The top 25 players from the Web.com Tour are assured of getting PGA Tour cards under a new system announced Tuesday that does away with Q-school being a direct path to the big leagues.
More than six months of discussions ended with what the tour felt was the most simple plan for awarding PGA Tour cards.
Starting in September 2013, the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and the top 75 players who do not qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs — those who are No. 126 through No. 200 in the FedEx Cup standings — will compete in three $1 million tournaments known as "The Finals."
All players in the Finals will start from scratch, and 50 cards will be awarded based on the Finals money list.
However, the top 25 from the Web.com Tour regular season already will be assured of getting PGA cards, even if they fall out of the top 50 on the Finals money list. They would play only for position going into the 2013-14 season, which would start in October.
The player who leads the Web.com Tour money list in the regular season, and the player who wins the Finals money list, will be exempt into The Players Championship and have the same status as a PGA Tour player who kept his card the previous year.
"We looked at a dizzying number of potential options," said Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations. "This one provided the best blend of continuing to recognize the seasonal performance of the Web.com Tour. At the same time, it creates a way for the cream to rise over three weeks of head-to-head play."
The change is part of a major overhaul of the PGA Tour season that starting next fall will do away with the money list as a way to measure performance.
Currently, the FedEx Cup season ends with the Tour Championship in late September, followed by the Fall Series of events that give players a chance to finish in the top 125 on the money list to earn their cards for next year. Those who fail go to Q-school, a six-round tournament with 25 cards awarded. The Web.com Tour also awards 25 cards.
Under the new system, the FedEx Cup still ends at the Tour Championship. The Finals — for the Web.com players and leftovers from the PGA Tour — will end the week after the Tour Championship. The next season then starts in October.
Q-school will continue to be held in late fall, but only to award Web.com Tour cards.
The model for the Finals was reached after much discussion by the tour's board (which includes four players) and Player Advisory Councils that represent players from the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tours. It was critical that they got it right the first time — unlike the FedEx Cup points system, which was altered each of the first three years — because jobs were at stake.
Pazder said keeping the model simple was a factor, "but not a motivating factor."
"The motivating factor was a system that would identify the best 25 players in those fields," he said. "And the best way to do that is head-to-head competition. Everyone starts on a level playing field. It's not based upon subjective seedings. It's based on results. One of the beauties of our sport is you go out and perform, and based on your performance, you get paid or you don't.
"In this case," he said, "you get a tour card or you don't based on your performance."
Tour officials had looked at trying to seed players from the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour, though that was abandoned a few months ago because it was seen as too complicated to explain, and difficult to compare performances between the major league and minor league.
They also had considered awarding only 15 cards to the Web.com Tour regular season.
It has not been determined where to play the three tournaments that make up the Finals. The tour expects the field size to range from 132 to 144 players. Even though 150 players would be eligible, some might not need to play if they have previous status, such as a two-year exemption from winning on the PGA Tour.
Players who are not on the PGA Tour can earn either FedEx Cup points from the PGA Tour or money from the Web.com Tour that will appear on a nonmember's list. If it is equivalent to other players on tour, that would get them into the Finals.
The change is likely to force college players to turn pro earlier, because they cannot earn points or money as amateurs. Dustin Johnson played in the Walker Cup, made it through Q-school and won his rookie year on the PGA Tour. Under the new system, he likely would have to spend a year on the Web.com Tour.
If this system were in place when Tiger Woods turned pro after winning his third straight U.S. Amateur in 1996, he would have had two minor-league events to make enough points to get into the Finals. The season was longer, then, and Woods won twice on the PGA Tour in his first seven tournaments.