ORLANDO, Fla. – Someone’s dream comes true every December.
It could be an All-American from a golf powerhouse or a guy who has been toiling on the mini-tours for longer than he cares to remember. It could be someone as old as Allen Doyle (48) or as young as Ty Tryon (17). Some of them are so choked up they can’t speak. Others are so excited they can’t stop talking.
These are the stories and the emotions of Q-School for those who earn a ticket to the PGA Tour.
And this is what the PGA Tour wants to take away.
“I don’t think I necessarily like that,” J.B. Holmes, speaking from experience. Holmes went straight from Kentucky to the Walker Cup to all three stages of Q-School and had his PGA Tour card. Two months later, he won the Phoenix Open.
And then there’s Rickie Fowler.
He also made it through Q-School on his first try at age 21. Ten months later, he birdied the last four holes at Celtic Manor to earn an improbable halve in a critical singles match at the Ryder Cup.
Why take away an opportunity like that?
Because of all the other stories that don’t have such a happy ending.
“There is some charm to that,” David Duval said of Q-School. “But history shows that romanticism, as attractive as it may be, leads to failure 10 months later when you lose your card and you’re back in the cycle.”
According to the PGA Tour media guide, Q-School has been around since 1965. A record 57 players earned PGA Tour cards in 1983. But as the minor leagues took root, tour officials began taking away the number of cards offered at Q-School and giving more to the top Nationwide players. The thinking was they proved themselves over an entire season.
The next move appears to be radical.
The policy board has given preliminary approval to a concept that essentially would end Q-School as we know it.
At the end of the regular season in Greensboro, N.C., the top 125 in the standings would go to the FedEx Cup playoffs and the money list would be closed for the year.
The next 50 or 75 players would join the top 50 or 75 players from the Nationwide Tour to play the “Finals Series,” comprised of three tournaments that amount to a different kind of playoffs. The top 50 players from those three tournaments would earn their cards for the next season. Consider it 12 rounds of Q-School spread over three weeks.
The pressure could be just as great. The quality of competition would be stronger than ever.
As for Q-School?
It still would be played at the end of the year, but the only cards available would be for the Nationwide Tour. If not for a player’s pride and patience, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Statistics show that players who spend a year on the Nationwide Tour typically are more prepared for the PGA Tour than someone straight out of Q-School. They learn to cope with success and slumps while traveling from week to week. It’s life on the tour, minus the courtesy cars and press coverage.
“I’ve yet to find a serious flaw in it, how it’s not better than what we have,” said Paul Goydos, who is on the policy board. “Is it as romantic and sexy as we had? Maybe not. More efficient? Yeah. We get caught up in the idea that we’re losing a piece of golf tradition that we’ve had our whole lives. But all I’ve ever heard players talk about (Q-School) was that it was torture.”
Among the countless details for the tour to work out is this harrowing prospect – if a player goes through all three stages of Q-School, then wins a record amount of money to lead the Nationwide Tour the next year, he still is not guaranteed a spot on the PGA Tour. He could hit a bad patch during the three-event series and have to start over.
The tour needs an umbrella sponsor for its developmental tour after 2012, and this would make it more appealing. That said, the tour has been looking at the merits of Q-School and the Nationwide Tour long before Nationwide decided to end its sponsorship.
The tour still is providing players a shot at the PGA Tour – just not right away.
Fowler and Jamie Lovemark lost in a playoff at the Frys.com Open toward the end of 2009. One of them went on to earn his card at Q-School (and play in the Ryder Cup), the other went to the Nationwide Tour and led the money list.
Under the proposal, both would have been on the Nationwide Tour.
“Obviously, I was trying to make the PGA Tour, but what I wanted was a place to play,” Fowler said. “Look at Jamie. He found his way here, he just took a side route. I wouldn’t have been upset playing the Nationwide Tour.”
Even so, there’s a stigma about the Nationwide Tour. It’s about settling for second best.
Bill Haas was so disappointed at not making it out of Q-School in 2004 that he said, “I think if I have to play there more than four or five years, I’ll quit golf.”
He played one full year, earned his card through Q-School and has been on the PGA Tour ever since.
One way or another, the best will get through.
Duval was one of the best players of his generation, yet he failed to get through Q-School. After one year on what was then the Nike Tour, he had three runner-up finishes and was 11th on the PGA Tour money list as a rookie.
He is not surprised by the outrage over the potential for something new. Golf, perhaps more than any sport, is slow to embrace change.
“We play a game long on traditions,” Duval said.
No matter how this shakes out, he only wants to make sure one tradition doesn’t change.
“As long as the low score still wins.”