LAS VEGAS – In a span of one month, from the first to the 31st of October, A.J. McInerney has run a physical and emotional gauntlet.
On Oct. 1, McInerney was one of thousands who attended the Route 91 Harvest music festival, an event that turned into the deadliest mass shooting in American history when a gunman killed 58 people and injured 500 more as he fired into the outdoor crowd from his hotel room, overlooking the site on the city’s famed Strip.
As bullets rained down on the crowd, McInerney laid on top of his girlfriend, Alyssa, to shield her from the spray. During a pause in the shooting, McInerney and his friends took off running, jumping over barricades, fences and walls to evacuate the area.
“It was a crazy mess. It was so gruesome to see,” he said in an interview with Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte two days later, on Oct. 3. “We could hear the bullets hitting the ground next to us. We could see the spark and the smoke. You could hear that thump of a bullet hitting somebody. When you’re running through that, you’re praying. You’re just trying to get as far away as you can.”
Once he reached his vehicle, which was parked at the MGM, McInerney invited random people – total strangers – into his car and drove them to safety. He then returned to the festival, hoping to help even more of the festival’s attendees get out of the area, but by that point the area was blocked off, and first responders were on the scene.
Thirty days later, on Tuesday, Oct. 31st, McInerney found himself seated in the media center at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, about to make his PGA Tour debut, taking stock of the last month of his life.
McInerney is a 24-year-old Las Vegas native and former UNLV Rebel who finished 97th last year on the Web.com Tour money list. After failing to secure his card via the Web.com Finals, McInerney thought he would spend the intervening time preparing for next week’s second stage of Web.com Q-School.
Instead, via a sponsor’s exemption, he’s going to play the PGA Tour event he’s attended as a spectator every year for roughly the last decade.
“To have this opportunity here this week in Las Vegas, my hometown, where I was born and raised, is an opportunity that I’ve been looking forward to since I was 15 or 16 years old,” he said. “In the midst of everything that has happened over the last month or so, to get the chance to play here, and kind of play for Las Vegas, and to see all these people out here in the Vegas community come together, it’s an opportunity I’ll never forget, for sure.”
But after a harrowing and chaotic month, it will be back to life as planned next week.
Although a top-10 finish here in Vegas would earn McInerney a spot in the field at next week’s OHL Classic in Mayakoba, he won’t accept the invite to Mexico. He’ll be in Texas, instead, trying to play his way back onto the Web.com.
“Having a good finish here this week would be great for my career,” he conceded.
That said ...
“I’m still going to be at the second stage of Q-School in Texas that starts Tuesday,” he followed. “So unless I were to get a win here this week and get that two-year exemption to become a member of the PGA Tour I’d need to go to second stage. So even with a top-10, I’d still go to second stage.”
That’s a smart play, but that’s also next week.
This week, McInerney gets to make his Tour debut in his hometown, where has been inundated with ticket requests from his friends and family, which he is letting his mom sort out while he prepares for the most important opportunity of his life.
Just about everything that has happened to McInerney in October was unthinkable only in September.
In that aforementioned interview with Golf Channel on Oct. 3, McInerney began his remarks saying he was “just lucky to be here.”
On Thursday morning, at 8:45 a.m., “here” will be the 10th tee at TPC Summerlin.