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Opinion & Analysis

Is a “Single-A PGA Tour” needed in the United States?

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The road to the PGA Tour is not an easy one to take. Thousands try, only a handful get in, even fewer of the handful stay. However, with the thousands of professional golfers that don’t get in, they need a place to play.

The Web.com Tour has the been the direct feeder and developmental tour for the PGA Tour since 2013. Since its inception in 1990 under the “Ben Hogan Tour” name, there has been multiple variations that slowly evolved into the highly coveted developmental tour we know today. Top 25 finishers in a year long money race get their PGA Tour cards for next season, and 25 more in the playoffs also receive their cards. However, some pros don’t ever make it this far, and there are some that don’t stay long either.

Enter in the third-tier tours of the PGA Tour, that would be PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latin America, and PGA Tour China. Now, each of these three tours operate very similar to the Web.com and the PGA Tour. The same is true with the Web.com, finish high in the money list for the year, move up to the Web.com the next season. With varying statuses, Q-Schools, tournament cuts, and unreal talent across all levels, this system has proven itself to be the best in who can make it on the PGA Tour. However, if you look at the third-tier tours, you come to realize there is no direct route to them besides Q-School and the occasional Monday qualifier. Which comes to to bear the question, is a fourth tier “PGA Tour” needed?

An easy way to look at this is to look at the baseball farming system. Obviously you have the major leagues, but the minor leagues in regards to the major leagues makes the transition to move up as a pro really obvious. From Rookie Ball, to Single-A, Double-A, and finally to Triple-A, the idea of moving up the farm system to get better as a professional to eventually make it to the major leagues is common sense. However, not everyone moves up, some people stay stagnant, and unfortunately some people move down, not everyone can get what they want.

If baseball can have a farm system, why can’t golf? If you want to get technical, we do have one with the various mini tours around the United States that are smaller than the PGA Tour affiliates, but in the grand scheme of things, they just build up your competition skills with no direct way of moving up, and it also doesn’t help the prize money is not high either, but that’s expected at the developmental level.

What if there was a “Single-A” PGA Tour? What if it could feed into PGA Tour China, PGA Tour Canada, and PGA Latin America? Who would play in it? A lot of what ifs and guesses, but here would be my guess on the scenario.

For the PGA Tour to do this, it would need interest in a fourth level to begin with. Who would that level be? I could see scratch golfers, high level amateurs, or even PGA and other club professionals that didn’t quite have the playing resume to play on the higher tours to play in them. They would develop their skills and see how far it would go.

What do you think? Is another tour needed? Is it necessary for the PGA Tour to have a “farm system”? I’m curious to see your thoughts, GolfWRXers.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Tiger Noods

    Mar 4, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    This makes no sense on its surface. “Single-A” is a development team, subsidised to some degree, and is not out to sell a lot of tickets generally.

    Any sort of fourth tier wouldn’t be profitable. It already sounds like the regional systems generally in place, and is a tester for getting into the third-tier tours outside the US. If you set aside the NCAA, you are essentially looking at some sort of pseudo-amateur thing, and I think that there’s no need to further organise beyond the regionals that already exist.

    The only interesting thing for me would be the “Team Golf” concept, where cities get “franchises”, and you have some interesting content that way.

  2. Morgan

    Mar 4, 2019 at 9:45 am

    The Great Lakes Tour has some in-roads to the PGA Tour Canada and to final qualifying (I think) for the RBC Canadian Open. There are ways to gain some exemptions from other mini-tours to the web.com tour as well.

    The fact that the PGA-TourC, and PGALTA, and PGA China are running at basically full steam now, has provided the A or AA level. There’s not need for a level below that affiliated with the PGA Tour. There’s no advertising money in that. Without Advertising money, there is no purse. Without a purse there are no pros. We see this with local state and provincial tournaments. There are some pros trying to hack it as playing pros and some pros there for the occasional tournament. The view of those pros is that their entry fee is just padding the pockets of the pros that play more often.

    Once you get below the PGA Tour Canada, you’re looking at club professionals.

    Sorry if this is pessimistic, but I’m a realist and below those three tours are guys that are NEVER going to make the PGA Tour.

  3. Joel Thelen

    Mar 4, 2019 at 8:21 am

    I just got home yesterday from PGA Tour China Q school where I finished 22nd and got some status, I also played PGA Tour Canada in 2015-2016, and I Monday’d into 3 Web.com Tour events in 2018 with a best finish of 14 under par, 34th place in Springfield, MO. So I have definitely thought about this idea! One barrier is that one country can’t have more than 3 tours with world ranking points (PGA, Champions, Web). But what you see if you look at tier 3 is how many Americans are traveling outside the country to try and get on the American owned PGA Tour and playing for very little money. Look at the Aruba Cup (Ryder cup between PGA Tour Canada & Latin America), it’s guys from Texas, California, Florida, Etc. leading both Tours.

    The challenge is that there are only so many spots in the fields. PGA Tour fields are mostly 144 players, and 125 guys each year make the playoffs. So there aren’t many PGA Tour players losing their status every year. The PGA Tour has arranged the system to reduce turnover, and bring in more international fields. Which I understand helps with marketing for sure. As long as the formula is how it is, what would guys in tier 4 play for? A couple spots on tier 3 tours?

    I’m a fan of capitalism, not socialism. But I would love to see the money being paid out more equivalent to the level of play. The PGA Tour purses these days are astounding how big they are, and not one person on the planet believes PGA Tour players are 10x better than Web.com, but they play for 10x the money. Just doing simple math, each tier plays about 40 tournaments per season (a little less on the Web.com). But if all 3 play one week there is ($7,000,000+$700,000+$220,000=$7,920,000 being paid out). I think the money should be closer to

    Tier 1: $5,000,000
    Tier 2: $2,000,000
    Tier 3: $790,000

    While giving PGA Tour players a 30% pay cut, you almost triple Web.com earnings, and over triple Tier 3 earnings. Clearly guys will still want to be on the PGA Tour! But at least the other guys can pay their caddies and start a family. This will only make more kids want to play pro golf and in my opinion, be better for growing the game.

  4. Pro

    Mar 3, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    What needs to change, Chris, is an entire paradigm shift in America’s educational and cultural attitudes towards teenagers.
    Why can’t teenagers just turn Pro in anything they’re good at doing, if that’s what they want? Why do you take the choice away from them? It teaches them personal responsibility to own their choice that they make, if they want to become a Pro as a teenager in high school. Why is there such a stigma with that in the US? Why do people have to go to college before their life gets started?
    If they want to be a Pro before college, let them!

  5. JP

    Mar 3, 2019 at 11:51 am

    If you aren’t going to make it, you aren’t going to make it. There is no need to give golfers of every skill level a tour. What’s next? Grandfathers mini tour for those 65+ year olds that think they should make it on tour, but now lack the physical ability to compete at the PGA tour level?
    .
    Is it at the point we need to award everybody participation trophies for trying?

  6. John

    Mar 3, 2019 at 10:25 am

    No this feels like heading the participation trophy route. Get through q school, Monday qualify, or leave your family and friends and earn it in Canada or the Latin American tour.

  7. The dude

    Mar 3, 2019 at 3:48 am

    This article is cringeworthy….

  8. A. Commoner

    Mar 2, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    How can one write an article like this while ignoring the incredible expansion of intercollegiate athletics over past several decades? These programs might be thought of as a filtering (farm) system whereby those deserving to advance do so. Like it or not, there is a ‘sorting out’ process in operation throughout life in all aspects of life. Many are called; few are chosen. Accept it and live with it.

  9. Phil D. Snuts

    Mar 2, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    Why does it need anything? The cream rises to the top regardless of how many minor leagues a particular sport has.

  10. Hawkeye77

    Mar 2, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Ask the question but provide absolutely no analysis of how it could even work, and of course it would not. PGA Tour already invested and subsidizing what it thinks is necessary, pretty smart outfit – who does this “4th Tier”? When do they play? Where? WHY?

    Do we need more pro golfers? You aren’t good enough to make it on Tour or make a living as it stands playing golf, why subsidize a lower level of golf? Who isn’t making it that “should”?

    Golf has a “farm system” it’s called mini-Tours and other Tours and there are plenty of opportunities if you are truly talented. If not, no reason to guarantee some standard of living to people that should probably be doing something else. You’ll just have more people chasing that “scrape by” dream at yet another level lower.

  11. ChipNRun

    Mar 2, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Chris,

    You have an interesting idea but don’t link it to a business model. Some considerations…

    * Where will you get the sponsorships for the tournaments? Can the PGA Tour find enough slack marketing desire among corporations to pay for the tournaments? Consider the MacKenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada). MacKenzie evidently has 12 events last year. The 2018 top player was Tyler McCumber – 11 events, $139,000 total with three wins. Only one other player crossed the $100,000 mark. So how much of a purse can you guarantee for your Single A tour? And, what does a Single A win count toward a PGA Tour slot?

    * What about regional PGA events? Can up-and-coming non-traditional tour pro hopefuls play in these and score some points toward entering the current mini-tours?

    * You lament the demise of the Q-School, but it’s still here. It just moved down a notch to the mini-gours. PGA Tour Canada has a Q-School tourney, and PGA Tour Latino American has a qualifying tournament.

    * You imply but do not state that lots of people could make the pro tour if the only got “another chance.” Happy Gilmore and Augie Baccus (The Squeeze) are entertaining movie characters, but in real life their chances of breaking through to the PGA Tour are very slim. If they can’t advance through the mini-tours to Web.com, I doubt that a Single A tour would increase their chances that much.

    * Your Single A Tour would be the equivalent of Fantasy Football… except the players to out to a real golf course rather than fuming over the computer screen.

    • Chris Mari

      Mar 2, 2019 at 9:11 pm

      Hi ChipNRun,

      So the original idea for the article is a hypothetical, would I want to see a Single-A PGA Tour in the United States. Yes. Would I want to run it myself with the ideas mentioned in the blog, not really. It’s more of a question to the Golfwrx community of could you see it working or not, and you are asking the right questions above, in which I do appreciate the deep thought in this, thanks for reading!

  12. Q

    Mar 2, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Terrible comparison to baseball.
    Teams don’t get relegated nor promoted in baseball like the players do in golf, like soccer teams do in Europe or around the world. That’s the problem with Major sports in the US, so this argument is backwards.
    The Major sports in US needs to change its system where the leagues have promotion and relegation.
    The golf system is fine. Except for the bit where they removed the Q-school. By elimination Q-school direct entry into the top flight, the PGA made it almost like the other major sports in America, into the Elitist system that it wanted it to be.
    At least golf has its promotion-relegation system. And it has to.

    • Chris Mari

      Mar 2, 2019 at 9:13 pm

      Q,

      I like this point you mentioned above, personally I think the system is fine as well, but I am curious to see would you want to actually see it work or would it just be a complete failure due to your said points? Thanks for reading!

  13. Peter

    Mar 2, 2019 at 9:39 am

    The difference between golf and baseball is that the scouts in the big leagues are evaluating different positions and wide array of specialized talent. It doesn’t work like that in golf. It’s all about your score. When it comes to prize money, Web.com players can barely scrape by a living, let alone people on the smaller tours. Bottom line is that if the PGA thinks they can make money from sponsors and media by putting this together, they’d do it.

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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour players on the rise and on the decline heading into 2020

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At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically quality indicators of a golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and these Cornerstones include:

  • Driving effectiveness
  • Red zone play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
  • Short game shots (from 10-20 yards)
  • Putting (5-15 feet)
  • Ball speed

All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.

This past season, there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.7 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be “on the rise.”

Players on the rise

*The following rankings are based out of 194 players

Joaquin Niemann

The young Chilean golfer reached every one of The 5 Cornerstones of the Game, but he made the least amount of FedEx points of any of the golfers that executed all of the Cornerstones.

This was due to Niemann’s early struggles with the putter. However, his putting improved significantly as the season went by.

The dotted black line in the chart represents Niemann’s trendline and that shows a strong upward trend in his putting performance.

Niemann ranked 107th in adjusted par-5 scoring average, and given his quality of ballstriking and distance off the tee, that should greatly improve. The projections are for him to win soon. If he can continue to improve his putting, particularly from 3-5 feet (he ranked 160th last season) he could be a multiple winner this upcoming season.

Sung Kang

Kang recorded his first victory at the Byron Nelson Championship but flew under the radar for most of the season. He also executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game.

Back in 2017, Kang almost executed The 5 Cornerstones, but I was lukewarm to putting him on the list of Players on the Rise as the one cornerstone he failed to reach was red zone play, and that’s too important of a metric to miss out on.

Kang struggled in the 2018 season, but his red zone play greatly improved. In the meantime, his driving greatly suffered. He continued to struggle with his driving early in the 2019 season but made great strides right around the Byron Nelson and ended the season ranked 80th in driving effectiveness. Meanwhile, his red zone play has continued to be strong, and he’s a sound short game performer from 10-20 yards and putter from 5-15 feet.

While I am a little more on the fence with Kang, given his putrid performance from the yellow zone and generally inconsistent play, his putting suffered from ranking 181st on putts from 25-plus feet. That is more likely to move towards the mean and greatly improve his putts gained next season. He’s also 32 years old, which is a prime age for Tour players hit their peak performance of their career.

Sepp Straka

Straka had a good rookie campaign striking the ball and was a competent putter. The only Cornerstone that Straka failed to execute was short game shots from 10-20 yards. However, we can see that as the season went by Straka’s short game improved

That’s also recognizing that short game around the green has a weaker correlation to success on Tour than most of the other Cornerstones like driving, red zone play and putting from 5-15 feet.

Straka should improve greatly on par-5’s (104th last season). He made a lot of birdies last year (25th in adjusted birdie rate), but made a ton of bogeys (155th). These numbers project well at tournaments that are birdie fests like Palm Springs or courses that are relatively easy on shots around the green such as Harbour Town.

Sam Ryder

Ryder only missed The 5 Cornerstones with a poor performance from 10-20 yards. He’s an excellent putter and iron-play performer, and that is usually the parts of the game that the eventual winners perform best from.

Wyndham Clark

 

One of the new metrics I’ve created is called “power-to-putting.” This is a combination of the player’s putts gained ranking and their adjusted driving distance ranking. Earlier this year I wrote an article here about where exactly distance helps with a golfer’s game. In essence, the longer off the tee a golfer is the more likely they will have shorter length birdie putts on average. That’s why long hitters like Bubba Watson can make a lot of money despite putting poorly and why shorter hitters like Brian Gay have to putt well in order to be successful.

The “honey pot” is for a golfer that hits it long and putts well. This means they will sink a ton of birdie putts because they are having easier putts to make and they have the requisite putting skill to make them.

Clark finished first in power-to-putting (Rory McIlroy finished second). On top of that, he was an excellent performer from 10-20 yards which is usually the last step in a long ball hitter becoming an elite performer. Clark’s iron play was very poor and that downgrades his chances of winning on Tour. But, with his length, putting, and short game, he can very well get four days of decent approach shot play and win handily.

Players on the decline

Charley Hoffman

Hoffman ranked 64th in FedEx points but was 139th in adjusted scoring average. Most of Hoffman’s metrics were not very good, but he was a superb performer from the yellow and red zone. The other concerning part of Hoffman is his age: He is at the point of his career that player performance tends to drop-off the most. He only made two of his last seven cuts this past season with the best finish of T51 at The Open Championship.

J.B. Holmes

Holmes finished 166th in adjusted scoring average and was greatly helped by having a favorable schedule as he ranked 21st in purse size per event. The best thing Holmes has going for him is his distance off the tee. He also had a good season around the green that helps long hitters like Holmes when they hit foul balls off the tee.

After that, Holmes did not do much of anything well. He was 179th in adjusted missed fairway–other percentage (aka hitting foul balls off the tee) and his putting was horrendous and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.

Patton Kizzire

Kizzire only made two of his last 11 cuts last season, and it’s easy to see why with his ballstriking struggles. It also doesn’t help that he was poor from 10-20 yards. He’s one of the elite putters on Tour, but elite putting only helps a player so much in the big leagues.

Phil Mickelson

The biggest positive for Mickelson is his newfound power that he exhibited last year. He will also play a favorable schedule as he ranked 16th in purse size per event and has lifetime exempt status on Tour.

For fantasy golf owners, I would be averse to picking Mickelson in the short term. The question with Lefty is if his newfound distance caused him issues with his iron play, short game and putting, or if that is just a temporary slump that once he works thru those issues with his newfound speed, he may be winning tournaments again. But at his age, history is not in his favor.

Francesco Molinari

Molinari turns 37-years-old in November. There’s still plenty of years for good golf, but Molnari’s lack of power and routine struggles with the putter means that he needs to have impeccable driving and iron play in order to be competitive in big tournaments and the majors. Last season he was an average driver of the ball and he was below average from the red zone.

The positive for Molinari is that he has typically been an impeccable ballstriker, so the issues in 2019 may have been a one-time slump. And while he putted poorly, he putted well from 5-15 feet. He ranked 184th on putts from 15-25 feet and 157th on putts from 25-plus feet, and those are more likely to progress towards the mean over time and help his overall putting.

But, Molinari has never been a great putter, and at his age, it will be very difficult to keep up with his impeccable ballstriking to get back to the winner’s circle.

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Bogey Golf: Can a club fitting get you to hit longer drives?

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