KAPALUA - The winds of change are blowing through the Kapalua Plantation Course this week.
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions enters the final year of a three-year contract, although a renewal appears likely later in 2013.
The winners-only tournament will be the opener on the PGA Tour for the final time, with a shift to the beginning of the season into October with the former "Fall Finish" events now being the start of things.
Zach Johnson, shown on the Kapalua practice range Monday, likes the changes made to PGA?Q-School. It will now be a path to the lower-tier Web.com Tour rather than directly to the PGA?Tour.
The?Maui News /?ROBERT?COLLIAS?photo
Along with those changes come a shift in PGA Tour Qualifying School, which used to issue 25 spots per year directly to the big tour.
Now, along with the change in the schedule, Q-School becomes a path to the lower-tier Web.com Tour, where 25 players will advance to the PGA Tour from the money list and another 25 from the Web.com Finals.
The changes to Q-School drew mixed reactions from professionals practicing at Kapalua on Monday.
"I'm a little disappointed to be honest with you," J.J. Henry said on the first tee. "I always thought
Q-School, everybody knew what it was, it is what it is. I was not a big advocate for any kind of change."
Henry finished 60th in Q-School out of Texas Christian University in 1998. His finish in Q-School gave him playing privileges on the then-Nationwide Tour.
"Luckily, I have been out here 13 straight years and haven't had to go back," he said.
Henry said he is sad to see the changes.
"I liked how the schedule was," he said. "I guess we respect the people that make the decisions and we just go out and play golf and go from there. In my opinion, it is a little bit of a shame.
"I always thought that Q-School was arguably our Fall Classic,"?he added. "You knew what you had to do, whether you were a kid right out of college or a 45-year-old veteran, you always had the chance to get back and now they have kind of taken that away from us in a lot of ways."
Zach Johnson said any consequences from the shift in schedule and the format of Q-School remain to be seen.
"There is Q-School, we can't neglect that," Johnson said. "It is just altered and I think it is for the better. I mean, in the long run, yeah, we have changed the culture of the tour, but in the long run it is going to be better for all parties involved, meaning players, sponsors, tours - meaning Web.com and PGA Tour. I think it is going to be more seamless."
Johnson, a former Masters champion, said earning a PGA Tour card through competition on the lower-tier tour is the right thing to do.
"As the years go on, how cards are given and how you retain cards, it is just going to be a lot easier," Johnson said. "I mean, Q-School is going to be for the Web, which is fine. It is a phenomenal tour, it is a world tour, not just an American tour, and it is a proving ground. So, they deserve a little bit more merit and I think this is one way to do it."
Now in its 15th year, Kapalua has not lost any luster in Johnson's mind, despite all of the changes.
"As far as the players' point of view, I mean we still view this as phenomenal," he said. "I mean any time you can come, certainly here, but with a title sponsor like we have, certainly a facility like this, and starting a new year here, you are going to take full advantage of that. . . . I don't know why it would ever go away."
Mark Wilson was practicing next to Johnson on Monday.
"I made it to the tour through Q-School only," Wilson said. "I personally didn't really want to see (Q-School) go, but I think it is the best answer for making things (easier). The season finishing at the Tour Championship makes the most sense and then to give those fall events a little more credit and a little more stature is what we had to do."
Charlie Beljan, who went to the final event of the season on the outside of the top-125 exempt spots on the money list until winning in dramatic fashion, said he has mixed emotions on the changes to Q-School. He made the tour through Q-School in 2011.
"I am against the Q-School changes," he said. "There were a handful of rookies this year who kept their cards, there were a handful of rookies who won and now that will no longer be the case because you have to go through the Web.com Tour. So, I think it is a good thing in a way, but I also think that you are taking away from a handful of guys that can make the leap from Q-School to the PGA Tour."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org