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Final Say

Like Them Or Not, Changes Are Coming To The PGA Tour

January 30, 2012

If you enjoy the rhythms of the PGA Tour--the January start in Hawaii; the build-up to the majors; the FedEx Cup playoffs at summer's end; the Fall Finish when the weather turns cooler; and qualifying school to wrap up the year--you would be well advised to savor them during 2012. Chances are things will look entirely different beginning in the late-summer of 2013.

Gone will be the notion of starting the season with the Tournament of Champions. Gone will be the Nationwide Tour's "25," the concept that advances its top 25 money winners to the PGA Tour. Gone will be the Fall Finish. And, sadly, gone will be the "Field of Dreams" concept where players can go from nowhere to the big leagues through Q school.

The plan for a new PGA Tour was to be presented Jan. 24 in San Diego (prior to the Farmers Insurance Open) at the annual mandatory players meeting. There will be no vote by the rank-and-file--the tour's eight-member policy board will have final say on this issue--but there are likely to be raised voices once Tim Finchem lays out the plan in detail even though most players are already aware of what's coming.

The new system, as has been reported previously, will work something like this: The tour will have what is currently a normal "regular season" in 2013--start-up at Kapalua in January, finish in Greensboro in August. That's when everything will begin to change.

The top 125 players on the FedEx Cup points list will still advance to the playoffs. The next 75, however, will not go on vacation for five weeks waiting for the Fall Finish as they have since 2007. Instead they will take part in a three-event series along with the top 75 money winners on the Nationwide Tour--which will be operating under another corporate name from a yet-to-be determined umbrella sponsor.

Those 150 players will be ranked going into the series, starting with the top 25 on the Nationwide money list. The next 100 spots will alternate between PGA Tour and Nationwide golfers with the last 25 coming from the PGA Tour.

The new series--under the aegis of the Nationwide Tour--will be played concurrent with the FedEx Cup, presumably with the final event held during the FedEx Cup's off week. The top 50 money winners from that tournament series will earn PGA Tour cards, about the same number that currently advance from the Nationwide Tour and Q school (top 25 Nationwide; top 25-and-ties Q school). Those who don't advance will go back to Q school to play for spots on the Nationwide Tour. No PGA Tour spots will be available anymore at Q school.

Less publicized but equally radical is that after the FedEx Cup and the three-tournament series are complete, there will be a short break and then the 2014 season will begin--in October 2013. The four current fall events will now be part of the FedEx Cup regular season, with the tour hoping to have as many as six tournaments since sponsors are more likely to be found for events that now might be more likely to include marquee players. (One potential issue is the Masters. Currently, Fall Finish winners don't get invitations. Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said last April the club would like to see the field get smaller not bigger.)

No doubt there will be pushback from the players. Some have already expressed disappointment that Q-school success won't lead to the PGA Tour. Some of the name players, who like to go overseas to play for appearance money in the fall, will object to the idea of falling behind in the FedEx Cup standings while they are chasing extra dollars. In other words, they want their points and their dollars too.

It's hard to imagine, however, that naysayers are likely to derail this now, not with the plan having gotten this far past the trial-balloon stage. Reportedly, all four tour pros on the policy board--Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Paul Goydos--are supportive of the changes. Now it is up to Finchem and his staff to sell it to the players before a final vote is taken at the next policy board meeting in March.

"The thing we all understand is that we aren't going to make everyone completely happy," Goydos said, without discussing details of the plan. "If we try to do that, we're wasting our time. The point is to figure out a consensus and go from there."

The consensus-building begins in earnest in San Diego, where we see how effective Finchem is in rallying his troops. In all likelihood, the end of the tour as we know it will come 20 months from now.

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