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.