Nationwide Tour Extreme Makeover Edition


Bill Calfee is a rarity, a true stick among the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. suits. Amid the corridors of PGA Tour power Calfee knows what it’s like to put a score next to his name and to play for his rent. He also knows the sting and satisfaction of Q-School.

“Five times,” Calfee laughs when asked how many trips he made to the Fall Classic. “Made it (to the Tour) on the fifth time and never went back.”

Within that historical context Calfee, the Nationwide Tour president, concedes the proposed change to the current Q-School/Nationwide Tour system will take some getting used to. “There’s a bit of a cultural change, no question. I was part of it. But it’s a better system now,” he said.

Maybe it’s best to call the proposed restructuring of the current Nationwide Tour/Q-School model an extreme makeover because if the plan is ultimately approved by the Policy Board the new system will look nothing like the old.

The concept in CliffsNotes form is to take the top players from the Nationwide Tour, probably the top 75 to 100, and the bottom off the PGA Tour money list, somewhere between Nos. 126 and 200, and send them out for a three-event free-for-all that will ultimately dole out 50 Tour cards. The plan elevates the Nationwide Tour to the primary avenue to the big leagues and relegates Q-School to, well . . . something less than that.

Mathematically the concept works. Nationwide Tour grads historically perform better than their Q-School counterparts, although 2010 was the exception with 32 percent of the Nationwide Tour class retaining their cards compared with 44 percent from the Fall Classic. Yet consider that there are currently 17 players inside the Tour’s 125 who either graduated from the secondary circuit or played at least 10 Nationwide Tour events in 2010, while there are no players inside the 125 right now that played fewer than 10 Nationwide events last year.

But if perception is indeed reality, Calfee & Co. have a tough sell ahead of them. Many Tour types see the proposal as another step toward a closed shop, one going so far as to use the term restraint of trade, a legal volley normally uttered just before the lawyers arrive.

During a 30-minute phone call earlier this week that felt like the first of many, Calfee explained that the restructuring can actually benefit young phenoms.

“A college player can play his way into these events if he plays well enough,” he said.

Future Rickie Fowlers only have to earn enough money via sponsor exemptions or Monday qualifying to crack the top 175 or so in Tour earnings or the top 100 on the Nationwide Tour to earn a spot in the Finals Series. From there, it’s professional Darwinism at its finest.

Still, one can’t shake the lingering disconnect between the old and new. The Nationwide Tour has always extolled the virtues of a full calendar over the capriciousness of Q-School’s three-week sprint, yet isn’t the Final Series – which will likely be a combination of current Fall Series and Nationwide events culminating with the secondary circuit’s Tour Championship – Q-School with a slightly hipper rap?

On this Calfee and your correspondent had to agree to disagree, just as we debated the ability to create a seeding system for the Finals Series. There is no apples-to-apples comparison between the player that finishes 26th on the Nationwide Tour money list and 126th in Tour earnings, nor should one expect a consensus on that question.

“That’s where a lot of the discussion and details will be,” Calfee conceded.

The working model seeds the first 25 players off the regular-season Nationwide Tour money list first followed by No. 126 in Tour earnings, No. 26 in Nationwide Tour earnings, No. 127, No. 27, etc., Calfee explained.

Calfee also said he expects the Nationwide Tour’s “battlefield” promotion to the PGA Tour to remain for any three-time winners and for the leading money winner after the Finals Series to be fully exempt and excluded from the periodic reshuffle for the other 49 card winners.

Calfee took exception to the widely held notion that the proposed restructuring is a response to the Tour’s need for a new umbrella sponsor for the secondary circuit after Nationwide steps down following the 2012 season.

“A lot of people are making assumptions this is about attracting an umbrella sponsor and I don’t want to say this has nothing to do with that, but it is part of a bigger picture to elevate the Nationwide Tour,” said Calfee, who doesn’t expect the change to come before 2013.

Perhaps, but it’s hard to imagine such a dramatic shift if Nationwide were signed on for another five years.

Give Tour commissioner Tim Finchem credit. He made magic during the last television contract negotiations with his FedEx Cup concept and like any executive he’s going back to the high-percentage shot.

The only thing that seems certain is that the proposal will be picked apart in the coming months like a national health care bill.

“Let’s put it this way, big things that we’ve floated like this on the PGA Tour have never made it through the process without getting changed,” said Davis Love III, a player director on the Tour’s Policy Board. “It’s a good idea, and it’s a good starting point.”

Where the conversation ends is anyone’s guess, but the debate promises to be lively. But then Calfee is prepared, the proposed restructuring is theoretical and those five trips to Q-School were real. At least it used to be.


Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard