Qualifying process change comes down to money

By John FeinsteinJuly 11, 2012, 6:45 pm

It all makes sense – sort of. If you know the history.

The PGA Tour needed to find a way to make the Nationwide Tour more attractive to a potential umbrella sponsor because Nationwide was going away at the end of 2012. As much fun as the Nationwide is to watch for true golf geeks, it wasn’t thought to bring enough bang for the buck for corporate America.

Thus was born what will be known – with apologies to David Stern and the NBA – as the Finals: a three tournament fall series that will decide 25 spots on the PGA Tour. It will not decide 50 spots as has been reported by some because the top 25 players on what is now the Web.com Tour will already have spots locked up when the Finals begin. It will actually decide 25 spots on the PGA Tour. The only thing at stake for the Web.com 25 will be their card number, which, especially early in the season, is important because it plays a role in how often you get to play.

Note the use of the word “season,” as opposed to “year,” because the PGA Tour calendar will no longer have anything to do with the actual calendar. You can forget celebrating New Year’s by noting that the new golf season is upon you. October will be the new January in golf: once the Finals and the FedEx Cup are over, there will a brief break and then the “New Year,” will begin with what was once the Fall Series.

Confused? What’s more confusing is the Tour’s explanation as to why it is undergoing this facelift. Both Commissioner Tim Finchem and Web.com Tour president Bill Calfee went on at length about the need to improve access to the Tour for players on the Web.com Tour; that there should be more emphasis put on season-long performance as opposed to the old tradition of surviving the grind of Q-School.

At best, all of that is a little bit true. There was really nothing terribly wrong with a system that allowed 25 players to make it to the Tour through season-long performance on what was the Nationwide Tour. There was also nothing wrong with keeping the “Field of Dreams,” aspect of the system alive through Q-School. Was it as fair or complete a test as a season-long competition? Probably not, but it was certainly a severe test of nerves and guts and allowed for stories like the one John Huh has written this season – going from nowhere in the golf pantheon to being a PGA Tour winner after surviving three stages (14 rounds of pressure-packed golf) of Q-School.

The Tour argues that Huh is an exception, not the norm. Which is exactly the point: John Daly winning the PGA Championship as the ninth alternate in 1991 wasn’t the norm either and it was thrilling. Tiger Woods winning the Masters by 12 shots in 1997 and the U.S. Open by 15 in 2000 were not the norm and they were extraordinary. It is the exceptions that make sports – not the norm. The new system eliminates the possibility of John Huh or anyone else coming from nowhere to stardom in a matter of months.

Why then, fix what isn’t really broken? It’s a little bit like buying a new house because the dining room needs painting.

The problem wasn’t the dining room – or access to the Tour – it was money. The Tour needed a corporate sponsor to step up with a heavy dollar commitment to the Nationwide Tour. Without an umbrella sponsor, the Triple-A tour, which has been such a boom to the game in its 23 years, almost certainly would have lost events next year and might have seen purse sizes go in the wrong direction too. That tour had to be made more attractive to a sponsor and that’s why the Finals were created.

It worked.

The other issue was also sponsor-related. The title sponsors of the Fall Series were not at all happy with the fields they were getting since most of the stars went home – or overseas to play for huge appearance fees – once the FedEx Cup was over. Tiger Woods’ appearance at the Frys.com Open last October was a blip, not a trend.

So, how can fields be improved? Make those tournaments part of the FedEx Cup. The schedule can’t be extended to end in November because both Woods and Phil Mickelson made it clear several years ago they wouldn’t show up for a Tour Championship played late in the year.

So, if the fall events can’t end the season what was a Tour to do? BEGIN the season with them. This won’t mean tournaments will get a lot more of Woods and Mickelson but they will get more of the game’s other stars and, as players get used to the new schedule, more of them will play in the fall tournaments.

So, what did the Tour REALLY do with these changes? It got itself a new sponsor (Web.com) and made a handful of its current title sponsors happy. That’s the reason for these changes, not access to the Tour.

Losing Q-School as a direct route to the PGA Tour is not good for golf or those who play golf. As intense as the six days of the finals are, they are great theater and every player who has ever been part of Q-School (which is nearly everyone) has memories of their Q-School experiences. That won’t be the same anymore because Q-School will now be an intermediate step; an entryway only to the Web.com Tour, which most players see only as a place they want to visit, not remain.

Q-School was about romance, filled with stories of dreams fulfilled and dreams shattered; of young players coming into their own and older ones finding their way back to the Tour after their careers had cratered. Steve Stricker went back to Q-School in 2005; a year later he re-started his career and became a star in his 40s.

The Tour can talk about trying to improve access to the Tour with the new system. In truth, it hasn’t changed that much. There will be 150 players in the Finals: 25 will have Tour spots locked up, leaving 125 to play 12 rounds for 25 spots. Among those, 50 (finishers 151 to 200 on the PGA Tour money list) would have had to play 10 rounds (second stage of Q-School and Q-School finals) to get back to the Tour. Fifteen more (players 61 to 75 on the Web.com list) would also have gone back to second stage under the old system. That means more than half the field will be playing two fewer rounds than if the old Q-School system still existed. And any access to the Tour for those who began the year with no status (like John Huh in 2011) and anyone who finishes out of the top 200 on the PGA Tour money list or the top 75 on the Web.com list will be gone.

That doesn’t mean the Tour was wrong to do what it did. It had to do what it did because, the bottom line on the Tour, like any business, is the bottom line.

So let’s mourn the passing of what Q-School was and what it meant to the sport, then let’s move on. Regardless of what the Tour’s mouthpieces say, this was about the money and keeping sponsors happy. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Let’s just call a dollar sign a dollar sign when we know that’s what it is.

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Kerr blows big lead, heads into Kia Sunday one back

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr blew a five-stroke lead Saturday in the Kia Classic to set up a final-round showdown at Aviara Golf Club.

A day after shooting an 8-under 64 to open the big lead, Kerr had a 75 to drop a stroke behind playing partner Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim. Kerr was tied with Caroline Hedwall, Wei-Ling Hsu and Cindy LaCrosse, and four players were another shot back.

The 40-year-old Kerr had a double bogey on the par-4 15th after snap-hooking a drive into the trees. The 2015 winner at Aviara, she also had two bogeys and two birdies.

Ji had a 67 to match Salas (69) and Kim (69) at 11-under 205. Salas had a chance to pull away, but missed birdie putts of 1 1/2 feet on the short par-4 16th and 2 1/2 feet on the par-5 17th.

Anna Nordqvist had a 66 to top the group at 9 under.

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

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It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”