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Randall's Rant: Amateurs shouldn't be allowed at LPGA Q-Series

Jennifer Kupcho
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Amateur Jennifer Kupcho  - 

There is no place for their kind at Q-Series.

They don’t belong.

I’m talking about amateurs, including all collegians who are making such a large impression halfway through Q-Series, the new final stage of the LPGA’s qualifying tournament.

Amateurs shouldn’t be allowed to compete with professionals with so much value at stake at Q-Series. They shouldn’t be allowed to play for LPGA tour cards that are really a form of currency, treasures that ought to disqualify any amateur who signs up to play for one.

There ought to be a sign on the first tee at Pinehurst No. 7 this week:

Only pros are welcome!

A player ought to be required to declare herself a pro before signing up for Q-Series.

Apologies to the 11 amateurs playing at Pinehurst. You’re gifted, talented players who’ve done nothing wrong. You’re guilty of no breach of rules or ethics. You’ve committed no indiscretion. You’re simply following the path to a lifelong dream that any reasonable young person would consider if open to them.

It’s the path, not the players, which ought to be condemned.

It’s just so unfair to the pros competing against amateurs for their livelihood at Q-Series. Amateurs aren’t playing the same game. They aren’t dealing with the same daunting challenges that define this event.

At this level, professional tournament golf is as much a psychological exam as it is an athletic test, with pressure completely changing the nature of the questions amateurs and pros are being asked.

In a psychological sense, it’s as if the amateurs are getting to play from forward tees. The fairways aren’t as hard to hit, the hazards aren’t as daunting.

It’s the pressure to make a living that defines this test.

The 11 amateurs in the 102-player field don’t face the same pressure. If they finish among the top 45 and ties and win an LPGA tour card, they have a ticket to the tour next year. They even have the option of deferring membership, allowing them to return to finish up their college spring season and join the tour later, any time before July 1.

If the amateurs don’t win a tour card, they don’t have to accept Symetra Tour membership. They can go back to college and resume school, nothing really gained but nothing really risked.

The amateurs have a safety net that allows them to free wheel.

Halfway through Q-Series, collegians are freewheeling.

Three college players are sitting at T-3 or better, four at T-7 or better and five at T-11 or better.

It’s a different game for a pro at Pinehurst if she lost her LPGA exempt status this season, or if she failed to advance through the Symetra Tour to win the right to play the LPGA. It’s a radically different game for a pro who is there knowing she has maxed out another credit card, who knows her local sponsorship has dried up and who is damn near broke. It’s a brutal test for a pro whose back is against the wall and whose livelihood is at stake.

The spirit of amateurism isn’t technically being violated this week.

The USGA and the R&A define an amateur golfer as “one who plays golf for the challenge it presents, not as a profession and not for financial gain.” The Rules of Golf permit a player to attend Q-School or Q-Series and retain amateur status by waiving her right to accept prize money offered in the specific competition.

There’s a lot of room there to question whether the spirit of amateurism is well served, but the Q-School exemption is well established now.

For the LPGA and the college ranks, this is rocky terrain made more so by some irresolvable timing. The LPGA’s year begins in the middle of an academic year.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan set up Q-Series hoping it would help alleviate some of the problems college coaches encounter when their players want to leave school early to turn pro. He hoped it would ultimately encourage more collegians to better prepare themselves for the LPGA by advancing there through the Symetra Tour.

With the inaugural Q-Series only halfway through, it remains uncertain how many of the 11 amateurs at Pinehurst will end up leaving college at mid-year to take up the tour status they earned. There will be much to evaluate when it’s all said and done.

Ultimately, that doesn’t matter, because the larger principle involved is unaffected. Amateurs and pros are unequally yoked competing for their futures.

For amateurs, it’s a game. For pros, it’s a job.

That makes them incompatible participants in what more than ever is a professional tournament.