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Questions abound about new qualifying structure

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Give the PGA Tour style points for brevity, if not ambiguity. In some 400 words the circuit outlined the most dramatic shakeup to its qualifying process since professional golf emerged from the “rabbit tour” days.

Tuesday’s release outlining the dramatically reconfigured Web.com Tour/Q-School process was vague by design. In broad strokes the secondary circuit will maintain a level of regular-season relevancy, awarding 25 Tour cards to its top money earners, while creating a season-ending “finals series” that appears to be more than a nip/tucked version of Q-School.

By most accounts the Tour and its Policy Board slow played themselves into a winning plan without breaking any major china with players or fans, but to gloss over commissioner Tim Finchem’s “new deal” in a 400-word Cliff’s Notes version ignores how much energy and emotion actually went into the new qualifying system.

Earlier this month at the AT&T National four-time Policy Board member Davis Love III called the plan the most difficult thing he’d ever did as a player director and one official could only laugh when asked if he thought it would have taken so long to reach a consensus, “No way,” the official smiled.

Two-years of debate, endless models and an assortment of scenarios led to Tuesday’s announcement and a late-to-the-dance plan that ultimately merged variations of different options.

“This (plan) came up very recently,” said Paul Goydos, who is serving his first term on the Policy Board. “It was kind of a byproduct of the NASCAR (model). The first thing that went away was the seeding (model). It’s too hard to compare play on different tours.”

The “NASCAR” plan included the top money winners on the Web.com Tour playing the three-event finals series although they had already secured their status for the following season; while the seeding model would have attempted to marry the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour money lists for the final three tournaments.

“No way that people would agree on (a seeding model),” Goydos said. “Under that type of scenario No. 126 (in PGA Tour earnings) was basically going to get the same money as No. 26 on the Web.com Tour. But that means my seeding was going to be impacted by how I played and how someone on another tour played. It was going to be difficult to accept that another player who was playing (on another tour) was going to decide where you were going to be seeded.”

Which led to the NASCAR model and a debate over how many players from the secondary circuit should be awarded Tour cards based on regular-season performance.

“What number on the Web.com Tour should be guaranteed cards? It bounced between 15 and 25,” Goydos said. “The idea was that under the old system a player ranked between 18th and 19th on the Web.com Tour money list with three tournaments remaining was virtually assured of finishing inside the top 25 and earning a card.”

If the Tour lowered the number of guaranteed cards after the regular season on the secondary circuit, “we would be admitting that (the Web.com Tour) was not as strong as we thought it was when I would argue that it’s getting stronger every year,” Goydos said.

The four player directors (Love, Goydos, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk) ultimately settled on the top 25 players earning Tour cards and a “jump ball” model for the finals series which featured Nos. 1-75 on the secondary circuit and Nos. 126-200 on the FedEx Cup points list playing the last three events for the final 25 Tour cards.

Although guaranteed a card the top 25 players from the Web.com Tour could hurt their status for the following year with a poor performance in the final series, which in theory gives the secondary circuit’s big finish an added level of drama while maintaining the integrity of the regular season.

Confused?

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“To me, at first, I thought it was very confusing, but when they showed it in chart form on a money list it is better visually,” Goydos said.

The Tour’s abridged release also left an assortment of unanswered questions. Why, for example, would the winner of the Web.com Tour’s money list, who will be awarded full Tour membership for the following season, play the finals series?

“He doesn’t have to,” Goydos said. “The sponsor would probably like to have him in there playing.”

It also remains to be seen where and when the finals series will be played. Because of cross-over between the two tours officials expect field sizes between 135 and 140 players and all three events will feature 36-hole cuts to the top 60 players and ties.

Under the current scenario but still undecided, the first finals series event would be played opposite the BMW Championship, the third FedEx Cup playoff event which is followed by an off-week. The second finals event would be played during that off-week and the qualifying finale would be held the week after the Tour Championship at East Lake.

All three finals series events would be Web.com Tour tournaments and there appears to be an undercurrent of support for a geographic rotation across the country.

But the essential question is how this change will impact a particular player’s ability to earn Tour status. Would a player fresh out of college, like Patrick Cantlay who recently turned pro after his sophomore season at UCLA, have the same chance to play his way onto the Tour without the benefit of Q-School?

“It’s going to be easier for a Patrick Cantlay to earn a card, it’s going to be harder for a Paul Goydos when he first came out on Tour because I would not have gotten the sponsor exemptions,” Goydos said.

Maybe it’s best the Tour opted for brevity to unveil its new qualifying plan – which, by most accounts, deftly bridges the gap between old and new – because the only thing detailed analysis creates is more questions that won’t be answered for at least another year.