For Love, who served his fourth and final term as a player director on the PGA Tour’s Policy Board, the real pressure awaited at the board’s regular meetings throughout the summer and an ongoing debate over a litany of sweeping changes to the circuit’s schedule and qualifying system. These radical alterations make the Tour ninth on GolfChannel.com’s annual list of newsmakers.
“I was the (Player Advisory Council) chairman when they hired (commissioner Tim Finchem in 1994), so I would say that was as impactful for the Tour as anything we’ve ever done,” Love said in June. “(But) this change has been stressful for the player directors to say the least. We’ve put more time and effort and thought and worry into this as anything we’ve ever done.
“We just don’t want to go in the wrong direction . . . A lot of pressure.”
The result of all that angina is a qualifying system that relegates the current model (Q-School) to a feeder tournament for the Web.com Tour (a new sponsor for the secondary circuit, landed in 2012) and will feature a four-event series beginning next fall that will combine Nos. 1-75 on the secondary circuit’s money list and Nos. 126-200 in PGA Tour earnings playing for 50 cards.
While most players agree the new system will be a better gage of long-term Tour potential, the loss of direct access to the Big Leagues via Q-School sparked plenty of debate at the Fall Classic earlier this month.
“Everything is going to be lost from the romantic standpoint,” said Patrick Sheehan, a member of this year’s 16-man PAC. “They’ve completely taken it all away. You’re telling me No. 76 on the Web.com Tour money list can’t get his Tour card next year? No. 201 (in Tour earnings)? That’s horrible.”
Yet while the rank-and-file come to grips with the new qualifying system the Finals Series is little more than a byproduct of the circuit’s move to a split-calendar season.
For the first time since 2006, the year before the Tour introduced the FedEx Cup playoffs, the 2013 Tour Championship will be the season’s last tournament. No longer will a handful of fall events be played after the finale to decide who finishes inside the top 125 in earnings, and keeps their Tour card, and, at least in 2011, the Player of the Year race.
Instead, the 2013 season will end on Sept. 22 at East Lake, followed two weeks later by the Frys.com Open and the start of the 2013-14 season. It’s a scheduling corner that at least partially necessitated the creation of the Finals Series which will end on Sept. 29 at the Web.com Tour Championship.
As a result, the move gave the former Fall Series, which began with seven events in 2007 but had dwindled to four official-money starts this season, a spot in the FedEx Cup portion of the schedule and some much-needed cachet.
It also allowed the Tour to elevate two lucrative stops in Asia – CIMB Classic and World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions – to official-money status next year, a move that had been resisted because it would have upended the money list too late in the season under the previous scheduling model.
Another less-publicized change will be a conversion to the FedEx Cup points list to establish status for the next season. Since time began on Tour, the money list has been the ultimate arbiter of whether a player keeps his card, with the top 125 in earnings being the benchmark in the modern era.
Beginning next year, the top 125 in points through the Wyndham Championship will retain their status for the 2013-14 season, as well as advance to the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Although the circuit will make adjustments next year, and perhaps beyond, to recognize discrepancies between the money list and FedEx Cup points – Brendan Steele, for example, was 112th in earnings through this year’s Wyndham and 130th on the points list, but would have secured his status for 2013-14 under next year’s exception – the transition will have a dramatic impact on players and tournaments.
“It will strengthen our field,” said Wyndham Championship tournament director Mark Brazil. “It will be a bump for us, no doubt. It’s about keeping their job, because in the past they were able to keep their cards via the fall events.”
It will be one of many adjustments players and fans will have to make beginning next year, which will be a season of change by any definition. Just ask Love.
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