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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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.


Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.