Coming Down to the Wire

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The looks run the gamut. From the confident gleaming eyes of a player destined for greatness, to the ghostly blank, emotionally vacant stare of a player wondering if his days are numbered. Those are the stories that are told with just a glance.
 
At this time of year on The Nationwide Tour, with the final chapter about to be written, a simple look into a players eyes reveal just how desperate things might be. On the other hand, that same glance can show the powerful confidence of youth in a rising star on the verge of accomplishing his lifelong dream and venturing ahead with excitement, having outgrown apprehension of the unknown.
 
The eyes are the window to the soul. One look in that window and it's obvious that 'crunch time' is upon The Nationwide Tour.
 
The big story every year is obviously those who will graduate directly to next year's PGA Tour; however, the subplots might be even more compelling--players trying to finish in one of the categories that improve their lot for next year and make Q-School less arduous.
 
  • Top 20 graduate to the PGA Tour.
     
  • Top 35 advance directly in the final stage of Q-School.
     
  • Top 55 qualify for the Nationwide Tour Championship where the limited-field and enlarged purse means that the winner is a sure thing to graduate as well. And each of the 55 is fully exempt on the Nationwide Tour in '04.
     
  • Top 70 advance directly into second stage of Q-School.
     
  • Top 100 retain conditional membership for next season.
     
  • Outside the top 100 and return to the starting gate--the first stage of Q-School with no real success to draw upon from this season.
     
    There's been some shuffling in recent weeks as those who play best with their backs against the wall can definitely feel the texture of concrete rubbing their microfibers.
     
    At the Monterey Peninsula Classic, Scott Gutschewski solidified his title of 'best player to come from oblivion to prominence in less than half a season' and continued to perform in an awe-inspiring manner. He won the tournament and moved to 23rd on the money list. He is now back at 23rd two weeks later.
     
    Lucas Glover won the Gila River Golf Classic to solidify his place amongst the rookies on next year's PGA Tour. Considered by many, myself included, to be the player from the class of 2003 to have the best chance to someday win a major, Lucas made it suspenseful by not locking it down until the last minute. Nonetheless, Glover is a star in the making that isn't likely to be intimidated next year on the PGA Tour. He's my early front-runner for Rookie of the Year in 2004. The excitement around him, and some of the younger players of similar ability, is that they dont know how good they can be'the skys the limit.
     
    Tommy Tolles finally moved into the top-20, albeit the tenuous position of 19th, and now looks poised to finally get back to exempt status on the PGA Tour. Tommy has some of the better credentials of those players that utilize the Nationwide Tour to reignite that fire within and earn their way back. Hes also the one player that I find myself pulling for in a biased manner just because of the person he is'a generous, genuine, kind soul.
     
    And then, last week, D.J. Brigman conquered the odds and rewrote his story of the year. Entering the Permian Basin Charity Golf Classic, D.J. was in 85th position on the money list and mentally preparing himself for the prospect of starting over at the first stage of Q-School. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he crafted a masterpiece on Sunday, a bogey-free 66, and grabbed his first Nationwide Tour title. Now at 31st in earnings, he has an outside chance at the top-20, but more importantly, he now knows that hes good enough to win at this level and, at the very least, will have another year of fully exempt status to prove that he can make it to the next level.
     
    Most of those players with blank looks in their eyes wont be at this weeks final full-field event'the Miccosukee Championship. Thats because Q-School starts this week. Some will play anyway, hoping beyond hope for that one magical week that has eluded them all year. Anything short of last minute heroics and theyll tee it up at one of a select few first stage sites that begin next Tuesday. The rest will be in Miami, and then in Prattville, Alabama, for the Nationwide Tour Championship trying their hearts out for a shot at a dream come true'a spot on next years PGA Tour.
     
    For the next two weeks, the drama will play out and the stories will tell themselves. The final chapter will be written, and the epilogue will then take place at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament finals. Everyone will then go home for the holidays and get ready for what I think is the true beauty of professional golf. It will all begin anew next year.
     
    Email your thoughts to Jerry Foltz