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Q-School memories: Shanking in front of Jack

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Editor's note: This edition of Q-School Memories is submitted by Golf Channel analyst Tripp Isenhour.

Ahhhh, the wonderful memories of having to attend the Fall Classic (a.k.a. Q-School) make me want to return to those times when I was in a constant state of fear and nausea! Yes, it does have that effect on most participants in the grueling series of tournaments to determine who has the right stuff to play on the PGA Tour.

I first learned that these tournaments are like no other in my first-ever first stage of the qualifying tournament in 1991. After the first round I was putting my stuff back into my car when my friend John Maginnes pulled up in his cart (yes, we used carts back then). I asked how his day went. He let out some choice four-letter words and said he had shot 74.

Attempting to emphasize his anger by stomping one of his cart’s tires with the bottom of his metal-spiked golf shoe, he realized in mid-stomp that the tire would likely pop. So he adjusted his aim upward, only to see his shoe get stuck between the tire and the fender. It took several efforts to free the offending footwear.


Full coverage: PGA Tour Q-School final stage


Funny in retrospect, this story illustrates the pressure players face during every single shot of each tournament. It was an eye-opener for me.

That pressure is agonizingly drawn out, too. The finals are 108 holes, with rounds that commonly last six hours or more. Each shot is so important that players, trying to play mistake-free golf, take forever over them. In hindsight it’s obvious that a more casual, even light-hearted approach could be more effective, but that is easier said than done.

While I agree that the best barometer for success is your play judged over the course of a year or over a four-tournament series, Q-School has long served as one of the best tournaments to watch. Not to play in, mind you, but to watch. You will see guys hit some amazing shots and putts. You will also see guys hit awful shots and self-destruct right before your eyes. I have long said that the casual golf fan should tune in and watch.

Without question my own most embarrassing and intimidating moment came at PGA West. I was in the middle of the fairway on a par 4 and had an easy 8-iron approach, which I dead-cold shanked. The ball went straight right, up over a small hill. When I got to it, there was Jack Nicklaus (he was following his son Gary) standing next to my ball. Now, the hardest shot in golf is the next one after a shank. Throw in the fact that the best golfer of all time is watching me and that pressure is intensified just a wee bit! I somehow hit it on the green, but would go on to fail to qualify once again.

As an analyst for Golf Channel, I’m going to miss all that goes into the circus that is the Fall Classic. As a player … not so much!