Q School v. Tour Finals: Which Worked Better?

When PGA Tour officials announced they were ditching the PGA Qualifying School in favor of a four-tournament tour qualifying process, the Web.com Tour Finals, many fans were skeptical.

There was something about six all-or-nothing rounds that seemed so golf.  Some unknown players would catch fire and gain their playing privileges out of nowhere.  The constantly moving bubble produced drama for both emerging rookies and veterans trying to make it back.

But the question is, was the Q-School an adequate indicator of future success on the PGA Tour?  To tour officials, the Web.com tour was both better preparation and a better predictor, so a four-tournament series would seem to work better.

What do the numbers say?  They agree with the Tour officials. Sort of.

I looked at the 26 who players qualified for the tour at the last Q-School in 2012 and the top 26 finishers in the 2013 Web.com four-tournament tour qualifier.  I compared where they finished on the money list rather than FedEx points, because the money list determines exemption for the next season.

Here is what the raw numbers say: Of the 26 2012 Q-School qualifiers, 8 made the Top 125 on the money list the next year.  Of the 26 top earners in last year’s four-tournament qualifier, 11 made the Top 125 on the money list.

Also, the 2012 Q-School qualifiers averaged a finish of 142.3 on the 2013 money list.  The Top 26 2013 Web.com series finalists averaged a finish of 124.5 on the 2014 money list.

(I did not incorporate the Web.com tour performance into the formula, as the PGA Tour does — not only because it is so complex, but because I was comparing performance in a limited qualifying event rather than performance over an entire Web.com tour season.)

As usual, there is more to the numbers than just that, so here are some added stats to consider:

—> The 2012 graduating class included Kris Blanks, who needed shoulder surgery soon after and missed almost the entire season.  He tied for second in the Q-School despite the injury.  So actually, only 25 of the qualifiers played the season.

If you remove the 26th-ranked player from the 2013 Tour qualifiers (Billy Hurley III), you would end up with 10 on the Top 125 money list.  But there is no valid reason to remove Hurley.

Switching to percentages would create a more valid comparison.  Using that, 32 percent (8 of 25) 2012 Q-Schoolers made the next year’s Top 125 money list, compared 42 percent (11 of 26) of the 2013 qualifiers.

—> The 2012 graduating class could easily have had a better percentage.  It is obviously a statistical anomaly, but also fun numbers: Of the 2012 graduates, three barely missed making the Top 125.  Chez Reavie finished 126th, Scott Langley finished 127th, and Fabian Gomez finished 128th.  With a putt here and a better bounce there, the numbers between the two groups could have been a lot closer.

—> One of the great stories of Q-School is how young talent has a chance to run the table at the school and then make a splash on tour.  That definitely happened with the Class of 2012, which provided Billy Horschel (who made an immediate impact with his performance and his octopus pants) and Patrick Reed and his three wins.

The best money list finish for the 2013 qualifiers was Brendon Todd, who won the Byron Nelson championship this year and is 15th on the money list.  Besides that Will MacKenzie and Seung-Yul Noh are in the Top 50 in earnings with solid years, but nothing close to what Horschel or Reed did.

—> The 2012 Q-School class included two players — Donald Constable and Si Woo Kim, who did not make a single cut in 2013.  (They did not appear among the 253 names on the money list, so I ranked each 254th in earnings.) Their performance adds anecdotal evidence to the PGA Tour officials’ claim about the Q-School’s reliability in predicting tour success.  The 2013 Web.com Tour Finals class had no such players.

The Kim story is particularly indicative.  He made it through the 2012 Q-School, including pre-qualifiers, though he was only 17.  Thus, he could not be a PGA Tour member, because he would not reach his 18th birthday until July.  As the results show, he ended up digging himself a pretty deep hole.

—> Finally, one of the concerns was whether the new wraparound season and new eligibility rules would give the graduates enough opportunities to break the Top 125 in earnings.

At least for this year, the numbers seem to hold up, though most of the non-exempt players have a point in the difficulty of establishing a rhythm within a sporadic playing schedule.

It’s just been one year for the new system, so it’s unwise to draw too many conclusions.  But at least at the outset, the system seems to be doing a better job of making sure the players it sends on Tour are not only qualified, but also prepared.

Here are the two lists below of players, their respective qualifying rankings, and where they finished on the money list the next year in parentheses:

2012 Q-School
1. Dong-hwan Lee (95)
T2. Ross Fisher (161)
T2. Steve LeBrun (158)
T2. Kris Blanks (DNP)
T5. Richard H. Lee (89)
T5. Billy Horschel (13)
T7. Erik Compton (122)
T7. Brad Fritsch (142)
T7. Jin Park (195)
T10. Fabian Gomez (128)
T10. Michael Letzig (220)
T10. Jeff Gove (215)
T10. Steven Bowditch (118)
T14. Matt Jones (48)
T14. Robert Karlsson (143)
T14. Eric Meierdierks (212)
T17. Scott Langley (127)
T17. Aaron Watkins (179)
T17. Derek Ernst (66)
T20. Si Woo Kim (254)
T20. Tag Ridings (147)
T22. Donald Constable (254)
T22. Bobby Gates (159)
T22. Patrick Reed (35)
T22. Henrik Norlander (151)
T22. Chez Reavie (126)

2013 Web.com Tour Finals
1. John Peterson (179)
2. Chesson Hadley (71)
3. Seung-Yul Noh (43)
4. Andrew Svoboda (81)
5. Trevor Immelman (153)
6. Will MacKenzie (42)
7. Scott Gardiner (183)
8. Edward Loar (233)
9. Ben Martin (61)
10. Patrick Cantlay (212)
11. Brendon Todd (15)
12. Ryu Ishikawa (77)
13. Brad Fritsch (140)
14. Michael Putnam (114)
15. Kevin Kisner (94)
16. Sean O’Hair (156)
17. Troy Matteson (159)
18. Bud Cauley (129)
19. Heath Slocum (141)
20. Russell Knox (67)
21. Hudson Swafford (146)
22. Will Claxton (219)
23. Brice Garnett (132)
24. Tyrone von Aswegen (151)
25. Chad Collins (157)
26. Billy Hurley III (83)