The PGA Tour’s plan to abolish Q-School and replace it with a qualifying process held over three Fall Series events is an interesting one – a project that would amount to radical change by the Tour’s unwavering standards.
As veteran David Toms said Tuesday on the practice range at Bay Hill, “we might as well blow up the whole thing and start over. Lower the Champions Tour [age] minimum to 45.” Toms was smiling when he said it, but he wasn’t joking around, nor was he condemning the notion of progressive thinking at a company known for sitting on its hands.
Since the schedule reconfiguration of 2007, when a collection of lesser tournaments known as the Fall Finish was designed to shake out matters involving exempt status and the top 125, Q-School has seemed like an outdated concept. The number of Tour cards awarded for a successful season on the Nationwide Tour has grown steadily over the last decade, owing to the theory that such promotions should be earned for excellence over an entire year, not six days.
Besides, the Fall Finish lacked significance. Events have come and gone, and if hardcore golf junkies are the only ones who have paid any attention, the product wasn’t strong enough to warrant consideration from a major network or 30 seconds on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” There was simply too much going on to forge an unyielding commitment to the Viking Classic. After nine months of FedEx Cup points and $5 million purses, enough was enough.
This proposal brings the potential of Q-School suspense to a packet of events that need relevance. “The guy who understands marketing can see how Q-School is a very valuable property,” said Joe Ogilvie, a former policy board member. “I think we’ve largely undersold it. You look at what [Donald] Trump did with ‘The Apprentice.’ Why isn’t our rookie class going on the ‘Today’ show?
Perhaps anything is possible, to paraphrase the Tour’s marketing slogan, but until the particulars of the qualifying changes are finalized, it may be healthier to think small and dream big. Any mix of Nationwide Tour players and those who failed to make the top 125 doesn’t leave room for guys like Rickie Fowler, a college star who turned pro, then earned his card through the six-round nerve-jangler. Those trying to make the leap from amateur golf to the big leagues would have no direct route to the Tour, which would be a shame since many of the game’s premier players didn’t stop for a cup of coffee at the Café Nationwide.
A Fall Series qualifier would also pave the way for bigger changes in the tour schedule, notably expansion to Asia, where each new season would actually begin in November. Make no mistake – Camp Ponte Vedra sees golden opportunity on the far side of the Pacific, its favorable reaction to the HSBC Champions serving as the most recent example. By settling the top 125 in late October, the Tour could kick off its season a couple of weeks later, something it can’t do with conventional Q-School, which is played the first week of December.
As the game becomes more global, pro golf as we know it today is likely to look very different 10 years from now. The simple laws of economics and history of league mergers in other sports tell us that a consolidation of the U.S. and European tours is, for the most part, an inevitability. Asia is a hot property, a key ingredient in the long-term equation, but until the PGA Tour cleans up the end of its season, it can’t really embark on an honest migration. The Q-School alterations are just one step toward the grand scheme, a big picture better known as the future.