Bringing order to the Tour schedule


There are no fix-alls, not in life or sport. But as Ballotgate unfolded this week and players embark on a silly season that looks more and more serious with every year, your scribe can’t help but think that maybe John Fry is onto something.

The electronics giant laid out his plan by proxy with precious few details a few weeks back during the Tiger Woods Member-Member . . . eh, make that the Open.

Fry wants to turn his fall boondoggle into the official start of a new season on the PGA Tour with all the bells and whistles Ian Poulter could tweet about. Fry even marched a handful of Tour types, including Woods, out to his own golf course, an uber-exclusive layout called The Institute, for a look-see.

Before you suggest Fry visit an institute of another variety, consider how many problems his bold and maybe even slightly narcissistic plan could solve.

First on that list would be returning the Tour Championship to its anchor position on the schedule. Since the FedEx Cup unseated cash as the standard unit of measurement in 2007, the circuit’s big finish at East Lake has felt more like a soft opening for the fall.

The only thing the Tour Championship decided this season is which frat brother joined the nation’s mystical 1 percent.

The money title came down to last week’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic and now – at least if the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., suits have their say – the Player of the Year award may end up being decided at next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions. For the record, the HSBC is a co-sanctioned-official-victory-unofficial-money-official-POY-style-points event henceforth known as the Asterisks Open.

It’s all as untidy as a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

“To be honest, everything needs to be simplified for the PGA Tour. There doesn’t seem to be a beginning and an end,” Donald said on Tuesday’s “Morning Drive.” “You finish the FedEx Cup and you think the season’s over. Then you have the Fall Series and you think it’s over. Then they’re adding another event.”

Fry’s grand plan, however self-serving, would address many of the Tour’s aforementioned scheduling problems.

Ending the year at East Lake would bring a finality that has been missing from the Tour Championship – wrapping up in order the FedEx Cup, Player of the Year and all manner of money list variables from the top 125 to who takes the cash crown.

Similarly, picking up the new season at the Open, or any other fall stop, would likely help strengthen fields from Las Vegas to Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Full FedEx Cup points, an early jump on the money list and maybe even a Masters invitation with a victory would add a much-needed punch to the fall.

And if the top of the marquee wants a little post-Tour Championship R&R they can lounge or chase appearance fees until their G4s run dry or the Tour arrives at Torrey Pines, whichever comes first. That’s their right, but by doing so they will spot the rank and file a head-start in points and earnings.

The “Fry Plan” would also allow the Tour to make the HSBC stop fully official and do away with an asterisk that has been overshadowing the China stop since its inception. It’s been a WGC in name only despite sporting the 12th-strongest field on Tour last year according to the world golf ranking. Moving the HSBC to the front end of the schedule would be a nod to the game’s global growth potential and give the Tour a stronger foothold in Asia.

“There’s no reason why you couldn’t do that,” said Paul Goydos, one of four player directors on the Tour’s Policy Board. “I personally like the idea. I would hope the Tour is open to any number of proposals. There’s nothing wrong with looking at it.”

There has been no formal proposal by the Tour to study a possible move to a split-calendar schedule, but given the uncertainty of the current structure it’s a more-than-reasonable conversation starter.

There would be collateral damage with such a dramatic overhaul.

Last week Disney officials made it clear they were willing to do whatever it takes to keep the Magic Kingdom in the Tour’s anchor position, and sources have confirmed that the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua is contractually tied to the leadoff spot. But that’s nothing a few dozen Tour lawyers couldn’t fix.

The bigger issue would be working out a system that would assure the Tour’s complicated qualifying process was completed in time for a fall start, but even that seems doable considering a current push to make the Nationwide Tour the lone avenue to membership appears to be gaining momentum.

The Policy Board is currently considering a proposal that would combine the top 75 off the secondary circuit’s money list and Nos. 126-200 in PGA  Tour earnings in a playoff-like “finals series” that would dole out all 50 Tour cards for the following season. That three- or four-event series could be played concurrent with the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Such a plan would have all the membership issues resolved before the start of the new season and not require a wholesale change to Q-School, which would serve as the exclusive avenue to the Nationwide Tour.

“Historically humans don’t like change,” Goydos said. “But 40 percent of Tour pros were against the FedEx Cup at first. After 20 years I’m confident that number will be considerably less.”

The Tour is one of the few professional sports organizations that adhere to the proper calendar. If Fry has his way, 20 years from now we all may be wondering why it took so long to change.