LA QUINTA, Calif. – As a general rule there are certain endeavors in life that are best avoided unless absolutely necessary – elective root canal surgery, auditing a third-year class on dead languages and PGA Tour Q-School.
The Fall Classic’s title is the ultimate misnomer in professional golf because there is nothing to be learned at Q-School save for the harsh reality that comes with failure, but as this year’s edition got under way there are seven among the ranks at PGA West who, at least technically, are playing because it’s a good idea, not a professional necessity.
Seven players who graduated from this year’s Web.com Tour to secure Tour status in 2013 are in the Coachella Valley this week. They have their coveted Tour cards, a spot in the Big Leagues, the golden ticket as it were. Yet there they are, grinding away for six rounds like their worlds depended on it.
The phenomenon is nothing new. For years graduates from the secondary circuit have been schlepping out to final stage in an attempt to improve their Tour status, with four players having pulled off the feat since 2006, but this time is different.
Because of the Tour’s transition to a split-calendar schedule next season, the calendar will include at least four fewer events – including all of what was the Fall Series and the Mayakoba Golf Classic, which moves from February to the start of the 2013-14 season. For the likes of Jim Herman and Morgan Hoffmann, that translates into about five fewer starts next year, according to Tour officials.
It’s a reality that makes status king next season. Consider Herman, who finished 25th on the Web.com Tour money list, which is the last qualifying spot for a Tour card and would leave him at the bottom of that category and scrambling for starts in the abbreviated season.
“I don’t know where I will start my season. Whether it will be here (Humana Challenge), Sony (Open), Torrey (Farmers Insurance Open). Who knows?” he said following Thursday’s second round at PGA West.
In the 2013 world of shrinking playing opportunities, one extra start, particularly on the West Coast before the Q-School and Web.com Tour graduates are re-ordered based on how much money they have earned, is worth the cost – both mentally and monetarily – of Q-School.
“With the schedule change it definitely was a must. Anything 18 through 25 (in Web.com Tour earnings) I think guys would have to come back with the uncertainty of the schedule,” said Herman, who is tied for 39th after rounds of 68-71 at Q-School. “One more start on the West Coast, that would be huge. It was a no-brainer for me to come back.”
Given the realities of 2013, one has to wonder why any of the players who finished near the bottom of the Web.com Tour class would skip the chance to improve their professional plight. Just three of the bottom 10 players are not at Q-School and most of them, including No. 24 Doug LaBelle III whose wife had a baby on Tuesday, had perfectly understandable reasons for skipping.
But for the seven who did make the effort it was an easy decision.
“My goal was to be in the top 15 but if I wasn’t I was going to go,” said Hoffmann, who is pacing the Web.com Tour graduates following a second-round 67 that left him tied for fifth place. “We saw the schedule and the possibilities and knew it was a good idea.”
In some ways the Web.com Tour “seven” offer a glimpse into next year’s qualifying process when the circuit transitions to a four-event Finals Series to decide who earns Tour cards.
Beginning next year the top 75 players off the regular-season Web.com Tour money list and Nos. 126-200 in PGA Tour earnings will play the Finals Series for 50 Tour cards. Although the top 25 off the regular-season money list on the secondary circuit will be guaranteed cards, they will be able to either improve or hurt their status depending on how they play in the final four events.
Call it Q-School with a safety net which is largely what Herman & Co. enjoy this year, not that having a Tour card in hand makes the six-round final stage a vacation.
“It’s still Q-School. It’s still the finals, but knowing you have a card for the PGA Tour next year is definitely a little more relaxing than say last year when I missed by a shot,” said Herman, who is playing final stage for the fourth time.
And if he improves his fortunes along the way it will certainly ease the self-inflicted pain of playing Q-School even when it’s not absolutely necessary.