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PGA Tour following blueprint of Major League Baseball

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There is a scene in the movie “Bull Durham” where longtime minor-league ballplayer Crash Davis reminisces about life in the majors: “Yeah, I was in The Show. I was in The Show for 21 days once – the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in The Show. Somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.”

A certain hierarchy exists in baseball, one that any kid who has studied the back of a bubble-gum card easily understands. The youngest players compete in Rookie Ball – or Single-A – both the bright-eyed starting line and depressing ending point to many careers; the next step is Double-A, a showcase for burgeoning talents and rejuvenated journeymen; then comes Triple-A, the highest rung on the ladder before reaching the apex; and finally, the majors, the big leagues, what Crash refers to as The Show.

For so many years, the most elite class of professional golf has included only the final two levels on a formal basis, with the Web.com Tour analogous to Triple-A ball and the PGA Tour obviously serving as the big leagues. Sure, there are many other mini-tours of varying degrees, but without direct affiliation to the top level, they have always been more akin to baseball’s independent leagues.

That dynamic is rapidly changing as the PGA Tour took another step toward following baseball’s blueprint on Thursday, announcing that it will take over operational control of the Canadian Tour, rebranding it as PGA Tour Canada beginning in 2013.

In addition to the newly formed PGA Tour Latinoamerica, this decision effectively creates a level of Double-A ball for professional golfers, with full-time spots available on the next rung of this ladder to the most successful players from each circuit.

While the baseball parallel is systematically apparent, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is quick to point out the inherent contrast of moving between levels in each sport.

“The fundamental difference between our sport and team sports is that in team sports somebody decides how good you are and makes a decision on whether they should hire you to be on their team at whatever level,” Finchem explained. “In this sport, you have a specific qualifying system, and you show up with your clubs and you demonstrate you can play.”

Consider that statement ironic, as that has always been the rallying cry for the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, which will cease to exist in its current state after this year.

However, even those bemoaning the final edition of Q-School as we know it can readily admit that the implementation of successive tours offers players a more defined journey toward the common end goal. It may now be more difficult for the everyman dreamer to secure his place amongst the Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy types of the world, but it’s conversely easier for struggling players to retain status under the PGA Tour umbrella rather than relegating them to the netherworld of those independent leagues.

In fact, if there’s dissension in the ranks in regard to the latest announcement, it’s that the big leagues have only chosen to operate select smaller tours rather than all or most of them. Already there is bellyaching amongst some insiders that the PGA Tour could have or should have acquired an organization such as the NGA Tour, which has filtered many elite players, including major championship winners, to the highest level without owning any direct affiliation.

That may be a fair argument and it may only be a matter of time before more tours are sought to join the official hierarchy, though Finchem maintained Thursday that he is not currently in talks with any others.

Unlike 99 percent of all player complaints in the sport, gaining an opportunity to become a full-fledged PGA Tour member hasn’t always boiled down to these two words: Play better. Creating such chances for oneself can often hinge on luck and exposure as much as talent and results. What the newly formed chain of command for these minor-league tours will accomplish is offering more opportunities for players to follow that two-word command as part of a direct route to reaching The Show.

For years, there have been plenty of Crash Davis-like professionals on golf’s minor-league circuit, toiling away without an obvious path to the big leagues. Now the PGA Tour is starting to create that path – one which clearly paves the road toward white balls for driving range practice, courses that are like cathedrals and yes, Crash, possibly even women with long legs and brains.

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