Players favor Finals over Q-School

By Randall MellSeptember 27, 2013, 10:26 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Just thinking about the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament made Will MacKenzie’s stomach churn.

He twisted his face briefly in a knot and gently rubbed his belly Friday when asked to compare Q-School to the Tour Finals, the new four-tournament series that replaced Q-School this year as the system for doling out PGA Tour cards.

“This is a little easier, it’s less stress,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie wasn’t saying the Tour Finals are easy, or that they’re devoid of stress, but he believes this new series is a more just examination of who is ready to play the PGA Tour than Q-School’s draconian system was.

“It seems pretty fair,” says Heath Slocum, a four-time PGA Tour winner. Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos

MacKenzie and Slocum aren’t alone thinking that way here at the Tour Championship, the series finale that will end with 50 PGA Tour cards awarded on Sunday. The absence of Q-School is practically a tonic for young and veteran players alike.

“It’s fairer than Q-School, to be sure,” said Aron Price, who has no fond memories of his two visits to the final stage of Q-School. “Q-School is a week that makes you feel like you’ve aged five or 10 years.”

The Finals spares players the angst of knowing their card is determined in a single, grueling week.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Chesson Hadley, 26, who finished third on the Tour regular-season money list and now has a chance to win the Finals series after posting a 4-under-par 66 Friday to take the lead halfway through the Tour Championship. “It’s so much more comfortable for everyone knowing you have potentially 16 rounds to earn your card than just six.”

Count Michael Putnam, 30, the Tour’s regular-season money leader, among the converts.

“Every player loves it,” Putnam said.

Well, not every player. These are professional golfers. There’s never unanimous agreement.

“If you want me to be real honest, I’m not playing well, so I hate it,” Tag Ridings told Golf World in last week’s publication. “Yeah, there are a lot of us who wonder why they did this. In theory, I suppose it’s not a bad idea. In practice, it’s not great right now.”

Ridings may believe a lot of players wonder about the validity of the Tour Finals, but a sampling of players here this week casts Ridings among a minority. You may not like that the gut-wrenching drama that built over six days of Q-School isn’t building the same way in this four-tournament series, but that doesn’t bother the players in the least. The majority have been won over with the idea that this is a better way, if not the perfect way.

“It seems like more guys who were quietly questioning the concept have warmed up to it a little bit, especially guys who went out the first week and didn’t play well and then went out the next week and played well,” said Joe Durant, 49, a four-time PGA Tour winner. “It’s a long stretch. Anything can happen over four tournaments.”

Last year, the PGA Tour awarded cards to the top 25 on the Tour’s season-ending money list. They also awarded cards to the top 25 at Q-School.

This year, the system for awarding cards was revamped. The PGA Tour put the top 75 players from the Tour regular-season money list and the players who finished Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour money list together to compete in the Tour Finals. The four-tournament series ends Sunday with 50 PGA Tour cards awarded. While the top 25 from the Tour regular season are guaranteed cards, they continue to play in the series for priority ranking access to the PGA Tour next year.

The majority of players like the fact that they’re tested over four different tournaments on four different courses.

“Variety of courses, variety of grasses,” Durant said. “Some courses have been a little more open, others have been tight. Rough’s been thick a couple places, not as thick at a couple others. There have been some differences in the courses, and I think it’s a good mix.”

Q-School left little margin for error. If you had one bad round at the first stage, you were not likely to advance. Same with second stage. At final stage, just one triple-bogey could doom your chances.

That’s not the case in the Tour Finals. There’s a generous margin of error built into the series.

In fact, Byron Smith, Andrew Loupe, Ashley Hall and Oscar Fraustro each missed the cut in the first three events of the Finals series, but their hopes of winning a PGA Tour card remain alive this weekend. They all made the cut Friday at the Tour Championship and can lock up a card with a hot weekend. A top-five finish will win them a PGA Tour card. In fact, a top-eight finish might.

A common criticism of Q-School was that a player could ride one hot week at the final stage to a card.

That’s still the case in the Finals.

Trevor Immelman and Ricky Barnes are going to win PGA Tour cards despite the fact that each of them missed the cut in three of four starts in this Finals series. Immelman secured his card winning the Hotel Fitness Championship, Barnes with a T-6 at the Chiquita Classic.

Most players don’t view this lack of consistency in the Finals as a drawback. They see a larger picture. They see that they’ve proven themselves over a full year just to give themselves a chance to ride a hot week to a PGA Tour card.

“At Q-School, if you miss first stage, you don’t have any status,” Barnes said. “You miss second stage, you don’t have any status. Now, if you have a bad first and second tournament, you’re still good to go. I put myself back in good position after one good tournament. In the past, if I had a bad tournament at the first stage, I didn’t see the light of day in second stage.”

Seeing a colleague ride a hot week to a PGA Tour card is more tolerable knowing he earned his chance over a year on the Tour or PGA Tour.

“They’re saying you did a lot of your work throughout the year,” Barnes said.

As much as players prefer the Finals over Q-School, there’s talk about improvements. A number of players sampled mentioned that they would like to see the top 25 money winners from the Tour’s regular season be rewarded more in the Finals for their efforts in the regular season. As it stands, the second-leading money winner in the regular season could end up ranked 49th in priority access among the 50 card winners.

“This is a better idea, but it might need to be tweaked a little bit,” Adam Crawford said.

Whether it’s tweaked or not, the Finals is proving easier on stomachs than Q-School did.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.