Tim Wilkinson earned his PGA Tour card for the first time in 2008 by surviving the five-round gauntlet known as the final stage of Q-school.
So the 34-year-old New Zealander can sympathize with the dream chasers who might feel slighted by the PGA Tour’s new plan this year for determining who will play there in late fall and into 2014.
“I always thought it was a nice thing at the end of the year,” said Wilkinson, a Web.com Tour member who is playing in the Air Capital Classic at Crestview Country Club. “You always had that one more chance.”
The PGA Tour’s qualifying tournament is gone, thanks to the introduction of the Web.com Tour Finals, a four-tournament series at the end of summer that will combine the top 75 money winners from the Web.com with those finishing between 126th and 200th on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points list.
The new format will produce 50 PGA Tour members for the following season, which starts in October with the Frys.com Open. An annual December qualifying tournament will still exist, but the top finishers there will advance to the 2014 Web.com Tour.
For those who have played both tours during their careers, the Web.com Tour Finals presents an intriguing opportunity.
“You don’t have to take that three months off (after the Web.com season) to wait to get in,” said Jason Gore, a seven-time Web.com winner who is playing at Crestview. “Now, once the playoffs are over, you’re fired up. In four or five months from now, you can be a PGA Tour player. I think that adds a little incentive.”
Understanding the path to the PGA Tour has long been a challenge for casual golf fans. But the objective for Web.com participants at Crestview remains unchanged from recent years. Of the 50 PGA Tour cards that are on the table this season, the top 25 money winners after the Web.com’s regular-season finale – the Cox Classic in Omaha -- will claim half of them.
Those 25 will still compete in the Web.com Tour Finals to determine priority order for next season. The remaining 25 cards will go to golfers who earn the most cumulative money over the four-tournament series. The Web.com regular-season money leader and the golfer who earns the most money in the Web.com Tour Finals will be fully exempt on the PGA Tour next season.
All 50 who emerge from the Finals will be in an exemption category for 2013-14 just behind the top 125 FedEx Cup finishers on this year’s PGA Tour.
“That certainly makes things interesting,” said Ryan Spears, a Web.com rookie and former Wichita State golfer who is 38th on the Web.com money list. “I know if I were to finish in the top 10 or the top 15, I’d still be out there playing in that series. The more the better, especially for me, because I haven’t seen a lot of these courses.”
While there are still myriad ways to reach the PGA Tour, most are extremely difficult for aspiring young talent and veterans trying to maintain a foothold. For Web.com golfers, the “battlefield promotion,” an instant promotion for three victories in a season, still exists. For those not on the tour, sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers offer a longshot ticket, while Q-school survival will still leave golfers with a challenging road to reach the PGA Tour.
“We’ll see how it goes this year,” said Wilkinson, who is third on this year’s Web.com money list with 10 regular-season tournaments to play. “There was some tweaking with the FedEx Cup when it started.
“There’s arguments to both sides. I would say finishing top 25 on this money list, you’ve played pretty well. I wouldn’t say if you’ve finished 126 to 200 on the (PGA Tour) money list that you’ve played pretty well. I think it’s good that 25 cards from this tour are still guaranteed.”