Tour's decision terrible for college golf

Tour's decision terrible for college golf

Published Jul. 12, 2012 8:53 p.m. ET

To those who follow the minutiae of golf, the move this week by the PGA Tour came as no surprise. It was, after all, six months in the making.  

But casual fans — those who will get up early to watch the British Open next week but who wouldn't know Ted Potter Jr. from Harry Potter — still don't realize that Q School, the grueling, but compelling, qualifying event that offered every journeyman a shot at a PGA Tour card will join the ash heap of history after this year.

Beginning in September 2013, Q School will be no more. The path to the PGA Tour will come through the tour's minor league franchise, now called the Tour instead of the Nationwide Tour.  

The top 25 players from the Tour will automatically earn their PGA Tour cards (just as they do now). But after this fall, the only other people eligible for Big Tour status are the remainder of the top 75 on the Tour money list and the top 75 PGA Tour members who failed to make it to the FedEx Cup playoffs. That equates to Nos. 126-200 on the FedEx Cup points list (which closely mirrors the money list, for those who have trouble keeping up with such things).  

Those 150 players will compete in three $1 million tournaments known as The Tour Finals. All players will start the finals on equal footing, and the finals will determine the other 25 players to get their PGA Tour cards.  

As complicated as that sounds, this system was, said Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations, "the one that provided the best blend of continuing to recognize the seasonal performance of the Tour, and at the same time, create a way for the cream to rise over three weeks of head-to-head play."

The tour took a lot of factors into consideration when coming up with his plan. Sponsors, of course, played a big role, as did the fact that Tour graduates have a much higher long-term success rate on the PGA Tour than those who graduate through Q School.

But what wasn't a factor — at least not one that had very much pull — was the effect this change will have on college golf.  

No longer will a player such as Tiger Woods be able to win the US Amateur in August and earn enough through sponsors' exemptions to be a tour member by the end of October.  

No longer will someone such as Dustin Johnson graduate from Q School in the fall and win on the tour in February.
No longer will someone such as Harris English star at Georgia one season and contend week-in and week-out on tour the next.

And never again will a player such as Rickie Fowler play on a Walker Cup team one year and a Ryder Cup team the next.  

"It's going to be interesting to see what the really good players decide to do," said Chris Haack, the men's golf coach at the University of Georgia. Haack has had two national championship teams and has 13 former Bulldogs who are active tour members, including Masters champ Bubba Watson. "Once a guy realizes that he has to spend a year on the Tour, will he decide to come out early because he knows he's got to get that year of experience under his belt anyway? I hope not, but I just don't know."  

With their direct path to the PGA Tour eliminated, the best college players will have incentive to forgo their final year or two of college (and their degrees) so they can get their minor league careers under way.  

"I think you'll have to consider the individual," said Ty Votaw, PGA Tour executive vice president of communications. "It's impossible and unfair to categorize every college player and the decisions they make in one way. Some may choose to come out early, and others might choose to stay in college for four years, go the Tour or the European Tour. But that is their choice."  

The only choice no longer available is to stay in college four years, play a full summer amateur schedule that includes the US Amateur in August and the Walker Cup every other September, and then head to Q School to earn a spot on the PGA Tour the following year.  

"There is still a direct path for the best college players," Votaw said. "A player can finish his season in June and play seven tour events through sponsors' exemptions. If he earns enough points to get in the top 200, he is eligible for the finals."  

But sponsors' exemptions are not like lottery tickets. You can't buy them at the corner store. And there are a lot more quality players coming out of the college ranks than there are exemptions into summer tour events.

"I really wish the tour would do something to encourage and maybe incentivize guys to stay in school and get their degrees," Haack said. "I've proposed that to them several times, but nothing has ever come of it."  

Instead, the PGA Tour has gone the other way. And the college game likely will suffer. And that is a terrible shame.