The LPGA Tour's new Q-Series format no longer forces elite college players to choose between playing for their teams and earning a shot at the LPGA Tour.
The LPGA Tour announced a new format for its qualifying tournament on Wednesday, most notably switching the final stage from one 90-hole tournament to the "Q-Series," two 72-hole tournaments that will be played at Pinehurst in back-to-back weeks. The first tournament will be played from Oct. 24-27 at Pinehurst No. 6, while the second tourney will be from Oct. 31- Nov. 3 at No. 7.
It might be helpful to think of the two tournaments as one, eight-round megatournament that's played on two courses over two weeks. The scores are cumulative, so if you shoot six under over the first four rounds, you'll tee off the second tournament starting at six under. And it's your total score after all eight rounds that counts toward your finish; there is no prize for finishing in first after just the first four rounds.
The Q-Series will feature a maximum of 108 players, and the top 45 and ties will earn at least some status on the LPGA Tour for the following season. Pretty good odds, all things considered. Among those 108 players will be the top 5 players in the Golfweek/Sagarin college rankings, each of whom receive an exemption into the final stage, along with numbers 11-30 on the Symetra money list and 101 to 150 on the LPGA Tour money list.
Giving the best college players an exemption into the final stage is an awesome move by the LPGA Tour, and it would be great to see the PGA Tour adopt a similar measure to streamline the process of moving from elite amateur player to PGA Tour member. If you're a top-5 college player, you should be rewarded for your play by receiving an express lane to the big tour.
(For a complete overview of the format (who qualifies for Stage I, Stage II and the final Q-Series), the LPGA has you covered in this FAQ section.)
But until these most recent changes, the policy actually put the elite women college golfers in a really tough spot—They had to choose between pursuing a national championship with their college team and playing in that final qualifying tournament, because up until now you had to be a professional in order to compete in the final round of Q-School. That left open the lose-lose possibility of forfeiting your college eligibility to play in the last stage, then playing poorly and failing to get your LPGA Tour card. If you chose to skip the final stage of Q-School to play for your college team, you'd be forced to play the second-tier Symetra Tour the summer after the college season then likely play in the final stage again in the fall.
The new policy allows players to turn professional whenever they please, with no affect on their Q-School eligibility. That means an amateur can play in the final stage, defer turning professional until after the college season wraps up and join the LPGA Tour on July 1. Bravo.
If all this broad and hypothetical talk is making you confused, consider the very real-life case of Leona Maguire, a senior at Duke who is the top-ranked amateur in the world. Maguire qualified for the final stage in both 2016 and 2017 but opted to pull out both times because she wanted to pursue her degree and a national championship with her Duke teammates. In the future, players like Maguire wouldn't have to choose—they can play in the final stage, earn their card, play a season of college golf and then take their earned place on tour.
That's how it should be, and this is a change that is long overdue. Better late than never, however, and the LPGA Tour deserves kudos for finally making the move.