The demise of the American Q School

Ross Biddiscombe discusses the demise of the American Q School, something he blames on money

Ben Crenshaw

It's true that all sports have to adapt and change as the years go by, but the demise of the US PGA Qualifying School is a change too far for the good of the game, at least as far as I am concerned and, I believe, the thousands of Q School graduates of the past 40 years or so

The American Q School was the first of its kind to get started in 1965 and the reason was to stop players having to rely on Monday qualifying tournaments every week.

The Q School developed the idea of levels of exemption for tournaments so that all players could plan a schedule.

The best players after each season were automatically invited back on Tour and could pick and choose their tournaments, but the rest of the field were not so lucky, they had to be graded in some way and a Q School tournament at the the season's conclusion was the best way to do it.

The same system began in Europe just over a decade later and by just about all other tours in later years.

The Q School brought order. The previous system was unfair to the many players who travelled to a tournament, but never even made it into the field.  

There was no thought of sponsorship back then and young players met up with journeymen to decide on who got the few guaranteed Tour Cards that provided entry into The Big Show. And what fabulous stories - and players - emerged.

The first winner of the US PGA Q School was the now-almost- unknown John Schlee from Colorado who actually did go on to win on the Tour and was 2nd in the 1973 US Open.

Other more famous winners have been Ben Crenshaw, Fuzzy Zoeller, Jerry Pate, Paul Azinger, Steve Jones, Mike Weir, Billy Mayfair, JB Holmes and Britain's own Brian Davis. Every year, there were tales of derring-do of comeback players or even hot, young college players like Ricky Fowler who would surge onto the Tour.

But Tim Finchem, the US PGA commissioner doesn't see the history; he sees the money. Or, more pertinently, the lack of it. The secondary tour (now sponsored by, but formerly the Nationwide Tour) has been in dire need of an injection of cash in recent years.

The answer, said Finchem, was to make all Tour qualifiers come from an end-of-season secondary tour mini-tournament among players. That means no places for graduating college students nor players who finished outside the top 200 on the main tour.

Is this really player friendly? Are we now at the stage where sponsorship rules for the lower reaches of the tour as well as the top end?

Certainly, there's no move by the European Tour, the Asian Tour or any other body to change their Q Schools. In fact, I wonder how many young American graduates will come across the pond next year to try for a European Tour place rather than spend a year on the Tour.

The sad thing is that the people making these decisions are not those players who use the Q School right now. It's the policy boards and senior players whose days are over. Why not poll the current young players and the journeymen often rely on the Q School?

But that's not happened and it's simply the end to the Cinderella stories of the US Q School where a player could emerge from nowhere to achieve his dream. One of US sports' most endearing competitions has not just been diluted, but virtually destroyed.

Thank goodness the European Tour is sticking by the Q School and long may it continue.  

Ross Biddiscombe is the author of two books about the European Tour Q School called Golf On The Edge.

Freelance Writer

Ross is a Q-School expert.