ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s important not to underestimate the significance of the two-page memo that landed in PGA Tour types' email boxes last Monday. At issue is a 45-year-old institution, not to mention the relative sustainability of the circuit itself.
The only certainty at this point is nothing is certain, but the details, as fluid as they are, seemed filled with possible demons. So much so this week’s Cut Line is dedicated to what we know and don’t know about the Tour’s proposed restructuring of the Nationwide Tour and Q-School.
Ready for prime time. Since its inception, the Nationwide Tour has regularly proven itself a better gauge of possible success than the six-day sprint that is Q-School.
The thinking goes that 12 months plying your trade from Boise to Valdosta better prepares a young player for the rigors of Tour life and the statistics agree. Nationwide Tour graduates have consistently been more successful than Q-School grads in the big leagues and kept their cards much more regularly.
Which makes last week’s memo, which elevates the Nationwide Tour to the lone avenue to the PGA Tour, a theoretical victory of reason. But at what cost?
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
A closed shop. Making the Nationwide Tour the only reliable access to a Tour card will guarantee that top college players will have to spend a year in Triple A.
“If this Q-School change was in effect 20 years ago Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods would have been in the ‘minors’ for a year,” one Tour player said this week. “I’m not sure we need our future superstars hanging there for a year.”
Nor does the current system offer the same chance that players like Woods and Leonard had to play their way onto the Tour via sponsor exemptions because of the scheduling of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Because of the condensed season and the exclusivity of the playoffs, Rickie Fowler managed just four Tour starts in 2009, including the rained-out Viking Classic, compared to Tiger Woods who played eight times in 1996 and onto the Tour fresh out of Stanford.
The Tour has been accused in the past of eating its young and this doesn’t help.
The hard sell. Tucked into the second-to-last paragraph in the memo from commissioner Tim Finchem is the “why” behind the proposed restructuring.
“The integration of the Qualifying Tournament into the Nationwide Tour when combined with the proposed Finals Series increases the attractiveness of the Nationwide Tour for the umbrella sponsor,” the memo read.
Nationwide is out as the secondary circuit’s umbrella sponsor in 2012 and the restructuring is a not-so-veiled attempt to move product. But this is more than a fresh coat of paint on a fixer-upper. A Finals Series “playoff” model would undermine the competitive integrity of the Nationwide Tour’s regular season and the long-held notion that 12 months is better than three weeks.
Europe or bust. The restructuring also has the potential of benefiting the European Tour if, as one player manager predicted this week, young Americans forego Q-School and, at best, a year in the minors and try their luck across the pond.
Consider the alternative to the secondary American circuit: a slot in the lucrative Race for Dubai, at least by Nationwide Tour standards, and a chance to earn enough World Golf Ranking points to crack the top 50 and play many of the PGA Tour’s largest events without a card.
What Greg Norman couldn’t accomplish with his world tour concept, the restructuring of Q-School and the Nationwide Tour may make a reality.
No more Cinderellas. Those who play in it probably don’t agree, but count Q-School among the year’s most drama-filled events.
“Look at guys who went through Q-School fresh out of college,” Charles Howell III said. “I love the story of Rickie Fowler going through Q-School and playing the next year’s Ryder Cup. There are plenty of kids ready out of college and I really don’t like the idea of taking that away from them.”
Among the recent “fast track” players who went directly from a campus to the big leagues was Fowler, Dustin Johnson and the circuit’s most recent winner Gary Woodland. For a Tour fixated on promoting its youth this seems counterintuitive.
More questions than answers. Maybe the biggest concerns surrounding the restructuring is the collection of unknowns.
-Will the Nationwide Tour still award “battlefield” promotions to three-time winners?
-Will the 50 players who earn Tour cards via the secondary circuit be reshuffled like they currently are?
-Will the Tour review the other 33 exempt categories to assure their will be enough starts for all the Nationwide Tour graduates?
-Will the Finals Series be structured in such a way to give a marked advantage to the regular-season Nationwide Tour money winner over, say, the guy who finished the year 175th in Tour earnings?
-Do we really need to change?
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard