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PGA Tour changes inevitable, details uncertain

RSS

MARANA, Ariz. – No one is quick to embrace change until money is involved.

That’s one reason the Players Advisory Council gave its blessing last week to the concept of the Nationwide Tour being the primary path to the big leagues, PGA Tour cards being awarded in a three-tournament series and a new season starting in October instead of January.

It now goes to the policy board on March 27.

The details – and there are many – remain very much under discussion.

This is not just about making the developmental tour attractive to a new title sponsor. It’s about making the fall tournaments relevant, and the only way to do that is to include them in the FedEx Cup season. Otherwise, the likelihood is they would go away. That equates to as much as $24.3 million in prize money, not to mention the loss in charity money, the backbone of the PGA Tour.

“We’d be the first professional sport to vote down money,” said Joe Ogilvie, part of the 16-member PAC. “That’s what we would be doing if we voted it down. When you put it in those terms, a lot of guys went from, ‘We shouldn’t do this’ to ‘You kind of have to.”’

Change appears inevitable.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem suggested as much last week in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News when he said that while the system is not broken, “we feel there’s a better way to do it.”

Even more telling was what followed.

“We’ve had so much success with the FedEx Cup that we feel it’s important to get everything oriented to the FedEx Cup,” he said.

Change will not be easy.

The original plan was to take the top 75 players from the Nationwide Tour and players who finished from No. 126 to No. 200 on the PGA Tour money list and have them play three tournaments, with the top 50 getting their Tour cards.

The one detail causing the most consternation is how to blend players from two different tours.

As it is, the top 25 from the Nationwide Tour earn their cards. The PGA Tour is trying to make sure that most, if not all, of those 25 players are ranked in a way it would be virtually impossible for them not to earn cards in the three-tournament series.

But how to merge the others?

Did the player who was No. 126 on the PGA Tour money list – competing every week against the top players – have the same season as someone who was No. 26 on the money list while competing in the minor leagues?

“I’ve played the Nationwide Tour twice. I finished second and third on the money list,” Ogilvie said. “I haven’t finished second or third on this money list.”

Ogilvie’s best finish on the PGA Tour was 37th in 2004.

Tom Pernice Jr. has a solution that sadly is not getting much traction from Tour officials. His idea is to give the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour their cards without having to play in the three-tournament series. Everyone else starts from scratch.

Think about it. Under the current model of Q-School, No. 126 on the money list has no advantage over No. 168. It’s not like the higher-ranked player is given a pair of 68s and told he doesn’t have to tee off until the third of six rounds.

“It seems like everyone is a little unsure how to seed the guy who’s 126 on the money list,” said Matt Kuchar, another PAC member. “These are tough decisions. Trying to figure out where everyone fits in this is awkward. I think it’s going to be trial-and-error.”

Unlike the FedEx Cup points system, this is one model the Tour has to get right the first time.

But this is only one piece of the puzzle. There will be several moving parts to a new schedule, just as there was when the FedEx Cup was created five years ago.

One of the components might involve this week.

According to two people apprised of the conversations, one option is to move the Match Play Championship to Harding Park in San Francisco – and move it from late February to October as part of the fall start to the season.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss negotiations. Both stressed that the option was in the early stages of consideration.

If that were to happen, it would give the fall start to at least two World Golf Championships (HSBC Champions in China is the other), which would be hard for players to turn down. Also, the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico – held opposite the Match Play this week – is getting its own spot on the calendar, most likely toward the end of the year – again, in the fall start to the season.

However, such a move might create problems for the West Coast Swing, a key stretch in setting the tone for the year. Four of the West Coast events don’t conflict with the NFL, and all of them are prior to March Madness.

When is the offseason? Whenever the players want a break. It’s always been that way. Even in the shorter FedEx Cup season, players were going overseas to play in Asia, Europe and Australia.

Still, if players add tournaments in the fall, some could take time off in the early part of the following year. Kuchar played the Australian Open and the Presidents Cup in Australia, the World Cup in China, and then the Chevron World Challenge in California.

“I like my time off,” Kuchar said. “This year on the West Coast, I’ve just been getting my feet wet. I’ve only played two events. I just didn’t think I had much of an offseason.”

There could be plenty of others like him.

These are the issues that still have to be sorted out. And while the PAC sent the concept of a fall start to the policy board, there’s still a long way to go and much to consider.

But change is coming, and that’s nothing new.

Remember, it was 30 years ago when only the top 60 earned Tour cards. The rest had to Monday qualify, and anyone who made the cut that week got into the next tournament. The next year was the start of the all-exempt Tour.