Jan
25
2012
Inside the Players Meeting: The Tour Presents Q-School Deathwatch
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Huh? Say what?

 

It’s that time again — the mandatory PGA Tour player’s meeting at Torrey Pines, where Commissioner Tim Finchem delivers his annual “State of the Tour” address (how fitting President Obama delivered the SOTU on the same night this year). I confess I’m a huge geek and for the last three years, I’ve gotten super revved up to find out the scoop on the inner-goings of these bureaucratic time-suckers. This is about as “Inside Golf” as you can get, but I dig it.

Usually, when I bring it up to a player, they shrug, roll their eyes and mutter something about how boring it is and it’s always the same ol’ stuff. But this year, there was much more buzz than usual.  I actually got responses from guys, saying, “It should be interesting” and “I’ll be there for the fireworks.”

 

That’s because since last March, the players and media have been hearing blasphemous talk about the powers-that-be devising a plan to kill off Q-school and replace it with a three-event series consisting of the top players from the Nationwide Tour, the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit (which is in need of a new title sponsor since Nationwide Insurance is in the final year of its contract).

From the handful of players I spoke with that attended Tuesday evening’s meeting, the plan presented to the players was essentially the same as what had already been discussed and reported back in December. The Tour just went into more details as far as eligibility from the PGA Tour to the Nationwide Tour to Q-school and broke down different categories that players fit into.

Here’s a rundown of the proposed plan:

*The proposed system would take Nos. 1-75 from the Nationwide Tour and Nos. 126 to 200 from the PGA Tour (who failed to qualify for the FedExCup) and merge them into a field for a three-tournament series that would replace Q-school as the avenue to earn their PGA Tour cards In turn, the new Q-school would only provide Nationwide Tour status.

*PGA Tour cards would be handed out to the top 50 players.

*The rest of the guys could go back to Q-school to try and earn status on the NWT.

*Now here’s where it gets confusing — the system that would rank players in the three-event series. The top-25 from the NWT money list — the guys that would have automatically earned their cards in the current format — would be seeded No. 1 to No. 25. The next spot would be shared by the No. 26 on the NWT money list and No. 126 on the PGA Tour money list.

*There would be some sort of faux-money system that would allocate the same amount to the PGA Tour player as it would to his NWT “equal.” (Thing is, how can you fairly compare No. 126 from the PGA tour to No. 26 on the NWT?) Apparently there were several different ideas on how to work that out, but officials didn’t go into great detail.

*No. 126 on the money list could miss the cut at all three events and still have a mathematical chance (oh man, sound familiar?) to get his card back — he would just be lower down on the priority list.

*My biggest concern with the whole thing — what happens to the amateur standouts and the college hotshots? How do they break-through this closed shop? The Tour will keep track of the earnings of those players in PGA Tour and NWT events. If his winnings are equal to or more than No. 200 on the PGA Tour money list and No. 75 on the NWT money list, then he’ll receive a spot in the three-event race. Okay, great, but if you’re not a high-profile college/amateur player or you don’t have connections, then you’re not going to get sponsor’s invites.

*I spoke to PAC member Joe Ogilvie on Tuesday before the PAC conference call scheduled for later that evening (which was after the player meeting) and he suggested giving college guys invites on the NWT:

“What (the Tour) could do is an exemption on the Nationwide Tour, starting in, call it May, where they give two invites per week to college players, and what that would do is it basically exempts two college players each week, and eventually the best players are going to qualify for this thing.  There’s never been a guy who’s been good enough to star on the PGA Tour to not get to the PGA Tour.”

*The three-tourney series would debut in fall of 2013 and then the new season would begin a month later with what was formerly known as the Fall Series — which were held after the FedExCup and thus no points were awarded to players at those events. One PGA Tour sophomore, who asked to remain unnamed for obvious reasons, pointed out, “No other sport plays regular games after their season championship.”

*“In all honesty, people thought the FedExCup was confusing. Wait until they see this,” warned a fairly recent PGA Tour winner, who earned his card through Q-School but also had a full-year of experience on the NWT.

*Now, the same aforementioned player summed things up quite well:

“(Tim) Finchem got up there and said that 2011 was one of the best years, if not the best year on the PGA Tour — the FedExCup was exciting, the Presidents Cup was exciting, all the majors were awesome.  We’re coming into a season of golf where everyone is excited, and now, in a sense I feel like you’re going to pull the rug out from under all that, which is just completely different from anything we’ve ever done.

“Not to be stagnant and not forward thinking, but things are going really, really well right now, and you just got done saying this is the best season we’ve ever had, but we need to fix it, we need to change it like there’s something wrong? I just don’t understand it.

“Right now when I tee it up on the PGA Tour, I know what I have to do on the PGA Tour to keep my card.  Well, there are all these different situations that can be presented (in the new proposed format) — are you going to work hard at the FedExCup or are you going to work hard at the Money List?

There are two or three transitional periods where things are going to overlap, and I just left (the meeting) shaking my head, and I’m sure a lot of other people did, too, to the point of why are we going to do this, instead of, ‘Hey, if I finish outside the top 125, I’ve got to go to Qschool and I get an opportunity to get my card back.’”

/end best rant of the year.

*It would also be confusing for fans, this player added:

“There’s a lot of things that, yeah, I still have a lot to learn about, but I know well enough that the average golf fan is going to get into a situation where I don’t know what’s going on out there.  They’re talking about the season being 11 months long, ending in September and starting again in October.  They’re talking about a lot of different things that in my mind could present a very watered-down product from the PGA Tour, to something where there’s not quite the drama and excitement that there is now.”

*Last word:

“My whole point is, I just thought it was very, very confusing.  But I guess that’s my final comment in regards to the whole thing.  The idea is some schedule changes might not be a bad idea.  They just kind of brought that up in basic terms, but I don’t really remember much of that other than the fact I was trying to understand the Q-school and the PGA Tour situations as much as possible. But there was stuff that I came away from it more confused and more unsure about it than ever.  I don’t know, it was very confusing in my mind.”

This guy is my new favorite quote/interview…

*Quite a few players stood up boldly to Finchem and questioned the new system and even the Tour’s intentions. One veteran asked the Commish if he was just concerned with the sponsors, instead of the players (as in, who is this really benefiting? Is this to attract sponsors for the NWT or is this actually going to be better for the Tour and players in the long run?). So how were these uncertainties and inquiries fielded? Not very clearly. Apparently Finchem talked in circles and said a lot without actually answering the questions (same ones asked in different ways by different players). Eventually, toward the end, the filibuster method worked and the guys were fed up, so they let it go for the time being.

*Harris English, who won on the NWT as an amateur but earned his card at Q-school last December, sounded a bit overwhelmed with the commotion at his first player meeting. His impression was that the majority of the guys weren’t fans of the proposed changes. As a rookie, it’s his first-go at everything and he’s not sure what to think. “I can see it working both ways,” he said on the phone Tuesday night. “It’s just a huge change for what reason? — I don’t know why they’re changing it…I guess for the sponsors. It doesn’t seem like there’s been a problem, but the veterans have been at this for a while and I’m sure the PAC members will make the best and right decision.”

*Dustin Johnson’s Twitterer wrote:

*More from Ogilvie, who, to be clear, was speaking based on his opinions and impressions before the PAC meeting.

“With this (new proposed format), it could make things a hell of a lot possibly easier than the current format because there will be fewer players.  There are certain veterans who almost seem to make it to second stage.  They’re not going to go to Q-school to get Nationwide status, so there will be more spots open at second stage and possibly more spots open at third stage than previous.  So while they may have to spend a year on the Nationwide Tour, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get on the Nationwide Tour than it’s ever been with this format.

“Granted, I’m a Qschool romantic.

Me too.

But Ogilvie, voice of reason, sees both sides:

“I also sort of understand what they’re trying to do.  I mean, look, if this is a six-year experiment or however long the next Nationwide Tour sponsor is, if it’s that, then you’ve got six years, and if it works, it works; if it doesn’t, you might go back to the old Q-school format.  But I don’t mind spending six years on an experiment that could provide stability to the Nationwide Tour and therefore stability to the PGA Tour, and it also provides us with a chance to rework the schedule with a fall beginning, because I think if you don’t do that, the Fall Series tournaments might be gone.

“I mean, I just  they’re dying a slow death as it is, and to get them in the FedExCup schedule, it would get China and Indonesia, it would get them inside the FedExCup schedule, and they would be official events. And let’s be honest; it’s one way to get the Tour into Asia.  Everybody thinks that Asia is the future of golf.”

Well, that’s a lot of material for everyone to ponder over and discuss. So, have at it.

(Photo via Golfweek)