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Amateurs like Spieth under the gun

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SILVIS, Ill. – Q-School as we know it will never be the same.

News spread Tuesday at the John Deere Classic that the PGA Tour has finalized plans to revamp the way players qualify for the Tour. That news ratchets up pressure on some top amateurs, like Texas’ Jordan Spieth and Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers, a pair of collegians playing the John Deere Classic on sponsor exemptions.

With the creation of the new Web.com Tour Finals, a series of season-ending events that will determine who wins Tour cards, collegians and top amateurs are looking at one last window to make the jump every young player dreams about. This fall will mark the last time Q-School survivors advance straight to the PGA Tour. Beginning in 2013, Q-School will only determine who qualifies for the Web.com Tour, formerly the Nationwide Tour.

“This change is a big deal,” says Spieth, 18, who just finished his freshman year at Texas and will enter Q-School as an amateur this fall. “It puts a little more pressure on Q-School this year.”

With his tie for 21st at the U.S. Open, Spieth is exempt to second stage of Q-School. He plans to tee it up at TPC Craig Ranch near Dallas, where he grew up.

“My plan is to enter as an amateur and see kind of how it goes,” Spieth said.

If Spieth makes a successful run through Q-School finals, he can turn professional and claim any exempt status he wins.

“I don’t know if this news influenced me,” said Spieth, who won three collegiate events and helped the Longhorns win the NCAA Championship this year. “I was probably going to give it a shot no matter what, but it definitely is on a lot of guys’ minds now.”

Spieth hears fellow collegians discussing whether they should enter Q-School earlier than they planned to take advantage before the Q-School window closes next year.

“I hear guys saying, `Shoot, I want to go straight on to the PGA Tour,’ . . . like everyone does, even though it’s difficult,” Spieth said. “Players have always had it in their minds that Q-School is a way they can get to the PGA Tour, but after this year, it could be a two- or three-year process.

“This change is disappointing for a lot of the college guys, even myself. I’m not too happy it’s going to be like that, but I can see why [PGA Tour Commissioner] Tim Finchem is doing it. I understand. With every big decision, there’s going to be a party that doesn’t necessarily like it, but I think he is doing what is best for the game.”

Bud Cauley avoided Q-School last summer coming out of Alabama by earning enough money as a PGA Tour non-member in sponsor invites to earn exempt status. On his way to the range at the John Deere Classic Tuesday, Cauley said he didn’t feel pressure trying to make the tour that way with Q-School as an option to fall back upon. Beginning next year, if a collegian wants to go straight from school to the PGA Tour, he will have to do what Cauley did.

Rodgers, who just finished his freshman season at Stanford, has announced no plans to turn pro but hears fellow collegians talking also.

“It certainly is weighing a lot on every top college player’s mind,” Rodgers said.

With the change next year, the top 25 on the money list from the Web.com Tour’s regular season will win exempt PGA Tour status. Another 25 from the Web.com Tour Finals, a series of season-ending tournaments, will also win exempt status.

The Web.com Tour Finals will merge the top 75 from the Web.com Tour money list with PGA Tour pros who finished Nos. 126-200 on the FedEx Cup points list. Also, non-members who would have earned enough points to fall between Nos. 126-200 can play the Finals.

All Finals’ participants will start at zero in earnings or points or whatever is used to measure finishes. Though the top 25 from the Web.com Tour regular season will be guaranteed exempt status, their priority ranking will be determined in the Finals.

Though these changes were approved by the PGA Tour Policy Board with the recommendation of the Players Advisory Council, there are veterans who don’t like seeing Q-School revamped.

“I didn’t like to see the direction they went,” Charles Howell III said. “I would rather have seen Q-School stay the way that it is. I liked the idea that there was a direct avenue to the Tour, and I think there were enough stories out there supporting it, where guys came straight out of college and did well.

“Take a guy this year like John Huh, what a cool story. He comes out of college, gets onto the Tour and he wins a tournament. And a guy named J.B. Holmes, who did a similar thing. I still like that idea. I also like it on the back end, for, say, a guy in his late 40s who might have lost his card, and he can play his way back.”

Players understand the change was in great measure financially motivated, with the new Finals sold as a way to help find a new title sponsor to replace the Nationwide Tour. Still, Ken Duke, a member of the Players Advisory Council, believes the new system will be a better path for young players.

“When there is change, a lot of people will have their opinions and have issues with it, but I think four or five years down the road it won’t be an issue,” Duke said. “It’s not really the best thing to have guys play three weeks and be able to earn their way on to the Tour. A full season is a lot better way to make it than making it with a hot week. The guys who do that, they aren’t usually ready. If they go play the Web.com Tour, they’re more likely to be ready.”

PGA Tour veteran Jerry Kelly, a three-time PGA Tour winner, liked the idea of having the PGA Tour dream as a prize at Q-School.

“They’re taking that dream away,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a huge thing. I don’t like the change in its entirety. Pieces of it are OK. I like the fact that players have to rise to the top over three tournaments instead of just six days. I just think there should be fewer automatic cards from the Web.com Tour. I think 25 cards for those players is the right amount, but maybe somehow still have a six-round Q-School for at least five spots. Then you can still have that `out of the blue’ story.”

For today’s top young players, there is one last chance to be that `out of the blue’ story from Q-School who makes it to the PGA Tour.