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Bigwigs and beancounters consign fairy tales to realms of fantasy

The American Dream, like a seductive Siren warbling on a rocky outcrop, has always teased and tempted.

Blinded by the alluring prospect of opportunity and untold riches, this correspondent once packed up his meagre belongings in a tartan bindle and set out on the trek westwards only for the momentum to be halted at Saltcoats when I realised I'd left the iron on in the scullery. The dream was over and I turned back. For golf's fantasisers, the American Dream has also been shattered.

This month marks the beginning of a new era in the professional scene in the US when the Web.com Tour, the second-tier developmental circuit, swings into action in Panama. Nothing new in that, of course, but the way the progression to the main PGA Tour at the end of the 2013 campaign will be worked out has altered radically.

The long-standing Qualifying School, a tortuous, anguish-laden affair that is the game's equivalent of the rack yet, conversely, retains an odd, romantic charm, will be no more. Instead, it will be replaced by a four-tournament season finale containing the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour's money list and those who fail to retain their full playing rights on the PGA Tour by finishing 126th to 200th in the order of merit. The leading 50 players at the end of the mini-series of events will earn tour cards for 2014, while a qualifying school of sorts will still be held but only places for the Web.com Tour will be on offer.

Since its inception in 1965, the Q School has offered its graduates a place among the elite. It has always been one of the great democratic processes in sport, a kind of Stars in Their Eyes scramble where a nobody gets the opportunity to become a somebody. If Cinderella was half-decent with the putter, she could have rewritten her old rags-to-riches story with a chapter on the Qualifying School. Whether it was a young, up-and-coming amateur with delusions of grandeur or some veteran club professional striving for one last shot at glory, a hardy gathering would gladly dish out the entry fee of around $2500 and try to achieve the ultimate dream through the arduous route of a four-round first stage, a four-round second stage and a six-round final. Admittedly, a huge portion of the entry list would probably have more chance of becoming US president than actually earning a tour card but take away hopes and dreams, no matter how fanciful, and you take away a good chunk of what drives on players in the first place.

Critics have waded into the debate and have accused the PGA Tour of stamping out sporting democracy with commercial tyranny by flogging this new final series to sponsors. The bigwigs, on the other hand, claim that players who come through the developmental circuit will have more of a chance of maintaining a sustained career at the top table rather than a one-week wonder from the Q School.

Like the European Challenge Tour on this side of the pond, you can understand that particular argument. Players serve a solid apprenticeship, they learn to cope with successes and slumps while travelling around week to week. It's life on tour, minus the glitz and the glamour. Then again, you can never tell who will strike it rich in this most fickle of pursuits and the various facts and figures make for interesting reading. Of the 106 players who reached the PGA Tour via Q School between 2007 and 2010, 34 held on to their status the following year. Of the 100 graduates from the Nationwide Tour, as it was known, in that same period, 31 safeguarded their tour status. Last season, 14 of the 25 Qualifying School graduates retained their place on the PGA Tour compared to nine of the 25 who had earned promotion from the second tier.

John Huh, who had never played on an American professional mini-circuit, squeezed through the qualifying shoot-out at the end of 2011 and then went on to win the Mayakoba Classic, in only his fifth start on the PGA Tour, during a remarkable 2012 in which he finished 28th on the money list, earned a spot in this April's Masters and was named Rookie of the Year.

He may have started the Q School process as a "who's that?" but everybody knows John Huh now. Like Luke Donald, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in recent years, he has made a name for himself and has joined an impressive list of players who have all flourished after passing the stern examination. The Q School opened the doors but, in essentially binning the process, officials have ensured that the PGA Tour will become even more of a closed shop.

And another thing . . .

Perhaps Tim Finchem, the big cheese at the PGA Tour, could pop down to England's south coast later this season to see what a good pace of play really is. A Scottish colleague is a member of the 72 Club, a gathering of golfing madcaps who play four rounds in one day over the Littlestone links.

The R&A, the European Tour and the LPGA Tour have all taken action on slow play but the PGA Tour continues to drag its heels. For the closing 11 holes of the recent Farmers Insurance Open to take three hours 45 minutes beggared belief.

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