ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s like taking a wrecking ball to Fenway Park.
Or Wrigley Field.
A fixture rich with lore and tradition was quietly leveled Tuesday with the PGA Tour making official its plans to overhaul how its season will begin and end and how it will award PGA Tour cards.
Q-School as we’ve come to know it was obliterated with that news.
After Q-School’s final staging late this year, we’ll probably never see the likes of it in our sport again, and that makes this a sad day.
So many of the year’s best stories are scripted at Q-School. The mind races back.
I was there when country bumpkin Boo Weekley came out of nowhere to win his PGA Tour card. He embodied the essential appeal of Q-School, the notion that an unknown player could emerge from nowhere and win a PGA Tour card. Heath Slocum’s father broke down in raking sobs watching Weekley walk out of the scoring trailer with his card secured.
“He doesn’t even realize what he’s just done,” Jack Slocum said of his son’s pal.
I was there when Jack Nicklaus proudly watched his son, Gary, win his PGA Tour card.
I was there when Ty Tryon shocked the world winning his card at 17.
I was there when Jaxon Brigman shot a 65 but signed for a 66 and missed getting his card by a single phantom shot.
I was there when a light-headed Erik Compton crumpled in a fairway. He got up rubbing his chest and finished off his round with the state of his transplanted heart worrying everyone who saw him tumble.
All those memories, lost in time, like tears in rain.
That’s a line from the movie “Blade Runner,” a line that comes back with the realization that the doorway to so many wonderful tales is being sealed shut by the PGA Tour.
But that’s the way of sport.
Boston Garden was torn down. The original Yankee Stadium, too. Bigger, better facilities took their places.
Beginning next year, Q-School will be replaced by a three-tournament series pitting the top 75 Nationwide Tour pros against 75 PGA Tour pros (Nos. 126-200 on the money list). Instead of 25 players winning their cards at Q-School and 25 as Nationwide Tour graduates, 50 cards will be awarded in the new tournament series. The exact formula for how the cards will be won remains a work in progress.
Q-School will remain in name, but it will only determine who gains Nationwide Tour access.
“Anytime you make a change, human nature says, ‘Why are we changing? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “There’s another way to look at things. When things are going pretty well, that’s the time to get better. That’s the philosophy we’ve embraced.”
Give Finchem his due. Throughout his reign, he has taken advantage of opportunities and skillfully built a better, healthier and more lucrative Tour.There are compelling reasons for this change, including the PGA Tour’s assertion that the Nationwide Tour has proven to better prepare young players to succeed on the PGA Tour.
But there’s also the undeniable bottom line, as there always is in professional sports.
“It comes down to a sponsorship issue for the Nationwide Tour,” PGA Tour veteran Stewart Cink said. “That’s what this is.
“And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s good we are making a proactive move to try to make that tour more marketable and to get a good sponsor.”
The Nationwide Tour makes sense as better “schooling” for future PGA Tour pros. It makes dollars and sense to make the change to help lure a successor to Nationwide as the tour’s new sponsor, but it’s still sad, this farewell to a vehicle that gave us so many great memories. It’s like saying goodbye to your first car, a sporty coupe you could always depend upon.
Under the new qualifying system, you won’t see many unknown commodities emerging through the three-tournament series.
“That really doesn’t happen in other sports,” PGA Tour veteran David Toms said. “Guys have to prove themselves along their way in other sports to be a draft pick. The best high school players don’t go straight to the Major Leagues. They prove themselves in a system.
“Paying your dues for a year on the Nationwide Tour, learning how to travel, learning how to manage your life as a young guy can only be a positive. What if you make it out here right away, and you don’t play well, and you lose your confidence? You may never be heard from again. I think this is a good idea.”
Toms may be right, but it doesn’t make goodbye any easier.