The PGA Tour’s New Qualifying Process May Eventually Dilute Their Product

By now, we all know that the path to the PGA Tour in 2014 and beyond will look vastly different to what we see today.

Q-School as we know it will be gone, replaced by a four-tournament series containing the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and Nos. 126 to 200 on the PGA Tour’s money list. The top 50 finishers from this four-tournament series will earn their 2014 Tour cards.

Q-School, which should actually be renamed “Mini-Tour School,” will now only determine who earns Web.com Tour cards and will essentially have nothing to do with the PGA Tour in 2014.

For a player to earn his way onto the PGA Tour, he needs a strong finish at Q-School to make his way onto the Web.com Tour. He then needs to finish within the top 75 on the Web.com Tour’s money list to earn a spot in the PGA Tour’s four-tournament series, where he then needs to finish within the top 50 to finally earn a PGA Tour card.

Wow, gaining U.S. citizenship now looks like a cakewalk in comparison to the path players must take to become full members of the PGA Tour.

Needless to say, there was one large underlying reason behind the PGA Tour’s reason to adjust its qualification system: money.

Nationwide had decided not to renew its sponsorship of the Nationwide Tour, and the PGA Tour needed to create a more attractive package to lure a new sponsor for its developmental tour. So it figured that this four-tournament, end-of-the-year series would push the developmental tour up a notch and provide a more attractive proposition for potential sponsors.

In the end, it worked as the PGA Tour was quickly able to replace Nationwide with Web.com.

But there is one big question that still remains: Will the PGA Tour’s push for quick money in 2012 damage its entire product five to 10 years from now?

Here are just a few names to think about: Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Matteo Manassero, Peter Uihlein and Patrick Cantlay.

Fowler earned his way onto the PGA Tour in 2010 through Q-School and less than a year later was an important member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Ishikawa is a very popular young Japanese golfer and one of the top 100 players on the planet, but his path to the PGA Tour may be closed after this year. And there is no chance that Ishikawa will go through Q-School just to earn a place on the Web.com Tour when he is earning millions playing on the Asian Tour and has already played in a number of majors and WGCs.

Manassero is an exciting young Italian player who has already won three tournaments on the European Tour and has played in several majors and WGCs. His stature in the game already exceeds the Web.com Tour. So why in the world would Manassero go to Q-school and spend at least a year on the mini-tour when he is earning millions playing golf on the European Tour and still qualifying for WGCs and majors?

Uihlein and Cantlay are incredibly talented young players who already have some star power in the game, yet both may be forced to play at least a year on the Web.com Tour or contemplate taking up membership on the European or Asian Tours. In fact, Uihlein has already begun playing some events over in Europe.

And what about the thousands of other talented young international players that will inevitably continue to come to the forefront of professional golf in the coming years?

Let’s look at this potential situation.

You are a very talented 19-year-old golfer from Australia. Everyone is calling you the next Adam Scott, but you have a problem. Moving to America costs a lot of money, and the best that you can hope for in the U.S. is that you may make it through Q-School and earn a spot on the Web.com Tour. You will then need to play well enough to get into a four-tournament series where you will need to finish within the top 50 to earn a PGA Tour card. Essentially, a PGA Tour card would be a year away at best.

Or the alternative is that you could play on the Asian Tour or European Tour and still compete in very-high-quality professional events while earning a large sum of money (not as high as the PGA Tour, but far more than the Web.com Tour).

So what is the more attractive route for a young, broke, incredibly talented 19-year-old Australian golfer? These are the types of players that the PGA Tour could miss out on as more and more international—and particularly Asian—players move to the top of professional golf, which could dilute the PGA Tour’s product moving forward.

The Tour’s main long-term goal should be to remain the top professional golf tour in the world, not close the door on talented young players who will decide to take up Asian Tour or European Tour membership instead of going through the PGA Tour’s long and difficult qualifying process.

The PGA Tour’s decision to revamp the entire qualifying system may have earned it more money right now and may not be an issue in the immediate future as the game’s current stars have already been established. But this decision is also quite short-sighted when considering the trend of talented young international players working their way up in the game of golf.

There’s an old saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and that is fine, but what do you do when all of the birds begin flying away in five to 10 years?