Editor's note: This edition of Q-School Memories is submitted by Golf Channel analyst Jerry Foltz.
It was a sucker pin, but I had no choice. The light breeze was into me a little from the left, so I switched from a 7- to a 6-iron and tried to take dead aim. One more birdie and I was home free, but as I looked down at the club, it wasn’t sitting still. That familiar feeling was coming back, and it was dreadful. But I’d overcome it before, so just maybe I could do it one more time.
That feeling first overcame my hands, heart and mind two months previous to this fateful day back on the first tee of the first round of the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School.
Murfreesboro, Tenn., was the sight of my first round of Q-School, and I had no idea what it would entail. Three months earlier, I was permanently retired from golf and waiting tables at a restaurant in Tucson, Ariz. Then a friend offered to pay my way to give golf one more shot. Fast forward to Tennessee, and through 3 1/2 rounds, I was on the bubble with a legitimate chance to make it. Every shot felt like life or death, my clubs were being slammed left and right, the internal dialogue was that of sheer panic and the three preceding nights were virtually sleepless.
Somehow I made it through first stage with a shot to spare, and second stage brought many of the same emotions, but somehow I was able to hit good shots and the putts were falling, at least they were until I slammed my putter near the fourth green of the final round and the shaft broke under the grip. Fourteen holes later, the determination brought about by fear of complete embarrassment enabled me to will in most of the short putts with a 1-iron and make it to finals easily.
I hopped in the car on Thanksgiving in 1990 and headed to Palm Springs for my first of seven eventual trips to Q-School finals. After two days of practice rounds and way too many hours on the range searching for a swing thought that would straighten out a wayward ball-flight, I hit the hay in hopes of a decent night’s sleep.
Remarkably, I did sleep well that night, and the next three, and found myself in 18th place with two days remaining. Once again, nerves, negative thoughts and internal panic set in. Barely able to get the ball on the first tee of Round 5, I hit a 3-iron well wide of the fairway, chopped it out of the weeds into a fairway bunker, blasted the next one over the green and made a sloppy mess of an easy hole. That quadruple bogey lead to a fifth-round 79, and with it, my dreams instantly died: I had no chance of making it to the Tour.
The good news was that I slept well again that night as all the pressure was removed. All of a sudden, I started hitting good shots again, and I think through sheer willpower, I was able to make some putts – all kinds of putts – from everywhere.
I was 5 under for the day as I got to the tee of my 16th hole of the final round. It was a gimme birdie par-5, and I knew I needed I more to get to the number, but I made par. That’s when I got to the semi-island green par-3 17th and had to take dead aim at that sucker pin.
The 6-iron took off on a promising line, faded just right of the hole, landed 4 feet from the stick and bounded off to the right and into the water. Double bogey and I was done ... again.
Twenty minutes later I would learn that I didn’t need that extra birdie – that a par, par finish would have been good enough. I missed my dream by two shots. Six more attempts at finals later, and I would never get closer than I did that day in 1990 when my hands shook, my heart trembled, my mind raced and my dreams outran me.