Schools Out -- Five Exemptions

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PGA Tour (75x100)This year, someone will finish 31st at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. Or maybe a group will tie for 32nd or even for 35th place.
 
However it plays out, at least five people will have a gripe.
 
Because this year, this is certain: Anyone finishing outside the top 30 will not receive a passing grade at Q-School.
 
This is different from the last six years, when the top 35 finishers and ties from the final stage of the Qualifying Tournament were granted their PGA Tour cards for the following season.
 
At one time, starting in 1982, the top 50 finishers and ties from Q-School were extended an offer to play the primary circuit. As many as 59, in 1989, qualified from a single class.
 
Then came the institution of the Ben Hogan Tour ' a proving ground for up-and-coming golfers, as well as a place for PGA Tour veterans to hone their skills, according to the tours media guide.
 
And so started the declination of importance placed upon the Qualifying Tournament.
 
The PGA Tour reduced its Q-School exemptions to the low 45 finishers and ties in 1990; two years later it was down to 40. It decreased to the low 35 and ties in 1997. This year it has dropped to 30.
 
Meanwhile, there has been higher regard given to what is now called the Nationwide Tour.
 
The secondary circuit graduated to the PGA Tour the top five players on the season-ending money list each of its first two seasons. It increased to 10 in 1992; moved to 15 in 97; and this year, the top 20 players on the money list do not have to go back in 04.
 
Thats 20 exemptions, over 14 years, taken away from the Qualifying Tournament and given to the tours minor league.
 
The logic in doing so? It is a reflection of the growing recognition of the quality of play on the Nationwide Tour, said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
 
To support his decision to levy more weight on Nationwide Tour performance, Finchem looks to the numbers.
 
Over the years, based on percentages, recently graduated Nationwide Tour players have fared better on the PGA Tour the following season, in terms of keeping their cards, than have Q-School graduates.
 
And 2003 was no exception.
 
Six of the 15 players who qualified via the 2002 Nationwide Tour retained their cards ' finished in the top 125 on the money list ' for next season, while 10 of 38 Q-School grads did the same.
 
Thats a 40-percent success rate for the full-seasoners, and 26 percent for the six-to-14-rounders.
 
There is almost a consensus among those who have Nationwide Tour experience: A full season should count more than a couple ' maybe even just one ' good weeks.
 
Not that Q-School isnt difficult, but its a microcosm of a full season; whereas, youre tested week in, week out on the Nationwide Tour, said Arron Oberholser, who finished second on last years Nationwide Tour money list.
 
Plus, youre gaining valuable experience playing four-round tournaments against quality competition.
 
Cliff Kresge has used both routes to qualify for the PGA Tour. He agreed with Oberholser, saying, I think (the Nationwide Tour) is also a good stepping stone to come to the (PGA) tour, because its very similar to the conditions and people are more prepared that come off that tour.
 
Even those with little or no Nationwide experience put more exemption emphasis on the tour.
 
Its proven that the guys who came off the Nationwide Tour have been very successful (on the PGA Tour), said Ben Curtis, who was a rookie on the 2003 PGA Tour courtesy his tie for 26th in last years Qualifying Tournament.
 
I think that kind of weighs the tours decisionbased on three (stages) compared to a whole 25 events on the Nationwide Tour. I think its a little more fair judgment to give more (exemptions) to the Nationwide.
 
Thats not to say the Qualifying Tournament is without merit.
 
Were it not for Q-School, Curtis never would have had the opportunity to win this year's British Open. He would have spent the entire year just trying to play his way into the major league.
 
For those languishing on mini-tours, like Chad Campbell, who spent four years on the Hooters Tour, and for those playing overseas, like Swedens Richard S. Johnson, who played the European Tour in 2002, Q-School is the quickest vehicle to the PGA Tour.
 
I think the Q-School is very important, said Johnson, who finished 120th on the money list in his rookie season on the PGA Tour. For a foreigner to take a year off from Europe to go play on the Nationwide Tour and try and get on the (PGA) tour, I dont think thats really the correct way.
 
And, yes, Q-School produces its share of Boo Weekleys. But it also generates major champions.
 
In fact, all four of this years major champions have had to pass through Q-School on their ways to fortune and fame.
 
Youll find every year there will be a few guys that get through tour school that had a hot week. But by and large, the players that get through are pretty good, said 2002 Q-School medalist Jeff Brehaut, who finished 98th on this years PGA Tour money list.
 
All in all, most players appear to be Nationwide Tour proponents. Many are pleased with the increasing number of exemptions, and think that eventually the tour will match the school in number ' and perhaps soon surpass it.
 
I think the higher number on the Nationwide Tour is a good way to go, because youve got guys out there playing 30 weeks a year, proving they can play, versus a guy that comes out from tour school for six rounds, said Marco Dawson, who has four times successfully made it through Q-School and was fifth in earnings last year on the Nationwide Tour.
 
Its a no-brainer.
 
I disagree a little bit, argued Cameron Beckman, who graduated from Q-School in 1998, 99 and 2000, because I think the six rounds is pressure packed. (On the Nationwide Tour) you get a full year to relax and play a bunch of tournaments. I kind of like the intense pressure of the six days.
 
For now, it stands 30-20 in favor of the old school. But, using history as a barometer for the future, it wont stay that way for long.
 
The Nationwide Tour will continue to grow and grow and grow, as former graduate Stuart Appleby says. And the Qualifying Tournament will keep on losing cards, as Kresge believes.
 
Its just a matter of by how many.
 
I think they are probably going to do about half and half before too long, said Kresge. Ive even heard that they might not have any cards out of Q-School anymore and they might have everybody play that tour and spend a year down there to come up to here.
 
I think 25 (for each) would be a good number.