PGA Tour announces changes

ORLANDO, Fla. -- PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, saying it was "time to get better," announced Tuesday sweeping changes to the tour's schedule and the way players will qualify for the tour.

The policy board on Tuesday approved two significant components to the overhaul: The PGA Tour season will start in October, and the developmental Nationwide Tour will be the primary path to get a PGA Tour card, ending nearly 50 years of Q-school as a way to get to golf's biggest tour.

Cards would be awarded at a three-tournament series blending Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour players.

The board approved the concept, which has been talked about for several months.

What remains are the details -- a lot of them.

"Any time you make a change, human nature is, 'Why are we changing? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' There's another way to look at things," Finchem said. "When things are going pretty well, that's the time to get better."

But while the tour wants to make sure players are better equipped when they reach the PGA Tour, money is behind the change, too.

The tour wants to make the Nationwide Tour more appealing as it searches for a new title sponsor -- this is the final year of sponsorship for the Ohio-based insurance company. Finchem said the tour is talking with several companies, though "close might not be the right word."

By starting the official season in October -- shortly after the FedEx Cup season ends -- it allows the tour to give more value to the tournaments now part of the Fall Series. If they are not treated like other tournaments, odds are they would not renew their sponsorship, which would eliminate some $25 million in prize money.

Starting the season in October means Q-school no longer can be an avenue to the PGA Tour. Instead, Q-school will award cards for only the Nationwide Tour.

Finchem offered only a skeleton of the plan:

• After the FedEx Cup regular season ends in August 2013, the tour will take the top 75 players from the Nationwide Tour money list, along with the players who finished No. 126 through 200 on the PGA Tour money list, and have them play three tournaments. The top 50 will receive PGA Tour cards for the following season.

• The biggest problem for the board is blending two very different tours. Finchem said his staff has discussed seeding the players in such a way that the top 25 from the Nationwide Tour are assured of being among the top 50. The only thing that would suffer if they played badly in the three-tournament series is their ranking for the next season.

• For the past several years, the top 25 players from the Nationwide Tour received tour cards. Another 25 cards or so were handed out at Q-school, which often produced a few heartwarming stories of a long shot who achieved his dream of reaching the tour.

• Finchem said research shows that players who spent a year on the Nationwide Tour are more equipped for the rigors of travel than someone who gets hot for six rounds and gets a card. He also said an average 1.4 players go from college to Q-school and get their cards. Among them are Dustin Johnson and J.B. Holmes, both of whom won in their rookie season.

• This year, 21-year-old John Huh made it through all three stages of Q-school and won last month in Mexico against a weak field. Under the change, however, the Mexico event would be held in the fall as part of the new season.

• The change in earning cards begins in 2013. That means the 50 players who earn their cards will only have eight months to finish among the top 125 on the PGA Tour, instead of having six extra events in the fall to make up ground.

• The fall events will be the start of the new season in October 2013. Still to be determined is whether those tournaments will offer the same number of FedEx Cup points as tournaments held from January until the FedEx Cup playoffs begin in August.

Not awarding similar points could be a problem.

Golf World magazine, in a story for its digital edition Monday, obtained a letter from the Frys.com Open in which it expressed "concern about continuing our sponsorship" if the fall events are only given half the points.

Fry's has the greatest potential of a large purse and is geared toward being a big event.

Finchem said offering full points for every tournament remains a possibility. It was one of the details still to be discussed, and he said he would go back to the 16-member Player Advisory Council for comments.

The notion 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.

"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," Finchem said. "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."

One thing Finchem made clear is everything revolves around the FedEx Cup, which last month renewed its deal through 2017.

"It means that the PGA TOUR competition is the FedEx Cup," Finchem said. "We like that. And we like what it does for those tournaments involved and for the sponsors involved."

Other elements:

• The HSBC Champions in China will be considered a full-fledged World Golf Championship starting in 2013. Until then, it counts only as an official win on the PGA Tour if one of its members were to win.

• College players can get into the three-tournament qualifying series if they earn enough money equivalent to being within the top 200 on the PGA Tour money list or the top 75 on the Nationwide Tour.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.