The Primary Cut

Fourth installment of The Primary Cut – weekly insights from the world of golf player management and other golf-related industry and player news.

Q-school, Round 2

Family, friends and player managers will all be watching anxiously as the second-stage of the PGA Tour’s Q-school gets underway at six different venues across the country, November 14-17. Played in three stages at the end of each season, the Tour’s infamously grueling qualifying tournament eventually determines the 25 players (and ties) who receive their Tour cards for the following year. Anyone else who advances to the final stage receives some kind of status on the Nationwide Tour, which many golf pundits and players alike claim is indeed the world’s second-best tour (sorry, European Tour).

The Tour has different rules for who may qualify for different stages of Q-school [see Q-school: What You Need To Know, compiled by Tour staff]. Already completed are the 12 first-stage events, held across the country from Oct. 23-Nov. 3, to determine who would move on to stage-two. And depending on a given player’s status on the PGA Tour, or other worldwide tours, certain players are automatically exempted into the final stage. Others get a free pass into the second. Some, though, must survive all three stages. Q-school draws the world’s best, from the amateur and collegiate ranks, to former PGA players, to the current Nationwide, European, Japanese, Asian, Canadian, South African and Australasian Tours. Finally, it’s important for player managers to keep in mind what their player’s current status is, as well as pertinent deadline dates for applying to the first stage, if needed (October 3, 2007 this year).

Of course, those who finished in the Top 25 on the Nationwide Tour’s money list already received their 2008 Tour cards. And players Nos. 26-40 on the final money list are exempt into final stage of Q-school. Golfweek had a nice Q&A recap relating to this year’s Nationwide graduates. Seems like ’08 could see some more Aussies breaking through:

Q: What impact could this year’s grads make in ’08 on the PGA Tour?

A: That question is best answered by an MD. Australian wunderkind Jason Day’s ailing right wrist was a hot topic at Barona Creek. Insiders have dubbed Day a singular talent, but with the possibility of surgery – and a three- to six-month recovery – looming the 19 year old’s future likely rests in doctor’s hands.

Nick Flanagan, another young Australian with plenty of potential, was also slowed in ’07 by a hernia injury and Jimmy Walker, a former player of the year whose rookie year was derailed by a neck ailment, could excel in ’08 if he’s healthy.

Q: Who will be the first to win on the PGA Tour?

A. Day, if he’s healthy, should be a perennial pick. After that, Nicholas Thompson has the explosiveness to surprise and Roland Thatcher, despite his fade from the top spot on the money list at the finale, has a consistent game that plays on tougher courses.

Q. Who is the 2008 Rookie of the Year front-runner?

A. Day (see above). Next best option may be Matthew Jones, another Aussie with good mechanics and a steady demeanor.

Medical Exemption for Jason Day?

The PGA Tour recently approved a new regulation that offers medical extensions to players who deal with a family crisis, a decision that will help David Duval and Dudley Hart next year. Duval already used a one-time exemption as top 25 on the career money list to keep his card in 2007, but it looked as though it might go to waste when his wife was put on bed rest in February because of complications with her pregnancy. Duval felt his responsibility was at home to care for his wife and four children, and he did not play for more than seven months. And Hart withdrew from the Wachovia Championship in May when his wife became seriously ill, and he stayed home with their 5-year-old triplets as his wife recovered. She is doing better, but Hart has not played since late April.

Tour players have always been eligible for either major (26 tournaments) or limited (Tour’s discretion) medical exemptions, which allow them to keep their card for an additional year if their injury passes muster with the Commissioner. 20 players, for example, were granted various levels of medical extensions for 2007.

It will be interesting to see whether Day, above, opts to have surgery on his right wrist, and whether or not a major or limited exemption factors into his decision. His agent, Bud Martin of SFX (John Daly’s agent), may already be in contact with the Tour about such a possibility. Day is still quite young, and it is likely that Martin, as well as TaylorMade-adidas Golf, who invested in Day’s potential by signing him to a multi-year equipment contract, will advise him not to risk the possibility of a career-ending injury, especially if he can get a medical exemption from the Tour.

Fred Couples, farewell?

Fred Couples has long been one of the Tour’s most popular players. While chronic back troubles stretching now for long over a decade have somewhat derailed the natural talent, Couples has somehow been able to remain competitive, even challenging at the Masters as recently as just a few years ago. But Couples, the undisputed king of the “silly season,” (the two or so month layoff between the Tour’s seasons, during which time unofficial, albeit lucrative, invitational events are held) may now have to finally call it quits for good. Couples is slated to play at this year’s LG Skins Game, which will be played over Thanksgiving weekend at the new Celebrity Course at Indian Wells, along with defending champion Stephen Ames, Masters champion Zach Johnson, and Brett Wetterich (Couples, by the way, has earned more money in his career at the Skins Game ($3.9 million) than the four majors combined ($3.5 million)). However, according to Couples, the Skins “might be my last hurrah.”

2007 has been especially frustrating for Couples, whose last competitive round came this year at Augusta, and whose attempts to play since then were cut short almost immediately by back pain. “Playing golf is great, and I’ve done it for 26 years. But the last three years have been horrible,” he lamented.

From an endorsement standpoint, Couples is one of the first golfers who publicly became linked to a certain brand of apparel. Now, certain elite golfers are synonymous with their brands: Tiger Woods to Nike, Adam Scott to Burberry, Luke Donald to Polo. Couples was the early poster boy for John Ashworth, whose line of clothing “rose quickly to prominence as a golf sportswear brand in the early and mid-1990s,” and was “the result of a number of factors: timing, a strong point of view, design (broad, bold stripes and a distinctively loose, comfortable fit), and solid execution on the commercial side. More importantly, Ashworth (the brand) quickly acquired equity in golf as a core name that resonated with customers. Much of that had to do with Ashworth’s belief that a shirt – and a brand – could somehow enmesh itself in the soul and spirit of a complex and unique game.” Ashworth since left his own brand (which still survives and is currently making a comeback in the golf apparel market), but there’s no doubt that his product’s relationship with Couples changed the landscape of golf player marketing forever.

— Jason G. Wulterkens

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