Despite all the arguments against it and very mixed support from the players it supposedly serves, the PGA Tour has made its decision to blow up a qualifying system that has worked for nearly a half century.
Starting in 2013, the only access to earn PGA Tour cards will be through a postseason series pitting 150-some players who just completed full seasons on the PGA and Nationwide tours. The most democratic system in professional sports is being trashed in the name of commerce.
“What this really comes down to is an economics thing,” said Scott Parel, a 46-year-old veteran of many Q school wars who missed earning his first PGA Tour card by one shot in December. “The tour is struggling to find sponsors for its fall finish and some events on the Nationwide Tour. They feel like they can sell (a qualifying series) to sponsors.”
Of course that’s not really what the PGA Tour is admitting is behind all of this. They claim that numbers support the fact that players who come through the ranks of golf’s highest minor league have a greater retention rate for maintaining sustained careers on the PGA Tour. And there is no argument that the Nationwide Tour is a fantastic proving ground.
But the numbers aren’t really as imbalanced as the PGA Tour is misleading people to believe as they sell this new revenue stream. Its hope is to secure a new umbrella sponsor when Nationwide’s contract ends and prop up the fall events that will soon become the starting point for a wrap-around season beginning in 2013-14.
Over the 10 years between 2001-10, Nationwide Tour graduates had a 6 percent-point retention edge over Q school grads (35.2 to 29.0). Q school, however, delivered five major winners to the Nationwide’s three.
But only in the past five years have the numbers of cards been doled out in roughly equal amounts to the two channels. And in the four-year window of known results, the numbers don’t support the PGA Tour’s argument.
Of the 106 players who reached the PGA Tour via Q school between 2007-10, 34 retained full status the next season (32.1 percent). Of the 100 Nationwide Tour grads in that same span, 31 retained their PGA Tour cards the next year (31.0 percent).
For that they’re killing one of the greatest and most democratic dream generators in golf?
Parel – who just got named to the Nationwide’s player’s advisory council – first heard about the new plans at a players meeting after he qualified to play in last year’s Nationwide event in Valdosta, Ga. The tour’s spin doctors were out in force selling the idea.
“When they pitched it to us, their spin on it was that this would be better for the Nationwide Tour because we could essentially have 50 guys get their PGA Tour cards,” said Parel. “In theory that sounds great. The thing that bothers me about it is what number from the Nationwide Tour list are you going to guarantee he gets his card?”
Parel’s concern is valid. He points to the case of a guy like Scott Brown of North Augusta, who played in all 26 events and finished eighth on the Nationwide Tour money list last season to secure his card for 2012.
“What if the end of the year he’s hurt,” Parel said. “He’s probably going to try to go play (in the series) but he obviously can’t perform the way he has all year. So you’re telling me he’s not going to get his PGA Tour card because it’s all coming down to these three events and not the body of work he did throughout the year?”
The tour’s pitch was grossly disingenuous because there is no way with the seeding plan they intend to implement that the bulk of the 50 “graduates” will come from any one tour. As often as not, fewer than 25 guys from the Nationwide Tour will make it, and those players who barely fail won’t have Q school to fall back on. They’ll essentially be doomed to another year of indentured servitude in the minors.
Seriously, don’t let the tour fool you into thinking this increases opportunities. On the contrary, it creates more of a closed shop than ever. More likely than not, there will be no more than 25 “new” faces per year on PGA Tour cards, as opposed to the roughly 50 annually that graduate to the big leagues under the current system with Q school and the Nationwide sending at least 25 each. And perhaps only a handful of those “new” faces might be true rookies.
The players this system might affect the most are college All-Americans and international players. If a college stud doesn’t make enough money in his seven exemptions to earn a place in the qualifying series, he’ll have no chance to play his way onto the PGA Tour the following year.
And international players, who rarely get sponsor invites, will be less inclined to come to Q school to try to earn a one-year apprenticeship. Y.E. Yang wouldn’t have had the chance to graduate Q school one year and become the first Asian player to win a major the next.
“I think you still have to have a way to qualify,” Parel said. “Take some number from Q school. Even if it’s just five. You need to have some incentive at Q school other than getting Nationwide Tour status. I just don’t see that being fair.”
Not happening. The tour is already rolling out the plans to players starting with Tuesday’s meeting at Torrey Pines. The die is cast. Done deal. Q school as we’ve known it since 1965 is dead. The system that sent superstars like current No. 1 Luke Donald, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler to the bigs along with countless dreamers is getting flushed in hopes of attracting a new Buy.com as an umbrella sponsor.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Parel said. “I don’t think that there’s a flaw in the system.”
There wasn’t, but the PGA Tour has fixed that and ensured there will be from now on.