Proposed Q-school changes would create a must-see event

December 20, 2011

Yes, Q-school is great. Professional golf is the ultimate meritocracy. Post a score and play on the big tour. So much of professional golf focuses on the 1 percenters – Tiger, Phil, Rory – but the PGA Tour’s qualifying school is about the middle class of professional golf, where the human stories of hope, ambition and heartbreak unfold over six rounds as players vie for sport’s equivalent of Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket, a PGA Tour card.
However, Q-school’s days may be numbered. The Associated Press reported on a proposal — nothing’s definite at this time — to create a three-tournament series that would feature 75 non-exempt PGA Tour players (Nos. 126-200 on the money list) and the top 75 Nationwide tour money winners. The top 50 finishers from this series would get PGA Tour cards, and the rest could compete in a separate Q-school in which only Nationwide spots would be up for grabs.

Related: Why proposed Q-school changes would hamper young stars
The obvious difference is that this change would close a direct path to the PGA Tour for many young players. Non-PGA Tour members could make enough money on sponsors’ exemptions to get into the PGA Tour’s top 125, like Bud Cauley did this year, but a spot on the Nationwide tour is the best most players could hope for. (The AP also reported that amateurs might be able to count the money they would have won playing on sponsors’ exemptions toward the PGA Tour’s money list, which could earn them a spot in the three-tournament series, but that’s also a steep hill to climb.)
Regardless of the details, the most direct road to the PGA Tour would be closed, which smacks of protectionism. The vast majority of pro golfers might claim to be politically conservative, but when it comes to job protection, they sound like AFL-CIO spokesmen. Rickie Fowler criticized the proposal specifically on these grounds.
“It seems like the new qualifying system would protect guys on the PGA Tour, and that it would shut the front door to open qualifying,” Fowler told the Golf Channel. “There wouldn’t be the same direct path to the PGA Tour for college players and mini-tour players the way there is now.

“If Q-school went away, it would definitely cut off a path for those college players who aren’t the top three or four players coming out of college.”
A suspicious, knee-jerk reaction is often the best response to any proposed change (see: the FedEx Cup, moving the Players Championship to May, the mock turtleneck), but this time the traditionalists should seriously consider this idea. Why? Because it sounds like fun.
Casual sports fans tend to tune out golf after the PGA Championship, and all but the diehards desert the game after the FedEx Cup. However, for those fans who like the Fall Series events, the most exciting moments not involving projectile hot dogs involve the guys who are trying to stay in the top 125 on the money list. Seeing guys fight to keep their cards in the Fall Series is compelling drama, often more interesting than watching the players who are actually trying to win the tournaments. Yes, the current Q-school is full of these moments as well, but the PGA Tour has not been able to present them effectively to fans. The proposed three-tournament series would be all about this great drama and would bring it to a wider audience. It would be a lot more fun for fans and TV viewers.
Fowler’s criticism is valid, but making all but the most talented rookies compete on the Nationwide tour before joining the big tour isn’t much different from what happens to NFL and the NBA players who are practically required to play in college. Nearly all baseball players make it to the major leagues only after spending time in the minors. Requiring the best young golfers to play a season on the Nationwide tour would improve the quality of play on that tour and might give young players a chance to adjust to the pro game without the distractions of the PGA Tour.
It’s too soon to make any final decisions on this idea, but it’s nice to see the PGA Tour thinking about ways to make its products more entertaining. Now if they only could do something about slow play…