Despite What Some Say, Changing Q School Is Good For The Pro Game
John Huh reacts after sinking a birdie putt on the 17th green during the final round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
For John Huh, going through three stages of last year's PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament and winning the Mayakoba Classic in his fifth tour start is a tremendous achievement. I'm not trying to take that away from him. But I don't think it justifies leaving Q school the way we now know it. The exception doesn't always prove the rule.
I say this knowing there's been a lot of debate on the subject since the January player meeting at Torrey Pines. Tour officials presented, among other things, the plan for using Q school as an access point solely to what is now the Nationwide Tour, with PGA Tour cards no longer going to the top 25 and ties. Let me remind you Huh finished T-27 at the final stage--not in the top 25--and earned exempt status because two guys ahead of him at Q school (Roberto Castro and Mark Anderson) already had earned cards via the Nationwide Tour.
I can't argue what Huh did wasn't a wonderful story, but I can argue Q school doesn't always serve the game's best interests. We in golf measure a body of work over a year, and yet our entry exam is one week. Currently Q school is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Seems a little weird to me.
The success that came from the all-exempt PGA Tour made possible the establishment of a second tour that served not the marquee players but those hoping to one day make names for themselves. Many expected what was then the Ben Hogan Tour to fail when it was started in 1990, but it succeeded because it was purely about the golf. More than 20 years later, the Nationwide Tour has been where the majority of today's most successful players first showcased their skills. Its graduates have had better luck staying on the PGA Tour than Q-school grads. It's the ideal place to develop the game's future stars.
When people cite Huh as the poster boy for the status quo, I counter with Keegan Bradley. The PGA champion was the big story on the PGA Tour after winning as a rookie at Atlanta AC last August. He got to the tour, however, not from Q school but via the Nationwide Tour. That experience made Bradley far better prepared to play the PGA Tour. He believed in himself. He knew what travel was all about -- what playing for a living was all about. He got his degree in professional golf. That's where I struggle with those who argue against the proposed changes. It may not seem fair to keep a story like Huh's from coming true, but it's still the best thing to do in the professional game.
What about college players who want to turn pro and earn PGA Tour cards immediately? Well, there's still a chance to jump to the front of line, the same way Bud Cauley did last year. They're entitled to 12 starts, seven on sponsor's exemptions as nonmembers. If that doesn't work, the Nationwide Tour also has sponsor's exemptions. Just ask Harris English, who won there last year as an amateur.
Another point I hear is the changes will keep international golfers from coming to the U.S. As I see it, that couldn't be further from the truth. The access the PGA Tour and the majors give to the top 50 on the World Ranking protects against that, allowing those who succeed in Europe and Asia to earn status in the U.S. rather easily. When Sang-moon Bae played in Q school last year, he was just hedging his bets. He was already in the 2012 WGC events, effectively in the majors and could play up to 12 other tour stops to earn enough to claim a full tour card, the way I and many others previously gained their access to the tour.
Funneling more players through the Nationwide Tour will also improve the quality of the PGA Tour product in subtle ways. Playing opportunities have diminished for the rank-and-file due to the World Golf Championships and the tour's invitational events. The guys coming out of Q school also have reduced chances to play. To compensate for that, the tour squeezes in as many players into the fields of its other events, sometimes to everyone's detriment.
Take the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The field of 132 is too big for when it's played. Darkness or frost delays keep rounds from finishing on time, creating logistical nightmares. To have players warming up in the dark each week to give as many as possible an "equal opportunity" to play on the tour is not the best way to play the sport at the highest level.
As we enter the next phase of professional golf, let's not lose sight of where we have come from or where we have to go. So don't thank John Huh for making a case for keeping Q school. Thank Huh for showing us his talent, and let him thank Roberto Castro and Mark Anderson for letting him claim the last winning lottery ticket.