Web.com Finals not perfect but an upgrade over Q-School

By Rex HoggardSeptember 30, 2013, 2:30 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – When you ask soon-to-be senior Joe Durant about his Q-School history he waves his hands defensively and offers a metaphorical white flag: “a lot of times.”

After 17 full seasons on the PGA Tour and almost as many bouts with the Fall Classic, Durant’s assessment of the circuit’s new qualifying system which concluded Sunday at TPC Sawgrass is unapologetically positive.

“When this thing gets a year or two under its belt – just like the FedEx Cup it took some tinkering,” Durant said. “It’s a better format, honestly. When they went to 25 cards at the Finals, it’s tough. If you’re off a little bit, with the caliber of play you’re done.”

As only Durant could provide, his take on the four-event Finals is that it is an improvement over the previous model, but – as he tactfully concludes – the new process is not exactly a finished product.

Twenty-five 2013-14 PGA Tour cards were doled out on Sunday following the final round of the Web.com Tour Championship, although it took a team of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.’s biggest brains to explain it to anyone with a few hours to kill and a healthy attention span, along with 25 to the top regular-season money winners on the Web.com Tour.

Only the Tour’s new qualifying system could make the FedEx Cup math seem like second-grade arithmetic.

Despite the confusion, the new process was largely applauded by those who endured the four-week experiment, but that’s not to say the Finals was without flaws.

“Some guys would say it’s unfair because it only took you one week (to earn a Tour card), but Q-School basically comes down to playing good one week. It just has to be the right week,” said Durant, who managed to finish inside the top 25 with his tie for eighth. “As a player, I like this system better because I can afford a bad week.

“The flip side is I’ve made every cut (in the Finals) but I’ve been on the outside (of the top 25) and looking in until this week.”

The elephant in the new qualifying process room was always the misnomer that the final stage of Q-School was the ultimate pressure point. Truth is, second stage was a much more compelling, albeit largely overlooked, event.

For many, a washout at second stage meant an entire year toiling in golf’s minor leagues and playing for a fraction of the prize money on both the Web.com and PGA tours. But if you made it to the six-round final stage players were assured of status on the secondary circuit at the least.

“When I was going through second stage it was the hardest and (final stage) was just gravy,” Chad Campbell said. “Back then I didn’t have anything. It was life or death whether I got through.”

That urgency was largely absent throughout the inaugural Finals run. In fact, given the explosive nature of the four events the new system has created a competitive indifference for most of the series, with players dismissing poor performances like a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan: “There’s always next week.”

Consider Andrew Loupe, whose run-up to the finale at TPC Sawgrass was an alphabet soup of competitive mediocrity – MC (Hotel Fitness Championship), MC (Chiquita Classic), WD (Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship). Yet the 24-year-old needed only a tie for sixth place at the finale to earn a Tour card for next season.

“It’s turned into four one-week Q-Schools,” Jason Gore said. “I wish over the course of time you could have four 15th-place finishes and get in, something that rewards consistent performances over just one good week.”

There was also push-back from some players who had already earned their 2013-14 Tour cards via regular-season Web.com Tour earnings, but were lapped in the Finals in the priority rankings.

Players like Jamie Lovemark, who finished 12th in regular-season earnings on the secondary circuit to secure his card but struggled in the Finals and will enter next season 39th, out of 50, in the priority rankings, which dictate which events a player can enter.

Top 50 on Web.com Finals priority rankings

Web.com Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos

“It is hard to see guys who I beat on the regular-season money list, by a good amount, pass me with one decent finish,” said Lovemark, who tied for eighth at TPC Sawgrass for his best showing in the Finals. “You kind of feel like you should have a little more weight for the top 25 guys (regular-season money winners), but I’m sure that will probably be tinkered with in the future just like we did with the FedEx Cup.”

Players like Will Wilcox and Benjamin Alvarado, regular-season card winners who didn’t play any of the Finals events, will begin next season at the bottom of the class and will likely struggle to get into fields when the Tour begins its West Coast swing early next year.

Like the FedEx Cup playoffs, which will likely go through another points overhaul before next season, the Finals series is a work in progress, but the ultimate benchmark for any qualifying system, identifying the best players, seems to have been achieved.

“It’s probably going to be a better identifier over four tournaments than six rounds on two courses (Q-School),” David Mathis said. “At Q-School you played one course where the fairways were big and the weather was perfect, where now we play different golf courses where the wind is blowing with different grasses. It’s a better test that way.”

Even with its first-year blemishes, the Finals represents an upgrade over the previous model. But then it always had one thing going for it in the minds of professionals: It’s not Q-School.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.