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To counter LIV money, Tour to offer college promotion – but is it enough?


In the latest battle for the future of professional golf, the PGA Tour is putting forward two proposals that will forge a more direct path from college glory to Tour membership.

If approved, starting next year, the highest-scoring high school students on the PGA Tour University rankings will receive full-time membership to the Tour, and the numbers 2-10 in the standings will go to the Korn Ferry Tour, the sports version of the Triple-A. Ah, with some level of status.

Discussions went on for “several months,” according to a Tour memo to players, but now the reason for the move is clear.

“It’s a way to make sure these guys go to the PGA Tour and not anywhere else,” said Danny McCarthy. “I think this is a great opportunity for them.”

Over the last decade, we’ve seen a handful of great college studs achieve almost instant success on the Tour. Ricky Fowler and Jordan Spieth started this trend. Then came John Ram, followed by Collin Morikawa and Victor Hovland. The tour is getting younger than ever (11 of the world’s top 13 are in their 20s), and yet the status quo has largely held. Direct access is not possible, with a maximum of seven sponsor exceptions. There are no financial guarantees. There are no multi-year commitments. After the NCAA championship, every May the best players scatter to the Korn Ferry Tour, to Canada, Europe or Latin America, and then, perhaps a few years later, they reunite at the highest level.

“I think they need to create a better path,” Ram said last week. “Now it is really very difficult. There is a lot of wasted talent in Canada and Latin America. Every other major sport has a direct path to the big leagues from college, except golf.”

The tour debuted with the university’s PGA Tour in 2020, but by restricting it to seniors, it was designed less to encourage kids to stay in school than to ensure top talent arrives on the tour faster. Of course, in theory, these players could become tour members within four months of release – they could either play well enough in Korn Ferry’s limited starts to cross the tour membership threshold, or they could earn their card through the Korn Ferry Tour. The final. It just didn’t work, with some agents speculating that it was because the system required burnt-out players to compete virtually non-stop in tough situations for nine months while grappling with the new realities of professional life. Not everyone is able to cope with such a volume and so quickly.

“In an ideal world, I still think you should work your way through the ranks and earn it,” Hovland said. “There still has to be a way to get on the tour next year, like now. I think it’s correct. But obviously with threats you will have to make some compromises.”

The LIV caused turmoil in college ranks during this year’s NCAA championship when news broke that Texan star Pearson Cudi (who took first place on the PGA Tour U) had turned down a “crazy amount” of money from the Saudis. But the LIV didn’t completely eliminate: Arizona state junior David Pueg appeared on the list of participants in the first tournament in London. As Puig explained at the time, he was offered meager opportunities to test himself against the best in the world on the PGA or DP World tours, despite being in the top 10 rankings and making it big in college. LIV provided this opportunity, and he took advantage of it. After losing his place on the PGA Tour U program, Puig chose not to return to Arizona State for his senior year and turned pro.

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More important, however, was the decision of Eugenio Chacarra, a prominent Oklahoma State player who would have placed prominently in the PGA Tour U system had he stayed for his senior season. Instead, he joined LIV (along with one of his childhood heroes, Sergio Garcia) and won a tournament in Thailand within the first three months of his professional journey. In the six tournaments leading up to this week’s LIV finals, he won $6,182,000, and that doesn’t include a reportedly eight-figure signing bonus.

“From his point of view, it’s not a problem,” said Hovland, who played with Chacarra while living in Stillwater. “But the cleanliness of golf, I’m old fashioned in the sense that you have to go through the ranks. This is how my mind works. But everything is changing. I don’t know what the correct answer is, but I don’t blame these kids for going down this path.”

It’s reasonable to assume that Chakarra’s summer has been a vibrant one for many elite amateurs who have been (or are considering) similar decisions. Chacarra’s path may have serious consequences – he won’t be able to play in the 2023 majors (unless he goes through the open qualifiers), and he may not be eligible for the Ryder Cup – but he escaped anyway. At 22, he realized that time was on his side.

“Here’s what you’re wondering,” Ram said. “Is this what you grew up with, wanting to just play golf to make money? Or did you grow up to win big tournaments and play in the Ryder Cups?

“I’m not going to lie if you asked me in 2016 and offered me $50 million for a role in LIV, I don’t know if I could go to my dad and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to give it up.’ , just because.’ I don’t know if I can tell you that I wouldn’t take it. And a lot of players will do the same thing when you don’t have anything and they’ll offer it as a guarantee.”

That’s why Ram warned, “My advice to the PGA Tour is to start looking at college players and offer more than what they have now.”

That is the Tour’s response, at least in the short term.

The question is whether this will be enough to influence the next generation.

PGA Tour U proposal could be a game-changer

PGA Tour U proposal could be a game-changer

The tour still cannot compete with LIV’s $25 million offerings.

The proposal only applies to high school students, meaning that younger students like Puig and Chacarra will still be vulnerable to poaching. (There is a secondary proposal that includes a points-based fog system designed to identify and instantly promote non-senior superstars.)

This may be just the start of a broader restructuring aimed at 2024, but one tour for two months is unlikely to be enough. The tour is still dependent on more than a dozen older alumni to volunteer to venture into the competitive wilderness where they will fend for themselves on the feeder trails, with no guarantee of reaching their final destination. And, as Chacarra helped demonstrate, there’s now another option that didn’t exist before: there’s nothing stopping these amateurs from grabbing LIV loot, playing this scheme for a couple of years and accumulating tens of millions of dollars, and then going the usual way. through the Tour Q-School (where they will compete without the devastating financial pressures that most in the field face).

This is an attractive alternative.

Criticized for being smug, Tour had no choice but to act. In this shifting landscape, the company needed to offer better promotions faster or risk losing top young people every spring. Some argue that a guaranteed card can accelerate the unique progression of a top talent – after all, for every fast rookie there are more like Justin Thomas, Scotty Scheffler and Xander Schauffele, all of whom have spent at least a year in junior high – but a complete a season gives a better score than a limited number of starts.

“My first couple of years I might not have been ready for the PGA Tour schedule, but could I? I don’t know,” said Maverick McNeely, who, after winning 11 at Stanford, would have received a ticket to the Tour if that system had existed in 2017. He is now in the Tour for the fourth year.

“I think a full season will prepare you better than four Q-Schools, and four Q-Schools will prepare you better than a Monday qualifier. If players have proven themselves over four years of college golf, which is essentially a top amateur tour, then the cream really rises to the top. And we really want them to go on tour as soon as possible.”

McCarthy would also be one of those players who were on the cusp of being included in the PGA Tour U after his successful Virginia career ended in 2015. then I played a few tournaments and I wasn’t. I realized very quickly that I had to get much better, but since then he has changed a lot. So there’s a learning curve going on: they come in here and they either do it or they don’t, and they realize how much better they need to get, and they realize how good everyone here really is. To be honest, it’s a win-win situation for them.”

Hovland turned pro in 2019 as part of a well-known class following his junior season at Oklahoma State, but admitted he would be tempted to stay in college if PGA Tour U perks were available. When asked if he could immediately say, whether the opponent has what it takes to compete in the Tour, he said: “You see a lot of talented and could kill him in the Tour, but I think there is an X factor. There’s something different when there are touring trucks, more people, 150 other guys, you’re on your own, you have to be very, very good…

Source: www.golfchannel.com