Consider it pro golf’s version of Super Tuesday only without the attack ads and drama. When the members of the PGA Tour’s Policy Board gather next week at Bay Hill it seems a virtual certainty that decades of tradition will be dramatically altered.
The top item on the nine-member board’s agenda is a makeover of the circuit’s Qualifying School process so profound that Rees Jones would be proud. Under the new plan, the Nationwide Tour would be the primary avenue to Tour membership while Q-School would be relegated to a feeder system for the secondary circuit.
The new plan - which was granted initial approval at the board’s meeting last October but needs a second vote to become policy - would feature the top 75 players off the regular-season Nationwide Tour money list and Nos. 126-200 in PGA Tour earning in a three-event series. The top 50 players after the series finale would earn Tour cards.
The reasons behind the realignment are twofold. The Tour is hoping the changes will make the secondary circuit more appealing to a potential umbrella sponsor to replace Nationwide, which is pulling its sponsorship after this season, and needs to condense the qualifying process to introduce a split-calendar schedule, which the board will also address at next week’s meeting.
Not that any of this has created much of a stir among the rank-and-file members. It’s not that there is a lack of opinions when it comes to both proposals, it’s just that most players don’t see the point.
“It’s a done deal,” said one Tour player who asked not to be identified. “The Tour is going to do what they want to do.”
Most players had a chance to voice whatever concerns they had with the proposals at a mandatory meeting earlier this year at Torrey Pines, and Brandt Snedeker was one of the most outspoken members when commissioner Tim Finchem laid out both plans.
“I just corrected the commissioner in the meeting that the reason guys played more and did stuff outside their normal schedules was because of the TV negotiations and the Tour wanted us to pick up events that we normally wouldn’t play so we could help out sponsors,” he said.
“My only problem with what the commissioner is saying is that we’re playing more tournaments and we need to add more tournaments in the fall. We played more because that was needed, not necessarily because we were going to play more.”
The new split-calendar schedule, which could begin as early at 2013, would likely start with the Frys.com Open and include the existing Fall Series events, WGC-HSBC Champions and Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia.
Bringing these events into the FedEx Cup portion of the schedule is certain to appease sponsors that were not pleased with their second-tier status and allow the Tour to make the HSBC an official money event. The move isn’t likely to draw more top players to the fall events, but it’s not going to attract any less.
What remains to be seen is whether the Disney stop, which has been the anchor of the Tour schedule in recent years, and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the season opener since 1999 when the event moved to Maui, would accept spots in the heart of the new lineup instead of their coveted bookend status.
“The new schedule is something the Tour needs to do,” Snedeker said. “Here is the problem that players run into - we can’t see the forest for the trees. Everybody looks at how something affects their life instead of realizing the Tour is bigger than just one player. I think the commissioner has a better handle on it then a guy like me.”
But Snedeker and many others do have concerns about the new Nationwide Tour/Q-School proposal. At issue is how players from two different tours with vastly different economic realities could be properly seeded for the three-event finals series.
“Like the FedEx Cup, when we started it, the Tour will say we had some problems with it the first few years with the points scale,” Snedeker said. “We can’t have that same problem with the new system. It has to be right the first time because you can’t cost someone their dream right out of the gate.”
An initial proposal used a scale that would give the Nationwide Tour money leader and No. 126 in Tour earnings the same amount of money to start the series, followed by equal earnings for No. 2 on the secondary circuit and No. 127 in Tour cash and so forth.
“It made some sense, but that’s not fair to the Nationwide Tour No. 1 player who has played well all year long and been the guy and if he plays bad those last three events and his number goes to crap,” said Snedeker, who earned his Tour card via the Nationwide Tour. “That doesn’t seem fair.”
What pro golf’s version of Super Tuesday lacks in suspense it makes up for in subtext. Both proposals appear to be foregone conclusions but neither seems flawless, at least not yet.