Major changes are coming to the PGA Tour, affecting when the season starts, when it ends, and how those hoping to play alongside the world’s best players will qualify to get there.
Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, announced Tuesday a plan that has been in the works for 14 months. Starting in 2013, the PGA Tour season will end in late September at the Tour Championship, with the following season officially starting a few weeks later, in October. Instead of a tour season fitting nicely inside a calendar year, a wraparound schedule of October through September appears to be what the new normal will look like.
Perhaps the most radical component of the changes - which were approved by the tour’s policy board Tuesday morning - is that the three-stage qualifying school, which has been a dreamer’s path to life on the PGA Tour since its inception in 1965, will no longer award coveted berths to the big tour.
Under the new system, those finishing high enough at the last stage of Q School will earn playing privileges for the following season on the Nationwide Tour, a developmental circuit that has produced a number of stars and major champions.
Instead of roughly 25 qualifying school graduates joining the top 25 finishers on the Nationwide Tour as recipients of PGA Tour cards for the next season, a three-tournament competition, held at the same time as the FedEx Cup playoffs, will determine who retains and claims PGA Tour cards.
As with other aspects of the changes, some details still need to be worked out, but the three-event series is expected to consist of the top 75 finishers on the Nationwide Tour money list, plus the next 75 on the PGA Tour money list (Nos. 126 through 200) who fail to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. Of those 150 players, the top 50 finishers in the three-tournament competition will be awarded PGA Tour cards for the following season.
Got all that? It’s a confusing mouthful, to be sure. But the concept is based on a simple notion: If you want to play on the PGA Tour, you’ll probably have to get there through the Nationwide Tour.
“The PGA Tour benefits a lot from a player going to the Nationwide Tour,’’ said Finchem. “He’s a better player. He’s better able to compete. It does measure the better player, because you are playing PGA Tour-type competition week in and week out over a good period of time.
“It also educates the player about what the PGA Tour is all about, what the volunteers are there for, how our charitable focus works. So when they come to the PGA Tour, they are more knowledgeable about the things that are important.
“Any time you make a change, human nature is, ‘Why are we changing?’ You know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s another way to look at things, that when things are going pretty well, that’s the time to get better. That’s the philosophy we have embraced.’’
Among the details left are how many events in the tour’s new season will be played in the fall (there are currently six Fall Series events, which typically fail to attract many big-name players); how many FedEx Cup points will go toward those winning the new-season fall events; and how the three-event series that will award the 50 PGA Tour cards will take shape, with a points-based seeding process being strongly considered.
As for the short turnaround from the end of one season to the beginning of the next?
“I think bringing the season to a conclusion and then setting, reloading quickly, and going out with players just having earned their card is a great way to do it,’’ Finchem said. “Because we just turned the corner, we got the fans’ interest, we finished the season . . . [and] we are off and running two weeks later. The flow of it is going to help us.’’
The changes, especially to the way the tour awards playing privileges, might force some players - international players or recent college graduates - to consider other options, since playing their way straight onto the PGA Tour through qualifying school will no longer be a possibility.
“Is it unfortunate for the best players out of college? Maybe a little bit,’’ said Webb Simpson, who advanced through Q School on his first try in 2008 and is the reigning Deutsche Bank Championship winner. “But you know, if you’re good enough, you’re going to get out here, and whether it’s delayed a year, I don’t think it will really matter in the grand scheme of things.’’
Because of a reporting error, this story mistakenly referred to Webb Simpson as the reigning FedEx Cup champion in an earlier version.