Editor's note: This edition of Q-School Memories is submitted by former PGA Tour player John Maginnes.
Imagine if the roar in your ears when you yawn wouldn’t go away. Imagine it as something straight out of Edgar Allan Poe, a subtle, ceaseless torture device far more unsettling than “nevermore.” Imagine it drowns out all external stimuli, leaving you alone with – and victim of – your thoughts. All your frailties are exposed to you while you become a spectator in some of your own life’s most important moments.
Now tee off and play golf for six days.
That is the finals of Q-School. And I assure you the description falls well short of the reality.
In my career as a player, Q-School was something of an annual journey. I wanted to be better than that. I worked hard to be better than that. I did manage to avoid it a handful of times in the decade and a half that I hit golf shots that I thought mattered. But most years it was a part of my schedule and thus a part of who I was as a player. Early in my career it was exciting, an opportunity. Later it became a dark cloud looming on the horizon, inevitable and unavoidable.
My memories of Q-School are interesting mostly because of the things that happened to others. I watched a player make a bogey from the middle of the fairway on a reachable par 5 to miss his Tour card by a single shot. That player has since won a Masters and been a part of Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups … all as a caddie. While writing this piece he was at Champions Tour Q-School with no intention of giving up his day job looping for one of the best players in the world.
One year at the second stage I was sitting in the clubhouse after posting 1 under par for 72 holes. It was obvious that 1 under was going to fall one shot short of advancing to the finals. There were only three groups left on the course, the worst of which had started the day at 6 under par. Then my caddie came up the stairs, wearing a smile that was less glee than sheer surprise. One young man had come to the final hole at 6 under, dumped two in the water, then missed a 3-footer for 8 to fall back to 1 under and allow five of us, including him, to advance to the finals. Three weeks later I finished fifth at the finals to return to the PGA Tour.
Celebrating after one successful trip to the finals at Orange County National, my caddie made a startling admission. Walking off the 13th green, he had handed me my driver and started walking toward the corner of the dogleg on 14. Now he admitted that he was so nervous that he lost his lunch in the woods.
That particular week we had a game plan that was better than any I had ever conceived. We realized that on the severe greens at OCN, often you were better off short-sided off the green than you were in the middle of the green. The greens have so much undulation separating relatively flat tiers that to be off the green chipping to the flat tiers was easier than putting from 50 feet. It worked and we finished in the top 10.
There is sheer relief in a successful trip to the finals, but the dream of getting to the PGA Tour comes only once. Every subsequent trip to Q-School has a sprinkle of failure for what should have been.
This year’s finals are the last of their kind; consequently the pressure will be greater than ever. Every player, successful or otherwise at the finals, will play under that type of scrutiny “nevermore.”
The new system may prove to be better. But there is a personal nobility to surviving the gauntlet of Q-School finals, and that will be gone forever.