News & Opinion

Tour’s college ‘draft’ will taint meritocracy

It’s an utter mystery why the PGA Tour wants golf to be so much like other sports. The greatest and most enduring aspect about the professional game is that it’s the ultimate meritocracy. Success is measured by performance. Period.

You can’t scuffle around and hit .241 and make $12 million a year like you can in Major League Baseball. And you can’t ride the pine and play 12 minutes per game in the National Basketball Association and make more in one year than many professional golfers earn in a career. If PGA Tour players made the cut only .241 of the time, they’d be back in the minors so fast, they couldn’t tell the difference between Nashville and Newburgh.

Then, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem wanted the Tour to look like NASCAR, with a playoff series to end the season. No one still understands NASCAR, and much the same can be said about the FedEx Cup playoffs, which started in 2007. All anyone knows is that in both sports, someone is going to get a colossal payday at the end.

Now, new Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and his staff apparently have cooked up what looks for all the world like a collegiate player draft. According to a story first reported by Golfweek, the Tour is considering identifying the top college golfers and giving them direct access to the tours that it operates – from the PGA Tour China all the way to the PGA Tour.

“This program will be designed to reward season-long collegiate play with varying levels of playing access to tours operated under the PGA Tour umbrella while upholding the principles and virtues of college athletics,” the Tour said in a statement to GolfChannel.com.

And it appears that access will be afforded without those college players having to go through any kind of Q-School.

Details are murky, especially concerning the way college players will be chosen and when this program might start. A Tour source told Golfweek that officials still are working out what selection criteria will be considered for players to be eligible to turn pro under this system.

One thing is abundantly clear, however. This initiative likely will not sit well with many current Tour players, especially those who completed the Web.com Tour Q-School on Sunday in Chandler, Ariz.

Because, at the moment, there are only two ways for a college player to get to the PGA Tour. First, when he leaves school and turns pro, he can ask for up to seven sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season as a non-Tour member. And if he finishes in the top 10 of one of those events, he can play the next week and not have to use one of the exemptions. If he can make enough FedEx Cup points that would get him inside the top 125 if he were a Tour member, he would earn playing privileges for the next year.

If not, he heads to the Web.com Tour for a season, unless he wins three times on that Tour and gets an immediate promotion to the big tour.

Jordan Spieth got his card through sponsor exemptions, and Justin Thomas received his card through a season on the Web.com Tour. Both players left college early to turn pro, Spieth departing Texas in December 2012, midway through his sophomore year, and Thomas less than a year later, after his sophomore year at Alabama. Under the PGA Tour’s new not-completely-baked plan, they might have been selected to head straight to the Tour as a result of their collegiate success.

But for every Spieth and Thomas, there are countless others like Jamie Lovemark, Max Homa, Michael Kim and Doug Ghim who were highly-touted collegiate players who haven’t found the same level of success as professionals.

The Tour says it will encourage college players to remain in school and not turn pro early. But it’s not known how it will be decided when the time is right for players to leave school. It’s certain that Spieth and Thomas received advice from a number of people and made the decision that was best for them, which included the financial cushion of lucrative endorsement deals.

The PGA Tour is working with its Policy Board and Player Advisory Council, among others, to shape this project. It also is looking for input from the NCAA, college coaches and golf’s governing bodies, according to Golfweek.

The bottom line is that every player who is selected straight out of college will be taking the place of another player who earned his place on that tour, whether through finishing in the top 125 on the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour top 25, the Web.com Finals or Web.com Q-School.

And you can be assured that current Tour players will be unhappy about players who have been given spots instead of having to perform on the course to earn them. It is, after all, the very foundation of professional golf: He who plays the best, wins. Nothing on the scorecard comes for free.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf