News & ToursMarch 22, 2011

PGA Tour changes could impact collegians

I haven't seem the memo that the PGA Tour used to inform its players Monday, but I have read AP golf writer Doug Ferguson's story about the tour considering changes to how it distributes tour cards at the end of the year. If you haven't read the story, you better do so soon, because if I'm interpreting things properly, it could have a major impact on the access that college players who have just turned pro (whether via graduation or leaving school early) will have to the PGA Tour.

According to the Ferguson's story, the tour is exploring having the year-end Qualifying School, which currently offers the top 25 finishers and ties PGA Tour cards, only provide access to the Nationwide Tour. All PGA Tour cards would be awarded through play on the Nationwide Tour, thus requiring college players who recently turned pro to gain access to Nationwide Tour events in hopes of climbing up the Nationwide Tour money list, in hopes of earning PGA Tour cards.

In other words, the traditional path that college players have aspired to follow—finish up school in the spring and then earn a PGA Tour card at Q school that same fall—would no longer be an option.

The proposed changes would also create a series of tournaments at the end of the year where PGA Tour players who had not qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs and other Nationwide Tour players would compete to secure PGA Tour cards for the following year.

If the proposal as being reported would actually happen, you could look at its impact on college golf in one of two ways:

__** A bummer for the players

*__Getting your PGA Tour card "straight out of college" is already a difficult proposition, as many recent college All-Americans can attest. Still, a handful of players manage to do it each year (J.B. Holmes in 2005, Anthony Kim in 2006, Dustin Johnson in 2007, Rickie Fowler in 2009, Joseph Bramlett in 2010) and so squashing that "dream path" would be a huge blow. The most democratic route to playing the tour would be taken away (or at least delayed) under the new plan, making access even that much more difficult. For a sport where there is no "draft" that lets college players jump to the highest professional level of play, this would be a cruel reality for young aspiring players.

(A quick aside: with the PGA Tour heavily marketing all the great new young players and the excitement they bring to the game, along with the fact that several of them have won on tour this year, doesn't it seem rather strange that the tour would then make it that much harder for them to actually get PGA Tour cards? The answer to this likely lies in the fact the Nationwide Tour is in need of a sponsor in 2012 and by making the Nationwide Tour the real path to earning a PGA Tour card, it enhances the value to a new sponsor. Sad, though, they're playing with the livelihoods of the golfers to do this.)

__ A boon for schools

__*If making the PGA Tour straight out of college becomes that much harder, chances are college golfers will think a lot more about the merits of turning pro early. A risky move for all but the most talented players becomes that much more risky, and the idea of sticking around to get that college degree to fall back on becomes more and more attractive. In turn, schools would seemingly be far more likely to see recruits play all four years in college.

That said, I also wonder if this current proposal might have the opposite effect in the short-term, that maybe it will accelerate the decisions being made by collegians right now as to whether to turn pro early or not. Judging from past experience, it will take a while before the PGA Tour actually adopts this plan (or any for that matter). By a while, I can't imagine it getting approved until the fall at the absolute earliest. Thus, I think this year's Q-school proceedings won't be affected. Perhaps, however, the 2012 Q school will be this totally different animal and thus players (for instance Morgan Hoffmann, who I haven't spoken too but given his play this year would seem like a possible candidate) might decide to get in while they know they can have a direct path to the tour.

There is one other thing to consider, a silver lining that might be made known in the not to distant future: perhaps the PGA Tour, as part of these changes, will also create a separate path for college players to have access to a small number of PGA Tour cards. Maybe this separate path will be revealed at a later date. I have not knowledge of this whatsoever; I'm merely speculating here.

Or maybe I'm just dreaming.

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