The History of Q-School:  Earning and Keeping a PGA Tour card

    Earning a PGA Tour card is a big deal for any professional golfer. Keeping that PGA Tour card year-in, year-out is a struggle for a lot of touring pros.

    While Jordan, Rickie, Phil and even Tiger can count on teeing it up any time they want to, a number of good players rely on medical exemptions, tournament sponsor exemptions or committed players withdrawing if they happen to have the misfortune of falling out of the top 125 players at end of each season.

    Back in 1965, the PGA started a tradition that lasted nearly five decades called the Qualifying School Tournament or “Q-School.” Q-School provided tour cards to players that had fallen out of the top 125, graduating college players, talented foreign players and, very importantly, dreamers. Anyone with a scratch handicap and money for the entry fee could attempt to play their way onto golf’s biggest stage.

    The Q-School tournament was six 18-hole rounds, a 108-hole marathon that tested players physically and mentally as they moved in and out of the top 30 spots on the leaderboard. The Q-School tournament was unique. It would bring rising young players, All-American college players trying to begin their careers head to head with aging professionals and journeymen trying to hang onto their cards for one more season.

    The six round format was designed to prevent a player from making the tour simply because they caught fire for a couple days. Additionally, the six-round tournament was the final stage of Q-School, non-PGA players had to first successfully navigate regional qualifiers just to get to the Q-School Finals.

    Naturally, this format produced incredible drama and books have been written about the drama of Q-school. One of the best is “Tales from Q-School: Inside Golf’s Fifth Major” by noted golf writer John Feinstein. This book, which came out in 2008, documents the 2005 Q-School tournament.

    That’s why there were plenty of teeth gnashing over the PGA’s decision in 2012 to abandon the Q-School format in 2013 and replace it with what they call the Tour Finals.

    Why would the PGA abandon a system that served them so well for almost 50 years? Like most sports, it came down to money. The PGA was having a hard time recruiting and retaining a major sponsor for what amounted to its minor league tour (now sponsored by and previously by Nationwide,, Nike and Ben Hogan).

    The PGA viewed the change as a chance to increase the relevance of their developing tour. So, beginning in 2013, the Q-School format was abandoned and every fall the top 75 players in earnings would compete in a playoff series against PGA players ranked 126-200 in FedEx Cup points. The top 25 money leaders from would automatically earn PGA Tour cards whereas the top 25 players from the fall playoff would also earn cards.

    The new system came under fire from lots of different corners. In the old days, college hot shots like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler could enter Q-School after college graduation and play their way onto the PGA Tour without having to serve an apprenticeship on the Tour.

    The 2013 policy change now effectively means a top college player will be forced to play an entire year on the developing tour before graduating to the big leagues.

    Additionally, some top foreign players who use to take a stab at the PGA Tour will now likely chase the smaller (but larger than the Tour) purses of the European and Asian tours.

    The Q-School Tournament is now a part of golf history, just like the PGA Championship’s old matchplay format and the 36-hole final round of the U.S. Open.