week on the PGA TOUR so that we can command good television exposure, and we can bring the atmosphere and the drama of that competition to the fans.
  • Third, we think these changes significantly enhance the Nationwide Tour overall and from a lot of different perspectives.
  • Fourth, with restructuring the season and including events under the FedExCup, we are able to build the value for our fall events to sustain those fall events into the future.
  • Fifth, and I think after last fall, we would argue particularly importantly, it provides a singular and more impactful conclusion to what a PGA TOUR season is by pulling together both the awarding of the FedExCup with the determination of who wins the Arnold Palmer Award for leading money winner; leading right in to a vote by the players for Player of the Year.  (Uses Luke Donald/Webb Simpson money list confusion as an example.)
  • Finally, we think these changes create a stronger FedExCup.  It means that the PGA TOUR competition is the FedExCup.  We like that, and we like what it does for those tournaments involved and for the sponsors involved.

Again, some details have yet to be worked out.

There are some smaller things not worth mentioning that need to be resolved.  If you ask me about one, I may respond to it because it is a detail that is not on my list.  But the two big things to be determined really are the question of pulling those players together and how that competition is organized; a number of questions there to be answered.  And then the distribution of points to the events in the fall that are official money events.

Time for the Q&A portion of the program. I’ll highlight several of them.

*What’s going to happen to the college stars? Well, there’s two: The traditional way that a player comes out of college, he goes around the Qualifying School; Justin Leonard, Tiger Woods, etc.  That’s unchanged. What’s changed is that the degree to which you can manage that is expanded, because in today’s world, to manage that, you’ve got to get sponsor exemptions and get into the 125.  In this new arrangement, you have to get sponsorships, but you only have to get into the top 200.  And then you have a shot in the finals.  So that’s the first part of my answer. Secondly, I would just point out that the number of players on average the last ten years who have come out of college, gone to Qualifying School and got their card is about 1.4 per year.  So we’ll see how that expanded access through the finals works, but it may be zero change.  But certainly there is an Avenue there.  It’s just a different kind of avenue.

(I’d like to see the hard data.)

*My question–Will the new Q-school system encourage college kids to leave school early? Maybe.  It’s hard to tell. We just have a hard time understanding or guessing how sponsor exemptions will work in that environment.  But we do know that if a player is successful, a good player coming out of school, if he’s successful in getting a few, and he’s only got to get to the 200 mark and he’s a good player, it significantly  if you just look at it to that point  now he’s still got to go through the finals.  But getting to that point will be much easier for him than it is currently to get to the 125.  We’ll just have to watch that and see.  But it’s kind of hard to project. So we just don’t know.  But there may be some of that.  We are certainly not trying to encourage that.  But we have a little bit of that now, so, we’ll see.

In short, yes it probably will.

*The timeline of when things will be implemented:  In 2013, we will have a normal season.  We’ll start at the normal point in time.  However, toward the end of the season, we will initiate these changes.  Which means that in 2013 and 2013 only, we will have a shorter than normal season from the standpoint of eligibility and qualification, because we’ll start in January, and we’ll conclude our final events, will conclude at the same time the Playoffs conclude, followed by a Qualifying School for the Nationwide Tour in 2013.

*What was known as the “Fall Series” is extinct: Under the new, there won’t be a Fall Series.  We will start the FedExCup two weeks after the finals, and that will run  it’s a 50-week  roughly, depending on most years, a 50-week year-long process.  Think of it in terms of the NBA and NFL, they cross two years.  We just cross a longer period of time.

*If a player finishes in the top-25 in the money list, hasn’t he already done the work required to get his PGA Tour card? Will they have some sort of protection or an advantage in this three-tournament end-of the-year race for your Tour card system? Well, you’re talking about if we end up with a seeding process that guarantees a player a card early without competing, is that what you’re talking about?  Well, if we end up there, you’re still incentivized to play, because you’re in the reshuffle.  So you want the highest possible finish.

*Where will these events be held?  In that time frame we have pretty strong flexibility nationally weatherwise.  We are not precluded from playing, I don’t think anywhere, which is good, and had something to do with the thinking here.  The players, as you would expect, want to see some variety in the kind of golf courses we are going to play, and we’ll try to generate that. I think you’re probably wear that on the Qualifying School side, very strong feeling that West Coast/East Coast provides some advantage one way or the other, so we are going to try to balance it. Now that we know, we actually have something to work with, during the course of the year, we’ll be working on the details for that kind of rotation.

(In other words, those are details that still need to be worked out and we have no idea, but probably it will depend on something that has to do with money and sponsors.)

*Since the restructuring was inspired by attracting a title sponsor for the NWT (Nationwide Insurance contract expires in 2013 and so far have not re-upped), is the Tour close to locking one up? We are in discussions with several different companies, and close might not be the right word.



Are you still awake? OK, so it’s really long. I’ll save more for a separate post. Let’s hear your reactions to all this change and pause for a moment of silence in honor of Q-school.