After much ballyhooing, discussion and consternation, the PGA Tour has done nothing more with its Web.com Tour Finals series than redefine the rules for Q-school.
The Tour announced Tuesday it had finalized the structure for a three-event series which would determine the status of 50 PGA Tour cards beginning in September 2013. The structure is eerily reminiscent of how status was doled out when the then-Nationwide Tour and Q-school both offered cards to players.
First, the top 25 players on the Web.com Tour money list before the series starts – another “regular season” – will be assured PGA Tour status regardless of what they do in the Finals. That’s exactly how it has worked since 2007.
Next, another 25 cards will be determined via the Finals, whose fields comprise the top 75 on the Web.com Tour regular season money list and No. 126-200 in FedEx Cup points at the conclusion of their regular season. There will be no seeding. That sounds a lot like Q-school minus the extra cards for the “and ties” attached to the top 25.
Whichever 25 players earn the most money in the series that didn’t already earn a PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour regular season will also earn PGA Tour status. Top 25 again? That’s borrowed from Q-school, except it now unfolds over three weeks in $1 million, four-round tournaments than in one week over six rounds.
Here’s where the path diverges. The money earned in the Finals by the 50 players to earn cards will determine their priority ranking – the pecking order from which tournaments select players to get into tournaments.
A guy who spends all season toiling away on the Web.com Tour to get inside the top 25 could wind up 50th in priority when all is done in the Finals. That seems a penalty for a bad three-week run and far too much of a gift to players who did poorly all season on the PGA Tour.
That’s the secret sauce in this plan – how players are seeded without it being mentioned by name. The insinuation is that the PGA Tour guys will shine against so-called lesser competition, earning back their spots and better priority in the process.
So, this new 12-round, three-week Q-school is for what exactly? Maybe it enticed Web.com to sign on the dotted line with the PGA Tour, but it didn’t radically alter how players earn their way to the PGA Tour – except in two very crucial ways.
Unless a newly minted pro comes out and sets the world on fire, like Bud Cauley did last year, they will not crack the top 125 in FedEx Cup points (money no longer matters, so more value for FedEx) and garner a PGA Tour card. If they would have finished between 126-200, they get into the Finals with at least a from-zero chance to earn it. If that rookie fails to do both, however, it’s a trip to Q-school for Nationwide Tour status and a year in AAA ball. A number of American amateur stars will consider starting their careers in Europe, or elsewhere, instead to gain Official World Golf Ranking points, experience and look for the back door entry to the PGA Tour.
Meanwhile, international players who have not made a name for themselves via the OWGR are essentially locked out of the new process. They won’t get enough PGA Tour starts to earn their card on FedEx Cup points and are unlikely to get enough points to qualify for the Finals. Would they rather spend a year on the Nationwide Tour with no promise of getting to the PGA Tour, or return to their home tour where they can continue to earn world ranking points, money and gain entry to prestigious events?
The end result of the Finals format is not a fundamental shift in how players earn PGA Tour status. There are still 50 cards and they are earned in a very similar fashion. The journey is longer – 12 rounds instead of six. The priority status is still the same.
The difference, however, is the PGA Tour has made the process more closed. It’s tougher to get into, particularly for young and foreign-born players. The shop door has been shut a little more. The Tour has thrown them a bone to American-born players and U.S. loyalists. Membership does have its privileges.
Why isn’t this the AmEx Tour?