CHARLESTON, S.C. – Kevin Kisner won’t ever forget the disappointment of watching six competitive rounds last fall come down to one stroke.
Kisner missed his PGA Tour card by a shot at Q-school last year, a 15-footer for par that slid by on the 108th and final hole that left him outside the game’s top tour.
“It was 108 holes and I missed by a man,” Kisner said Wednesday, the day before the start of the Nationwide Tour Championship.
Kisner won’t have such regrets this year. He comes in No. 11 and is secure among the Nationwide’s top 25 money winners – all who earn PGA Tour playing privileges in 2011.
“I’m sure it takes away some pressure, more than if I was number 25,” Kisner said. “But I’m trying to treat it like another golf tournament.”
There’s incentives out there for everyone in the field. While 25 golfers leave with PGA Tour status for next season, only the Nationwide’s top money winner is fully exempt and earns a place in The Players Championship next May.
Former Southern California standout Jamie Lovemark, at age 22 the youngest player on tour, leads the way with $421,784, which is a $10,578 edge on Chris Kirk in second place. Lovemark is grateful he won’t be sweating out where he’ll play next season.
“For, I think, probably the top 15 guys on the money list, you know what you’re doing” in 2011, Lovemark said. “For guys from 20 to 30, it’s a lot of pressure to play well, a lot of pressure to get your card.”
Competitors who finish 26-40 on the money list move directly to final stage qualifying. All golfers here have Nationwide Tour status for 2011.
The Nationwide Tour’s top 60 money winners are either shooting to move up to a PGA Tour promotion or are protecting their hard-earned spot on the big tour.
“Nobody wants to play on the Nationwide Tour. It’s a stepping stone to something else,” said Steve Pate, the 49-year-old six-time PGA Tour winner who’s No. 43 this season.
No matter where Pate finishes, he’s pointed toward his birthday next May when he can tee it up with his friends on the 50-and-over Champions Tour.
Not everyone’s got those options.
Jim Herman, who’ll turn 33 on Nov. 5, had his best Nationwide Tour season this year at No. 20 on the money list and his first victory at the Moonah Classic in Australia last February.
Still, he’s got less than a $21,000 lead on Brandt Jobe in 26th and knows a horrible week might shuffle him right off the PGA Tour.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it,” Herman said. “You try not to dwell on it, but you’re aware of it.”
Justin Hicks, at No. 21, has an even more tenuous hold on the top 25. Hicks has made seven of his past eight cuts, though, and feels confident he’ll play well enough to maintain, if not improve, his ranking.
“I’m not in a position to have a week of fun or sightseeing,” Hicks said. “I’ve got to take care of business out there.”
Kisner, a 26-year-old in his first full Nationwide season, felt the pressure much of the season until a win last month at the Mylan Classic in Canonsburg, Pa., assured him an easier stretch run.
He knows playing well at the Daniel Island Club’s Ralston Creek Course could mean moving up into the top 10 and increasing his PGA Tour opportunities.
Those outside the top 25 plan to let it loose one last time to reach their goal like Matt Every here last fall. Every came in 49th but won the tour championship to jump up to 10th and secure his PGA card.
The winner’s check of $180,000 is big enough to bring any of the chasers a spot on the PGA Tour.
Jeff Curl, coming off two shoulder surgeries, played only 13 events this year. However, he finished fifth, fifth, 23rd and second in his past four tournaments to move from 147th on the money list in September to 54th now.
“I’ve kind of been riding a good wave,” Curl said. “I’m really not that stressed over it, as long a I go out and do what I do.”
Herman turned pro in 2000 and has ended most seasons since then at qualifying school. His goal is to finish high enough that he won’t have to again wind up in the grueling, six-round pressure cooker playing for a chance at PGA Tour success.
If Herman slips a bit, he’ll likely still compete at Q-school where his best finish was a tie for 62nd in the final stage of the 2008 event.
“Obviously getting the card is important,” Herman said. “But I want to finish as high as I can.”