News & Opinion

LPGA’s Q-rating will jump with Q-Series

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Maddie McCrary found her first few minutes as a professional golfer to be tearful. She waited until the last possible second to trade in her amateur status – and a final semester of college golf – for conditional status on the LPGA tour, then broke down again Sunday when asked about leaving Oklahoma State to chase that LPGA dream.

“It was a hard decision, leaving my teammates,” McCrary said.

For a player such as McCrary at the final stage of LPGA Q-School, with limited professional experience but a desire to follow a dream held since age 5, it’s a Catch-22. This has been the college player’s plight for years. McCrary, understandably, entered Q-School here at LPGA International looking to set herself up with a place to play when she finishes her college career. But when she finished two shots short of a full card, in a tie for 30th (scores: http://bit.ly/2A0WzUQ), McCrary couldn’t turn down the conditional status. It felt like a better step toward her dream than returning to school for a handful of events. 

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PHOTO COURTESY OF OKLAHOMA STATE ATHLETICS
Maddie McCrary makes a ‘hard decision’ to leave college for conditional status on the LPGA.

PHOTO COURTESY OF OKLAHOMA STATE ATHLETICS
Maddie McCrary makes a ‘hard decision’ to leave college for conditional status on the LPGA.

Presumably, this is one situation that the LPGA hopes to minimize with a new qualifying format in 2018. But the changes to the third stage of Q-School raise questions about whether the new format addresses all of the issues associated with getting status on the LPGA – mainly for McCrary and other collegians. On Sunday, Robynn Ree, a USC sophomore, also turned professional after a T-5 finish assured her of full status for 2018.

The new format – in which the third stage of Q-School is replaced with an eight-round Q-Series (played as two different tournaments but with scores carrying over) – should make qualifying more about consistency than lightning in a bottle. Television and more prize money give it a real tournament feel, and make it more worthwhile for players. By allotting more space in the Q-Series for Symetra Tour players plus LPGA players who finish Nos. 101-150 on the LPGA money list – and less space for players coming out of the second stage – collegians should have a harder time getting into this situation. The idea is to identify LPGA-ready talent, and send newer players up through the Symetra Tour ranks. 

Or so the thinking goes.

The LPGA also has added a caveat for the nation’s top college players. The top five individuals in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings will earn exemptions straight to the Q-Series. It would pose an intriguing question for an underclasswoman who might not have considered Q-School so early. If she has to play only one stage of qualifying, why not give it a shot? Especially if a ramped-up event can bring some exposure. In that way, a rule intended to limit the college players flooding Q-School and leaving their teams in midseason limbo could end up luring different players, albeit a smaller number of them, away from college before they might decide to come on their own. 

The advent of the Q-Series clearly won’t fix every concern related to LPGA qualifying, especially those of college coaches. The only sure way to do that is to bar amateurs from entering the Q-Series. If a player has to turn professional before she reaches that stage of the game, it’s a much bigger gamble.

From a veteran perspective, however, eliminating Stage III in favor of the Q-Series is a big step in the right direction because the experience is more reflective of playing on tour. Players who have come up through the Symetra Tour acknowledge their path as one that allows for a slower transition and better overall adjustment to tour life.

Marissa Steen, a 2012 Memphis graduate who played her rookie season in 2015, had partial LPGA status in 2016 but chose to focus on the Symetra Tour because she thought it was a better path to full status. It worked. She ended this season No. 105 on the LPGA money list, five spots short of retaining her full card, but came back to Q-School in an attempt to improve her status. She ended up earning one of the 20 cards.

Steen represents the type of player who stands to benefit from the Q-Series.

“If you don’t finish in the top five [at the final stage], you’re probably not even going to cover your expenses for such a big event,” she said.

Giving the last stop on the qualifying circuit the feeling – and some of the perks – of a real tournament changes that. Overall, the Q-Series is a step in the right direction.

Julie Williams is a former college golfer and Golfweek writer who teaches eighth-grade English and coaches a high school girls golf team in Cocoa Beach, Fla.