SBD/March 21, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

PGA Tour Announces New Qualifying System And Schedule Changes

Finchem anticipates early part of season to start in October, conclude by Thanksgiving
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem yesterday announced that the Policy Board has approved changes to the structure of the qualifying system for the PGA Tour, establishing the Nationwide Tour as the primary way to gain Tour membership. All 50 PGA Tour membership cards now will be awarded through the Nationwide Tour, with the final three tournaments on the Nationwide Tour combining PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour players to determine who earns the cards. The annual Q-School will exclusively provide playing status on the Nationwide Tour. The board also approved changing the start of the PGA Tour season. The start of the '13-14 season will begin in October '13 and conclude in late September '14 with the final Tour Championship. In making this change, the fall tournaments will begin awarding FedExCup points in '13 (PGA Tour). GOLFWEEK's Alex Miceli noted the three-tournament qualifying series "could be the most contentious part of the makeover." A source said, "We could tweak the FedEx Cup (playoffs) each year, because that was for our retirement. But these changes are not for our retirement but keeping a job. We can't afford to get it wrong." Miceli noted it is still to be determined the location of those three tournaments. Sources said that the PGA Tour is "looking to find a sponsor for each event or create an umbrella sponsor for the final three events, each of which likely will award" a $1M purse. Like the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship with Coca-Cola, a sponsor "likely could pick the course." Golfweek previously reported that eight tournaments "likely would comprise the early part of the season." Finchem would "not commit to a number Tuesday but said he anticipates the early part of the bifurcated season to start in early October and conclude by Thanksgiving." Some sponsors, notably Frys.com and HSBC," have voiced "dismay with the current Fall Series" (GOLFWEEK.com, 3/20). The WGC-HSBC Champions event in China and the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic late in the year "will become official PGA Tour events with FedEx Cup points and official money" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 3/20).

ADDING UP POINTS: ESPN.com's Bob Harig wrote the PGA Tour is "undergoing its biggest fundamental change in 30 years." It is still to be determined is "if those fall events will receive full FedEx Cup points," but if they "don't, winners of those tournaments likely won't get Masters invites." And while those tournaments are "mostly afterthoughts now, as they occur during football season and are mostly for players trying to keep their cards, what's the point of starting a new season with tournaments that are not deemed as important?" Also to be figured out is how to seed the 75 players from the Nationwide Tour mixed in with those who "failed to keep their PGA Tour cards." Harig: "Does the No. 1 player on the Nationwide money list not deserve a big break going into those three tournaments, given that he led the way for the full season?" (ESPN.com, 3/20). Frys.com Open Tournament Dir Jeffrey Sanchez said of the uncertain amount of FedEx Cup points the tourney will offer, "That's still an open question and, for us, a really important question. We want to be on that level, treated and respected like other tournaments on the schedule" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/21). Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis said of the new wrap-around schedule, “It makes every PGA Tour event now relevant in the FedExCup season." Lewis: "That is big because a lot of these sponsors have been very unhappy that they are not in the FedExCup season” (“Golf Central,” Golf Channel, 3/20). Golfer Kevin Sutherland said, "They were going to lose those events if they didn't do something. They were almost an afterthought" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/21).

ADDITIONAL BRANDING FOR FEDEX: Golf Channel's Gary Williams noted with the new schedule, FedEx will get “branding essentially all year” and they “won’t go dark.” FedEx last month renewed their sponsorship of the FedExCup, and PGA Tour Exec VP/Communications & Int’l Affairs Ty Votaw said, “Anything we can do to add value to their sponsorship is something we’ve always tried to do from the outset. ... We saw pretty quickly the value that would accrue to FedEx and the value that would accrue to the Golf Channel in terms of televising the fall events as FedExCup events.” However, NBC's Mark Rolfing said his "biggest question" about the new schedule concerns the two events in Hawaii at the beginning of January. Rolfing, who previously has served as the event organizer for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, said, "It'll be the start to the calendar season now but how is that going to fit into the schedule? What's the ramp up and promotion going to be for those events? They will now be five or six events (when the new schedule begins) into the PGA Tour schedule. I think there are going to be some issues there” ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 3/21). 

NEW TALES FROM Q-SCHOOL: The AP's Doug Ferguson noted the idea of "abandoning the traditional means of PGA Tour access -- Q-school -- first was brought up one year ago." It took "this long to get the concept approved." The hard work figures to be "in the details, but by announcing that it has approved the plan, the tour has left itself a little more than a year to get that sorted out." Finchem said, "I think the player directors felt ... a lot of times, it's easier to get everybody focused when you know it's going to happen. So this is going to happen. And now we've got a couple of things that we have got to make sure we do right" (AP, 3/20). Golf Channel's Williams said of the new qualifying process: “I like the idea of the three event series. It will be interesting and it will be intense. I am interested to find out how they are going to seed these players -- that to me is one of the big questions.” Williams added, “Ten spots (for the PGA Tour) should still be reserved for the gauntlet that is that final stage” ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 3/21).

CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN?
CBSSPORTS.com's Steve Elling wrote it is going to take "a lot of spin to position this as an improvement, at least to the aficionados and traditionalists." For those who "thought the move to the FedEx Cup scheme six years ago was a major philosophical overhaul, this was a massive systemic redesign." And unlike with the FedExCup, the Tour "needs to get this fashion makeover right the first time around." Finchem: "We have to do all the things we did when we started the FedEx Cup, and maybe more." But Golfer J.B. Holmes said, "We're going to end the season in September, then basically start it again a week later? We make all these changes so that the season ends before football starts, now we're back competing against football again? Dumbest thing I have ever heard" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee wrote, "I actually like the idea of starting the season in the fall and wrapping it around so that the Tour Championship is the series-concluding event. ... However, the rumor that the Tour might make those season-opening Fall events worth less, relatively speaking, toward the FedEx Cup is patently unfair and absurd; you don't just screw over your partners that way." YAHOO SPORTS' Jonathan Wall wrote, "The wraparound schedule could work, especially if it means the Tour Championship ends in September and misses out on going head-to-head with the NFL" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/20). Golf Channel’s Charlie Rymer said, “When you first look at these changes, it’s a little hard to swallow because we have so much history with the way we have been doing it for so long and it’s been a very successful formula. But if you were starting from scratch and came up with this system, I think it really does make some sense” ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 3/20).
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