School's out: LPGA creating new path to tour

By Randall MellOctober 26, 2016, 6:51 pm

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is creating a new “pipeline” to the LPGA.

LPGA Q-School is on the way out.

A new Qualifying Series is on the way in.

Whan is working to build a better way to assign priority status to incoming tour members and believes this new series will create a fairer measurement of who deserves higher priority rankings. He also believes the new qualifying system will better serve the collegiate game as it feeds his tour.

Also, Whan believes it will elevate the importance of the Symetra Tour as a season-long proving ground for future LPGA pros.

“That ought to be the pipeline to the LPGA tour,” Whan said.

The finer details remain a work in progress, with the new Qualifying Series scheduled to be implemented in 2018, though there’s still a possibility it could be ready to go next year.

“We will make that decision by mid-November,” Whan said.

Here is an outline of the key elements:

• LPGA Q-School would be eliminated.

• A new Qualifying Series of two to three events will be created in late fall, probably in October, during the Asian swing. Scores would be cumulative through the series, with the events all played in the same region or market. A field likely to range from 110 to 120 players would compete for somewhere between 35 and 50 LPGA tour cards. The event would be title sponsored and feature a purse ranging from $300,000 to $500,000. Whan’s team is also working to televise the event.



• Players would become eligible for the qualifying series out of three groups:

1. Players finishing from 11th to 25th or 30th on the final Symetra Tour money list.

2 Players finishing outside the top 100 on the LPGA money list, with the exact number to qualify still to be determined.

3 Players from the top of the Rolex world rankings list, possibly among the top 100 or so, who aren’t already qualified to play the LPGA. The exact world-ranking cutoff has yet to be determined.

• A Symetra Tour Qualifying School would be established, to create a pipeline for that tour. Symetra Tour Q-School would also be played in the fall, before the LPGA Qualifying Series.

• Collegians would no longer go to LPGA Q-School in December as amateurs uncertain whether they were actually going to turn pro at the end of Q-School and leave school early to join the LPGA the following year. Under this new system, a collegian could play Symetra Tour Q-School, earn status for the following year, but defer turning pro to start playing the tour until May or June of the following year. This would allow collegians to return to their schools, play the spring schedule and NCAA Tournament and then begin the Symetra Tour season, missing only seven or eight Symetra events. There will be 23 or so Symetra Tour events on the schedule. This would still give those collegians deferring their status a chance to finish top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list and earn LPGA tour cards, or finish top 25 or top 30 in money to make it to the LPGA Qualifying Series.

“I think the Qualifying Series is a much better answer for a college student,” Whan said. “This scenario allows her to qualify for the Symetra Tour, go back to school, finish her college season and graduate, and then go get her tour card finishing top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list, or go get herself into the Qualifying Series.”

Whan said he understands collegians joining the Symetra Tour in June might not like missing the first seven or eight events of the schedule, but Whan said there will still be a more than reasonable chance to climb the money list to crack the top 25 or 30 and make it to the Qualifying Series.

“I see college kids do that all the time, join the tour in late May and make it among the top 30 in money,” Whan said.

• The new system appears to make it a longer road to qualify for the LPGA, but there will be room built in where players can still make a straight jump in late fall from the amateur ranks to the LPGA.

First, Whan is looking at the possibility of setting up Symetra Tour Q School so a player who finishes first, second or third there becomes immediately eligible for the Qualifying Series that shortly follows. This would allow a player to advance through the Symetra Tour Q-School and the LPGA Qualifying Series in the same fall season.

Also, amateurs who achieve a high world ranking (among the top 100 or so, that’s TBD) would be eligible to go straight to the Qualifying Series.

Whan said there were two issues leading to the new “pipeline to the LPGA.”

The first was the question of how to compare the LPGA readiness of players who finished 11th on the Symetra Tour money list to players who finished 101st on the LPGA money list and maybe fifth at LPGA Q-School.

Whan said there is no definitive answer to those questions because those players are competing on different planes where talent levels vary year to year.

“My struggle is always: Should someone who finishes 101st on the LPGA money list have better priority status than someone who finished fifth at LPGA Q-School?” Whan said. “So I said, `Let’s figure out how to give away card status based on head-to-head competition.’”

The second issue leading to the new pipeline is that Whan believes the Symetra Tour is not only a more thorough way to measure the skill level of a player, but it’s also a better way to prepare that player for the rigors of LPGA tour life.

“For four or five years, I've been saying when we get the Symetra Tour the way we want it, there is no better Q-school than 23 tournaments,” Whan said. “You have to travel, and you have to stay consistent, and you have to work through injuries and fatigue. That's real life. That’s tour life. That's better than a couple of weekends in Florida.”

It’s the way of the LPGA’s future.

Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.