Tour's restructuring gives players, fans a headache


ORLANDO, Fla. – I've made up my mind. I'm going to enter Q-School.

Oh, not the PGA Tour's annual qualifying tournament. That's going to cease to exist in its current form soon, one of myriad changes announced by commissioner Tim Finchem this week that will further complicate how the Tour operates.

Instead, this Q stands for Quizzical School, where ostensibly someone will explain how this whole things works. From full FedEx Cup points to a potential for half-points or quarter-points in certain events, from a season that starts in October and ends in September to the obliteration of that other Q-School as we know it, it’s becoming more difficult to follow the proceedings without an advanced degree in Finchemology.

Already, my head hurts. And I cover the PGA Tour for a living. Quite frankly, if I was a casual fan, this is the type of format change that could put me over the edge. Sure, I'd still watch the four majors and catch some entertaining final rounds, but when paying attention starts to feel like a homework assignment, that's when you've lost me.

Can’t imagine I’d be alone, either. Though there are certainly devotees who stand around the office water cooler on Tuesday afternoons breaking down potential FedEx Cup scenarios, the possibility of a more confusing points system will only serve as a bigger turnoff to those who don’t partake in NASA calculations during fun party games.

Now don’t get me wrong. Change in itself is rarely a bad thing and in this instance, the PGA Tour is changing for a reason. I have no doubt that the brass in Ponte Vedra Beach has crunched the numbers and believes this is the most prudent business model going forward – especially when it comes to finding a new title sponsor for the Nationwide Tour.

Of course, prudent business models and fan-friendly ones are hardly one and the same.

While many specifics of the newest restructure remain up in the air, it’s obvious that it won’t be a simplification of the process. Not only do the majority of fans not currently understand FedEx Cup points, many competitors continue to be baffled. One longtime pro told me this week that he doesn’t know how he accumulates points, doesn’t know how many are available on a given week and doesn’t know how many are needed to advance throughout the playoffs. And this is a player for whom they matter; he claimed enough points to reach the Tour Championship last year.

Meanwhile, one of the things to which every player and fan has always been able to relate – the romantic notion that any professional golfer can claim his full-time PGA Tour playing privileges through the six-round final stage of Q-School – will cease, instead becoming a three-event free-for-all between those 126th and lower on the money list and the top-75 on the Nationwide circuit.

If nothing else, the latest restructuring has been the subject of chatter inside the ropes and around the locker room, with some intelligent opinions and concern taking over.

“The core fundamentals of it are a good idea, but the details are going to have to be very precise,” explained Bobby Gates, who finished 126th on last year’s money list, but earned his card back through Q-School. “I don’t think they can afford to have a situation like they did with the FedEx Cup, where they keep tweaking and tweaking. This is someone’s livelihood. Some guy could miss out on making millions of dollars on the PGA Tour and being set for his life because somebody seeded him in the wrong spot.”

“It’s good for the players who are out here now,” Brendan Steele said. “I know that’s probably not a super popular opinion that I have there. But what I really like about it is that I think it saves the Fall Finish; it makes those exciting events. It gives them what they really need and deserve. Those are good events and they need FedEx points. That will pump up those fields.”

All good points and all certainly part of the driving force amongst backroom discussions toward making the PGA Tour more equitable to players and marketable to sponsors.

It’s the fans, though, who get screwed in this scenario. The NFL has been dubbed at times the No Fun League, but at least the nature of the game rewards those who win and penalizes those who don’t without much room for any grey area.

Even those who understand and approve of the changes can see that things will only get more complex for Joe Public.

“It does get more and more complicated with the addition of the FedEx Cup,” Steele admitted. “And now you’re talking about a season that spans two years. But the good news is, golf fans are golf fans. They’re going to come out to Bay Hill when it’s Bay Hill week. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the beginning of the season, middle of the season, whatever – it’s Bay Hill week. It’s a great week.”

That is true, but it’s the fan sitting on his couch at home, the one with a clicker in hand and 1,000 other channels from which to choose whom the PGA Tour should be worried about alienating. If confusing scenarios and mathematical projections were fun, the world would be a much different place – and the impending format would be an unabashed success.

Instead, that isn’t the case. There's a business motto employed by many companies and often incorporated into everyday life: Keep it simple, stupid. When formulating its new system, the PGA Tour forgot one of those words.