PGA Tour changes inevitable, details to follow

No one is quick to embrace change until money is involved.

That’s one reason the Players Advisory Council gave its blessing

last week to the concept of the Nationwide Tour being the primary

path to the big leagues, PGA Tour cards being awarded in a

three-tournament series and a new season starting in October

instead of January.

It now goes to the policy board on March 27.

The details – and there are many – remain very much under

discussion.

This is not just about making the developmental tour attractive

to a new title sponsor. It’s about making the fall tournaments

relevant, and the only way to do that is to include them in the

FedEx Cup season. Otherwise, the likelihood is they would go away.

That equates to as much as $24.3 million in prize money, not to

mention the loss in charity money, the backbone of the PGA

Tour.

”We’d be the first professional sport to vote down money,”

said Joe Ogilvie, part of the 16-member PAC. ”That’s what we would

be doing if we voted it down. When you put it in those terms, a lot

of guys went from, `We shouldn’t do this’ to `You kind of have

to.”’

Change appears inevitable.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem suggested as much last week in

an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News when he said that

while the system is not broken, ”we feel there’s a better way to

do it.”

Even more telling was what followed.

”We’ve had so much success with the FedEx Cup that we feel it’s

important to get everything oriented to the FedEx Cup,” he

said.

Change will not be easy.

The original plan was to take the top 75 players from the

Nationwide Tour and players who finished from No. 126 to No. 200 on

the PGA Tour money list and have them play three tournaments, with

the top 50 getting their tour cards.

The one detail causing the most consternation is how to blend

players from two different tours.

As it is, the top 25 from the Nationwide Tour earn their cards.

The tour is trying to make sure that most, if not all, of those 25

players are ranked in a way it would be virtually impossible for

them not to earn cards in the three-tournament series.

But how to merge the others?

Did the player who was No. 126 on the PGA Tour money list –

competing every week against the top players – have the same season

as someone who was No. 26 on the money list while competing in the

minor leagues?

”I’ve played the Nationwide Tour twice. I finished second and

third on the money list,” Ogilvie said. ”I haven’t finished

second or third on this money list.”

Ogilvie’s best finish on the PGA Tour was 37th in 2004.

Tom Pernice Jr. has a solution that sadly is not getting much

traction from tour officials. His idea is to give the top 25 on the

Nationwide Tour their cards without having to play in the

three-tournament series. Everyone else starts from scratch.

Think about it. Under the current model of Q-school, No. 126 on

the money list has no advantage over No. 168. It’s not like the

higher-ranked player is given a pair of 68s and told he doesn’t

have to tee off until the third of six rounds.

”It seems like everyone is a little unsure how to seed the guy

who’s 126 on the money list,” said Matt Kuchar, another PAC

member. ”These are tough decisions. Trying to figure out where

everyone fits in this is awkward. I think it’s going to be

trial-and-error.”

Unlike the FedEx Cup points system, this is one model the tour

has to get right the first time.

But this is only one piece of the puzzle. There will be several

moving parts to a new schedule, just as there was when the FedEx

Cup was created five years ago.

One of the components might involve this week.

According to two people apprised of the conversations, one

option is to move the Match Play Championship to Harding Park in

San Francisco – and move it from late February to October as part

of the fall start to the season.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not

authorized to discuss negotiations. Both stressed that the option

was in the early stages of consideration.

If that were to happen, it would give the fall start to at least

two World Golf Championships (HSBC Champions in China is the

other), which would be hard for players to turn down. Also, the

Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico – held opposite the Match Play this

week – is getting its own spot on the calendar, most likely toward

the end of the year – again, in the fall start to the season.

However, such a move might create problems for the West Coast

Swing, a key stretch in setting the tone for the year. Four of the

West Coast events don’t conflict with the NFL, and all of them are

prior to March Madness.

When is the offseason? Whenever the players want a break. It’s

always been that way. Even in the shorter FedEx Cup season, players

were going overseas to play in Asia, Europe and Australia.

Still, if players add tournaments in the fall, some could take

time off in the early part of the following year. Kuchar played the

Australian Open and the Presidents Cup in Australia, the World Cup

in China, and then the Chevron World Challenge in California.

”I like my time off,” Kuchar said. ”This year on the West

Coast, I’ve just been getting my feet wet. I’ve only played two

events. I just didn’t think I had much of an offseason.”

There could be plenty of others like him.

These are the issues that still have to be sorted out. And while

the PAC sent the concept of a fall start to the policy board,

there’s still a long way to go and much to consider.

But change is coming, and that’s nothing new.

Remember, it was 30 years ago when only the top 60 earned tour

cards. The rest had to Monday qualify, and anyone who made the cut

that week got into the next tournament. The next year was the start

of the all-exempt tour.