You may not have realized it, watched it, or even known about it, but this past weekend the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School closed it’s doors effectively ending one of the few ways aspiring golf professionals have at reaching the upper echelons of the sport.
For those unfamiliar “Q-School,” as it is often called, it was the yearly competition where professional golfers compete through multiple stages of tournament play in an effort to obtain a mere 25 tour cards. A grueling test of a golfer’s moxie and resolve, it’s been called golf’s 5th major by author John Feinstein and perhaps rightfully so, as the weight of one’s career and/or financial security relies on being one of the fortunate few to finish in the Top 25 of the final tournament. It’s a process where hopeful professionals can spend weeks competing in up to four different stages of tournaments, at a cost of upwards of $13,000, and still fall short of their dream because of one errant shot, a gust of wind, an unfortunate bounce, or a putt that lipped out of the hole instead of dropping in.
And what made Qualifying School so great was that it represented one of two ways* that professionals from lower level tours could obtain a tour card simply by performing at a high level in each stage of the process. It was a difficult, yet reasonable avenue, through which anyone, even the random joe off the street, could earn their way onto golf’s highest stage. Just as the immortal Tin Cup once said, “If you win, then you’re in.”
However, after 50+ years of service, the Q-School door is now permanently closed. Closed because of the PGA Tour’s desire to bring legitimacy and stability to it’s developmental tour formerly known as the Nationwide Tour and now known as the Web.com Tour.
To do so, the PGA Tour has created an qualification format that is exclusively for professionals presently or formerly in the PGA system of tours and no one else. The field will consist of top money earners from the Web.com tour and PGA Tour players who failed finish high enough on the money list to retain their cards.
While this move might lead to more interest in the developmental tour and possibly, as the PGA argues, a high caliber of golfer on the PGA Tour, it also effectively reduces the number of aspiring golfers that will ever have an opportunity to compete for a PGA Tour card.
True Q-School was a shortcut to the top, but it was always a shortcut that had to be earned. Now golfers on lower level regional tours, are forced not only to qualify for the Web.com Tour but also finish in the upper echelons of the money list to have the opportunity to earn PGA Tour card.
Effectively the road to the PGA Tour just got longer and harder for the lower level professionals who are barely scrapping by because of high expenses and low earnings.
I realize that for most people out there, changing the rules and the format for how a small number of people are attempting to collect a piece of a very large pie isn’t necessarily all that important.
However, Q-School was one of the most inclusive aspects of a sport that oozes exclusivity on the professional side. It represented opportunity, chance, and above all reward for golfers who had big dreams and could seize the day.
Sure the percentages of starting at the bottom of Q-School, working your way through four stages of competition, and finishing in the Top 25 were low. But there was always a chance and opportunity to do so.
Now with the door closed it feels as if a part of the American dream is gone, at least for professional golfers, and it has left a sour taste in my mouth. Yes, the PGA Tour has the right to conduct their business in any way they see fit to make a profit, but the Tour has just become much less democratic and welcoming of all.
Thank you for the opportunities and RIP Q-School.
*The second avenue is via the Monday qualifier and pre-qualifier where hundreds of golfers compete for the right to play in the PGA tournament of that week with typically only the top 4 players receiving spots.
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