We all know that great scene in Caddyshack where groundskeeper Carl Spackler (played by Bill Murray) imagines winning the Masters. “What an incredible Cinderella story, this unknown comes out of nowhere to lead the pack at Augusta...”
Sorry, folks, but Cinderella has left the building on the PGA Tour because traditional Q-School, where thousands of players play through a three week qualifying process to earn a PGA Tour card, is over. This year, aspiring Tour players will have to attend Q-School for a spot on the Web.com Tour. At the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Tour will host a three-event playoff tournament schedule and during those three events the top 1-75 Web.com Tour players and PGA Tour players ranked 126-200 will fight for 50 spots on the following year’s PGA Tour.
These changes were initially designed to make the Web.com Tour more relevant and appealing in an attempt to secure a long-term sponsor. Mission accomplished—but now young American players are left bearing the burden of the system change. The PGA Tour allots five Web.com tour cards to both the Latino America Tour and the Canadian Tour but leaves a huge void in American developmental golf.
The new system makes the PGA Tour a closed shop offering very little direct access to the Tour for new players. That means you’ll see more of the same retreads who don’t keep their tour card but can earn it back in the three week playoff system. A guy who finishes 190th on the money list can keep his card if he finishes in the top-50 out of 150 in a three-event series at the end of the season. I’m sorry, but if you finish 190th on the money list, you don’t deserve to keep your card by simply placing in the top third of the field over three weeks. Fans want to see fresh faces and new blood on the PGA Tour.
In the new closed shop PGA Tour, we won’t ever see another John Huh, who made it through all three stages of Q-School, won in his first year and then played in the Masters. This year Derek Ernst did the same conquering Q-School then winning at Quail Hollow. Under the new system talented young players are now looking at a two, or three-year journey to the PGA Tour.
I work with a lot of developing players and it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of being a teacher. With PGA Tour Q-School changed, our up-and-coming young players’ options for PGA Tour access are dwindling. Many young Americans might opt for European Q-School, where they can play their way directly onto the European Tour. Eventually, they can win events and qualify for the World Golf Championships and try to earn enough money to earn a PGA Tour card. Promising Americans like Peter Uihlein are doing that now. This means American audiences will have limited ability to watch a US Amateur winner’s skills develop.
Jordan Speith and Bud Cauley prove that some elite players can try to get sponsor’s exemptions and make enough money to earn their cards. However, these stories are few and far between, and we should be doing more to foster growth among our next generation of talent. Also, while more young Americans will head to Europe, you’ll hardly see any young international players come over here to develop through this new system.
Interestingly, The PGA Tour sponsors development tours in Canada and Latin America that will offer top players a path to the Web.com Tour. That developmental system doesn’t exist in the United States despite there being ample demand for it. If we’re losing PGA Tour Q-School, I’d like to see the PGA Tour at least sponsor a developmental tour in the United States. Players who miss out on qualifying for the Web.com Tour need more opportunity to stay in the United States and develop their games by playing every week instead of chasing Web.com Monday qualifiers.
Investing in the next generation of young talent in America has to be a priority. The system wasn’t truly broken but the Tour decided to fix it -- now they need to make sure they fix it completely so we don’t lose our exciting young players to international tours.