Sandy • Change comes slowly to professional golf.
Even Bill Calfee misspeaks now and again when discussing the Web.com Tour, known until a few weeks ago as the Nationwide Tour.
The tour makes its midseason stop at Willow Creek Country Club with the Utah Championship, a four-day event beginning Thursday and featuring $500,000 in prize money, including $99,000 for the winner.
"I slip a little bit," said the tour president about mixing old and new tour names. "But it is becoming more natural."
The change in tour names, however, is the least of the seismic waves rolling through the Web.com and PGA tours. In fact, a new formatting has given the PGA's second tour added clout.
No longer can golfers jump right from Qualifying School to the PGA Tour. Now, Q-School grads will head straight toward the Web.com Tour.
"It continues to elevate the status of the [Web.com] tour," Calfee said. "It now becomes the pathway to the PGA Tour. It clearly defines it as the way to get to the PGA Tour. And seasonlong performance still matters. It's still important."
Until this year, the top 25 money-winners on the Web.com Tour were guaranteed automatic exemptions to the PGA Tour. And that will not change.
However, now,the top 75 Web.com earners will compete in three season-ending tournaments along with PGA Tour golfers ranked between 126 and 200 on their money list. Fifty players will earn cards from those events, though the top 25 Web.com players will be guaranteed cards. (PGA Tour members who finish among the top 125 earners keep their cards.)
Seeding means everything. The higher the finish among the top 50 to emerge from the series, the more tournaments they can play. The No. 1 golfer from Web.com will keep his No. 1 seed.
"The thing I don't like, it takes away from the young guns," said Hudson Swafford, a University of Georgia graduate who is already a winner as a rookie on the Web.com Tour. "It kind of takes away some of young glamour away from it. It kind of secures some old guys, or guys who are already in the system. At the same time, that's why the PGA Tour is playing for $1 million every week. There are pros and cons each way.
"I just play golf and let it dictate itself."
Swafford said no longer will players such as Rickie Fowler or Dustin Johnson jump straight from college to Q-school and right to the PGA Tour. And now Web.com Tour tournaments, such as the Utah Championship, have increased in importance.
"The changes are for the better," said Peter Lonard, a veteran of the Australian, European and PGA tours. "I went through tour school in 2001, and even I was shocked I didn't have to do a year on the Nationwide. How the hell they're going to do it to everyone's advantage for those who haven't been good on the main tour and those who played, at least 25 of them who played fantastic golf all year how are you going to slot them? I don't how they will do that. I'm sure some mathematician will come up with something."
Through all the changes, the Web.com Tour formerly the Nationwide, Buy.com, Nike and Ben Hogan tours continues to grow.
Calfee believes Web.com, a company that provides Internet service and online marketing solutions to small and medium businesses, is a good fit.
Each golfer, he says, is a small business.
"They're doing more than lending their name and paying money," Calfee said. "It is a growing company, and the timing was right."
Financial terms for the 10-year deal were not disclosed.
The Web.com Tour, or whatever name is used, takes pride in being a feeder system to the PGA Tour. That is the tour's mission. But there's more. Calfee said three of four players on the PGA Tour have played the Web.com Tour. And 50 percent of those on the Web.com have played on the big tour.
"The life cycle of a professional golfer not counting the top 30 on the PGA Tour is really more of a back and forth between the two," Calfee said. "It's so competitive, it is hard to keep your card on both tours."
The Web.com Tour began in 1990 as the Ben Hogan Tour. It has also been known as the Nike Tour (1993-1999), Buy.com (2000-2002) and Nationwide Tour (2003-2012).
As in the past, the Top 25 money-winners from Web.com earn automatic status to PGA Tour. But now the top 50 earners from Web.com and the 126th through 200 level money-winners from the PGA Tour will now play a three-event tournament with 50 PGA Tour cards at stake.
Qualifying school, formerly another path to the PGA Tour, will now only provide Web.com status.
Web.com Utah Championship
P At Willow Creek Country Club (Sandy) Thursday-Sunday
Prize money • $500,000 ($99,000 to the winner)