LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The thought of spending another year writing letters, making phone calls and doing just about anything possible to get a sponsor’s exemption into PGA Tour events makes Rich Beem cringe.
Don’t even mention having to go back to qualifying school.
At No. 124 on the money list, the 2002 PGA Championship winner is among those who begin play at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney World on Thursday hovering near the cut line for a tour card next year. The top 125 get full status, and the next 25 will at least get conditional status and be able to enter more than a dozen tournaments.
The pressure should make the final stop on the PGA Tour this season a wild, wacky and entertaining finish. That is, for everyone but the players.
“I must say that this predicament … I’m not having any fun with it,” Beem said.
Hard to imagine any of the players near the cut line are enjoying themselves this week.
The place that declares at the entrance gates “Where Dreams Come True” will crush as many hopes as it fulfills this weekend. With so many in search of that fairy tale ending, some will inevitably fall short.
Players have already noticed some of their counterparts pressing in practice rounds—overswinging, misreading putts and muscling for the green when they otherwise wouldn’t. Even around the plush Disney clubhouse, complete with a playroom for kids, these are anxious times.
“It is one of those weeks where you just can kind of tell some guys are having fun with their families, and the other guys are not having any fun,” said Kevin Streelman, who has his Tour card for next year already secured but is looking to protect a two-stroke lead in the Kodak Challenge for a $1 million prize. The contest designates a hole each week and keeps score throughout the season.
Perhaps the biggest names who might not get their cards are Ricky Barnes and David Duval.
The runners-up at the U.S. Open are Nos. 121 and 125, respectively, on the money list. Duval, a former world No. 1 and the 2001 British Open champion, will have to finish strong or lose his full status.
“I’m not real worried about my position,” Duval said. “I feel like I’ve played better than my standing.”
Rickie Fowler and Jamie Lovemark are among those who will have to play catchup to even get a conditional card.
Because they were top 10 in the previous tournament – The Viking Classic in Mississippi was rained out – they got into Disney. If they can win enough this weekend, the young upstarts would get a card.
Both are looking to avoid the pressure of qualifying school.
“You hear the horror stories,” Fowler said. “There’s always little things that could happen there.”
Erik Compton, the two-time heart transplant recipient who made his return to the tour at this same event last year, received a sponsor’s exemption. Compton already has advanced to the second stage of qualifying school.
But perhaps nobody wants to avoid losing full status more than Beem.
This weekend’s tournament will be his 26th this season, a surprisingly high number given that he decided not to go to qualifying school after finishing outside of the top 125 last season. Still, frantically writing and calling tournament directors or trying to qualify every week for a spot is not a task he wants to endure again.
“Looking at a 39-year-old, short, fat, balding guy, you kind of wonder how many chances they’re going to give you,” Beem joked.
Beem penned letters to every tournament director this season and followed them up with a phone call, he said. The letters ranged from serious to completely sarcastic, anything to tee-it-up with the pros.
Some letters worked. Others were disastrous.
For the Phoenix tournament, he claimed he was “kind of a big deal” on the Tour and could bring fans to the “struggling” tournament in attempt at humor. Apparently they didn’t find it funny.
“I kind of hammed it up pretty good,” he said. “Of course, they didn’t give me a sponsor’s exemption.”
Beem said he would opt for qualifying school if he has a bad week at Disney.
Even though he was successful this year at earning exemptions, he wants a chance to play every week at his favorite tournaments. And he doesn’t want to beg.
“I want to play those events,” Beem said. “I don’t want to hope that I get a chance to play those events. So it’s a big deal.”