The Unpromised Land

By Jon LevyNovember 29, 2010, 5:10 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s touted as the most dramatic, gut-wrenching, time-to-throw-it-all-on-the-line tournament in professional golf: PGA Tour Q-School. Every fall, hundreds of hopefuls tee it up in three stages (four for those going through a pre-qualifying stage) of a show-up-or-shut-up test that culminates in a six-round marathon finale, yielding just 25 PGA Tour cards.

In a marketing sense, it’s the ultimate sellable story – play for your job or wait a year to try it again.

But the reality? It's more pressure-filled than TV and most media dictate, and here’s why: Past the top 25 finishers and ties who earn PGA Tour privileges for the following year, the next number of finishers closest to 50 earn full Nationwide Tour status.

After that, it’s conditional status only, and that’s where the real fun – or frustration – starts.

First off, take those players who already enter finals week with some PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour status out of the equation. They're there for improvement purposes only and it's not uncommon to see a lot of them withdraw halfway through the week if they don't think they can do that.

Coverage of the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School begins with the fourth round, Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on Golf Channel.
Pressure? Sure, this type of player feels it in the fact that there's always a lot riding on any tournament – especially this one – but having at least some safety net to fall back on is better than the alternative of heading back to the pay-for-play events on the mini-tours.

Pressure is when you walk away from finals with a “number” – partial status otherwise known as conditional on the Nationwide circuit, with a designated number based from Q-School finish below those who earn full cards. In this case, chances are your chances to keep your Nationwide card the following year go plummeting down.

Why? Because of the Tour’s intricate and complex prioritization of filtering in an overabundance of players – past champions, those fitting into different money list categories, PGA Tour players relegated to a Nationwide event after failing to get into a coinciding Tour event, etc. –  into limited starting fields, with the conditional players at the bottom of the heap.

It makes for golf’s version of the clown car – too many guys, not enough room.

The formula is complicated – so much so that trying to explain it without a few scheduled bathroom breaks wouldn’t bode well – but it can be boiled down to the simple math that any player having a “number” won’t get nearly the starts as a full member. Add in the rule that conditional players are not eligible for Wednesday pro-ams, operate under a different benefits program and ultimately cannot set a definitive schedule, the difference between the last full Nationwide card earner and the first conditional card earner is much more significant than the simple one-shot difference after six rounds of golf.

John Douma shot 1 under at finals last December to tie for 78th, one shot shy of earning his full Nationwide Tour card. And by way of scorecard playoff – through a birdie on the final hole – he scored the lucky first conditional card. That got him 17 starts, $12,718 and a 166th money list rank.

Granted, Douma fought a neck injury 14 events into the season on top of poor play, but you get the point.

But after playing in five of the first six events on the ’10 schedule and missing every cut, come the first “reshuffle,” his number slipped downward and he finished the season teeing it up in just 12 of the final 21 events.

Reshuffle? Every six events, based on the money list, the Tour reshuffles the status – or numbers – of each player, which determines the priority of earning starts until the next reshuffle, when the process starts all over again.

In the conditional case of Douma, since his number had changed, so did his schedule. Not only was he on track for fewer starts at that point, but he put more pressure on himself because of the limited opportunities to get into events and move up the money list.

“It was by far the worst mental year of my life,” says Douma, a multiple winner and longtime player on the Gateway Pro Tour in Arizona. “Every week I was basically using my tee-up money (money earned through club manufacturer agreements) and off-site pro-ams to get me through to pay for expenses.

“It was rough. I obviously didn’t play well aside from my injury, but I made $12,000 and spent 70. After 11 straight Q-Schools and to make it to finals on the 12th try, I’m right back again at Square One.”

Some way to live out your dream. And he’s not alone.

Take Chris Kamin, who finished T-98, four shots off of the full-card pace; Dustin White, who finished T-108, six shots away, and Nathan Tyler, who finished T-139, 13 shots away from full status: with each extra shot taken at Q-School finals, starts can dwindle dramatically. Kamin played in just 14 events (with $34,284 in earnings), White in only four (with $5,443 in earnings) and Tyler in five (with $8,240 in earnings), seeing none of the three play before the BMW Charity Pro-Am – the ninth event of the season.

Don’t get this reasoning wrong – play well and all is forgotten. All four players didn’t get the job done this year.

And there’s always Monday qualifying to make your own destiny before your number is called. Many have made their way up the Nationwide Tour money list and even onto the PGA Tour that way.

But the difference between the Haves and Have-nots, in a game that already puts players close to the edge mentally in the most perfect of circumstances, is huge.

If you can guarantee when and where you’re playing, you’ve at least got part of the riddle solved.

Better benefits? The luxury of Wednesday pro-ams to make a little extra cash?

Sure, that doesn’t hurt, either. But in a game where your job can change from clerk to owner to clerk again, on any given birdie- or bogey-run, every guarantee is gravy.

And that’s why, aside from the players you’ll see pouring their hearts out in the post-round interview because they just earned their PGA Tour cards, or narrowly missed, it’s those players you may not see or read about – the guys right around that cusp of earning full Nationwide status – who are really feeling it.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry