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Trends Without Benefits

Trends Without Benefits

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Rob Bolton examines the reshuffle -- in which Matt Bettencourt (pictured) is included -- and offers a …

If you were paying any attention to the fall portion of the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season, then you probably heard or read static about the fact that not all of the 50 graduates of the Tour Finals (i.e. reshuffle category) were able to play.

This was of relevant interest as the circuit evolves into its new qualifying process of blending the top 25 in earnings from the regular season on the Tour with 25 from the four-event series consisting primarily of the top 75 in Tour earnings and those that ranked 126-200 in FedExCup points on the PGA TOUR.

The innovative conduit emphasizes success in the long-term on the developmental circuit while offering a second chance of sorts to the fellas that couldn't make the grade in the big leagues. Think of it as the new final stage of Q School sans flashes in the pan.

Qualifiers from the Tour can still improve position in the pecking order. That protects the opportunity available from the old version of the final stage and helps offset the reduction of starts during the regular season on that tour. In theory, as a result of the formula, there will be fewer rookies on the PGA TOUR every year. Indeed, there are only 14 beginning the new season. (There were 26 in each of the previous two seasons.)

So, the update broadens the bottom tier of talent on the PGA TOUR while irritating purists that lather in the rags-to-riches stories the old system made more possible. It's a pick-your-poison tilt toward experience. The TOUR, however, remains a meritocracy. Play better and there are rewards, just as there always have been. But to play better, one must have the opportunity to play. To paraphrase the famous quote, you miss 100 percent of the shots you aren't allowed to take.

Of the 50 Tour Finals grads, seven didn't see any action on the circuit this fall. At least four had every intention to compete at least once. (Patrick Cantlay remains out with a back injury; Will Wilcox started a sabbatical for personal reasons before the Tour Finals; and Benjamin Alvarado has already applied for a medical extension due to an injured left knee.) Daniel Chopra played the Asian Tour when it became clear that he wasn't going to crack a field in the U.S., and Mark Anderson, Kevin Foley and Matt Bettencourt rose no higher than alternates 5, 6 and 7 and 1, 2, 3 in the Open and OHL Classic at Mayakoba, respectively. (Ryo Ishikawa was the only grad to play in either the CIMB Classic or World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, placing T66 in the latter.)

The omission of (a minimum) four in the reshuffle would be difficult to find during any six-event segment of a schedule, much less right out of the gate. Furthermore, consider that each of the four North American tourneys awarded two sponsor exemptions to golfers in the reshuffle (Kevin Tway received three; five others got one apiece), three gained entry via open qualifiers and Billy Hurley III parlayed a top 10 at the into an exemption at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (where he would have otherwise started the week as third alternate before qualifying on merit after withdrawals).

There are numerous reasons to explain why a handful were shut out -- 132-man fields at CordeValle, TPC Summerlin, Seaside and Mayakoba; beefier purses (an aggregate bump of $5.3 million at those four sites); incentive by those exempt from the reshuffle to get a leg up before the holidays -- so I have a solution that deserves some consideration.

Multiple courses.

If you've ever wondered why the Humana Challenge, Farmers Insurance Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am are played over multiple courses, the primary reason benefits those in the reshuffle category. All three events feature 156-man fields and all are on the West Coast Swing, which used to serve as the first phase of the reshuffle (the verb, described below). This all but guaranteed playing time when it mattered most, and this is what was absent this fall.

The shortage of daylight hours early and late on the calendar limit one-track tournaments to 132 or 144 golfers. When fields don't go 156 deep, the opens -- events with four-spotters, usually on Mondays -- draw the line for entry in the reshuffle category. This was the blow sustained by those in the bottom layer.

But the hurting wasn't over. Once Mayakoba was in the books, an unfortunate irony occurred. The first of six reshuffles for the season occurred in the reshuffle category; that is, the Tour Finals grads were sorted based on FedExCup points earned. Those that have the most are at the top.

That's right. Even the guys that couldn't eke into a field were included in a reassignment of the pecking order used to fill fields. It's like the college grad that's told that s/he needs more experience to be hired but can't get the experience without a job.

All of this begs the perhaps-not-so-ridiculous notion that it's never too soon to start thinking about qualifying for the 2014 Tour Finals from which one can hope to secure at least one start on the PGA TOUR next fall and avoid this vicious cycle.

If tournament organizers can set up their events on multiple courses, it will extinguish that fear and the criticism that accompanies it.

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