GREENSBORO, N.C. – The PGA Tour isn’t typically the backdrop for a Cinderella story.
Out here the rich get richer, by virtue of invitational tournaments and limited-field events with no cuts, and those on the outside are left with few avenues for quick ascent.
But then again, there are exceptions to every rule. Just ask Jason Allred.
A mild-mannered veteran from Scottsdale, Ariz., Allred began the year with only conditional status on the Web.com Tour, and no PGA Tour status whatsoever. After making the most of several chances in 2014, though, the 34-year-old heads into the weekend at the Wyndham Championship on the cusp of earning his card for next season.
Allred had a decorated junior golf career, highlighted by a victory over Trevor Immelman at the 1997 U.S. Junior Amateur. He played full-time on the PGA Tour in both 2005 and 2008, but hasn’t been on the big stage regularly since. After finishing T-95 at Web.com Tour Q-School last fall, he assumed that his 2014 schedule would take him to places like Valdosta, Wichita and Knoxville – if he was lucky.
“I was way down the list. I wasn’t going to get in many of those events without qualifying,” Allred said. “Early on in the year, my plan was just to play my heart out in qualifiers there. Since I had some conditional status, I knew that if I would play well I might get into the reshuffle.”
His plans quickly changed in February, when he earned one of four spots available at a Monday qualifier for the Northern Trust Open. Allred made the cut, then shot 67-68 over the weekend at Riviera to finish tied for third, his best career result. He left L.A. with a six-figure check and enough non-member FedEx Cup points to clinch a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals this fall, where he would be able to potentially earn a PGA Tour card for 2015.
Except Allred didn’t stop there.
He went on to Monday qualify at three more PGA Tour stops – the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Travelers Championship and RBC Canadian Open. He also turned a pair of sponsor invites into big results, finishing T-15 at the Memorial after receiving a spot in the field at the 11th hour and tying for sixth last month at the Barracuda Championship, where he played in the final group on Sunday.
“He’s taken advantage of every opportunity,” said caddie Keith Nolan. “He’s earned a lot, but he’s also been fortunate. He’s just enjoyed every minute of it.”
It all means that Allred has plenty to play for this week at Sedgefield Country Club, site of the final regular-season event of 2013-14. As a non-member, he would become fully exempt for next year if he made the equivalent of a spot in the top 125 on either the season-long FedEx Cup points list or the money list.
While he’s relatively far back in terms of FedEx Cup points, Allred’s $612,477 haul is only $35,409 behind Bud Cauley for the No. 125 spot on the money list. Likely needing at least a top-25 finish to earn his card, he heads into the weekend in Greensboro tied for 28th after rounds of 69 and 66.
“I really hoped and dreamed this year might go this way, but to actually be here is such a thrill,” Allred said. “I hope I can hang on, but I have nothing to lose. Just play free.”
Even an unsuccessful trip through the four-event Finals series could yield full-time status on the Web.com Tour for 2015, an improvement from where Allred stood just six months ago. In an era where it can sometimes take players years to graduate from a developmental circuit to the PGA Tour, he has skipped several steps by displaying an uncanny affinity for one of golf’s biggest pressure-cookers: the Monday qualifier.
“I don’t feel like I’m old, but at the same time I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I feel like if I show up there on Monday, just glad for the chance, it’s already a leg up on the field. Someone’s got to make it, and it’s a chance.
“I also feel like there’s a tendency to be teased into thinking you have to be crazy aggressive and make everything, and I feel like if you just play a good, solid round and play the percentages, it doesn’t mean you’re going to make it every time, but you’ll have a good chance.”
With a PGA Tour card now potentially just 36 holes away, Nolan has been focused on keeping his player’s attention on the task at hand, not on standings or projections.
“There are so many different scenarios,” Nolan said. “The hardest part this week is everybody congratulating him on the year that he’s had so far, thinking he’s done enough, but he hasn’t. It’s head down, hit the shot in front of you.
“We talk about ‘the circle.’ He takes care of everything inside the circle, and I’m in charge of the rest. As long as he does the right thing going into the circle, the results will show up.”
The typical career arc in golf does not include a breakthrough year at age 34, but Allred veered from the script long ago. Holding his daughter, Lucy, the youngest of three children who was born just eight days after his season turned on a dime at Riviera, he explained that he’s not shying away from the stakes this weekend.
Even if the end result is a travel schedule that includes Midland and Springfield, instead of Memphis and Scottsdale.
“I figure there’s probably no way to avoid it. I’m doing my best not to be afraid of it,” he said. “I’m definitely aware that with a good week it could mean some great things work-wise for next year, but I’m hopeful that I can hang on the truth for me that if I go play my heart out, I’m not a different person on Monday morning whether I’m on the Tour or not.”