x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A new school of thought in golf qualifying process

Steve Elling rues the loss of old-time romance while the jury is out on PGA Tour's new apprenticeship approach.

Players such as Webb Simpson have graduated from the old-fashion Q-school. Dustin Satloff / AP Photo
Players such as Webb Simpson have graduated from the old-fashion Q-school. Dustin Satloff / AP Photo

This week marks the dawn of a new era for the US PGA Tour.

Either that, or the dawn of a new error.

For sentimentalists, or lovers of a good underdog story, the next few weeks represent the official death of an American sports institution: Cinderella in spikes.

For parts of six decades, a parade of retreads, wannabes and never-weres have assembled by the hundreds for a rite of passage called Qualifying School, forking over about US$5,000 (Dh18,400) for the chance to play their way through the torture of three tiers of sporting Darwinism.

It was golf's survival of the fittest, an often-emotional bid to catch fire over a one-month series of qualifying stages and grab the brass ring – a card on the most lucrative tour in the game.

It created terrific stories: the teen Ty Tryon, the oddball Boo Weekley, the double heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton, as well as the choke jobs suffered when under final-day duress.

Starting this week, mostly for financial reasons, a revamped entry process begins, requiring golf's major-league hopefuls to endure a year on the Web.com Tour, a developmental circuit run by the PGA Tour. It is a forced apprenticeship and it could take years to grasp whether the makeover is a good idea or a bad one.

A series of four Web.com qualifiers begin this week, with the top 25 players earning cards on the PGA Tour next season, which will begin in October, by the way.

Entrants include players who did not finish in the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list this year, plus players from the Web.com who did not finish in the top 25 in earnings on that circuit.

Forget what Q-school has become: a closed shop with crimped access points. Consider what was lost. Top college players will find it next to impossible to secure a PGA Tour card right out of school, instead spending a year in the minor leagues.

Over the past decade, players such as Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, John Holmes, Webb Simpson and Hunter Mahan went straight from the college ranks and onto the PGA Tour, playing in Ryder Cups along the way. But it is the stories of redemption, reclamation and unheralded long shots that will be missed most.

Actually, the biggest systemic overhaul in PGA Tour history might boost the European Tour's flagging membership rolls. What rising global player will submit to a year in servitude on the Web.com as a means of earning a PGA Tour card? It could steer Australian and Asian players toward Europe as they work their way up the game's financial food chain.

We will see. From a purely romantic standpoint, it is a bad day for sports democracy.


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