There is no pressure like Q-School pressure

By Brandel ChambleeDecember 3, 2012, 2:00 pm

PGA Tour Q-School is the most frightening event in golf. Yes, majors carry far more weight, but only a few players at each major feel the pressure of potentially undergoing a life-changing experience. And other tours around the world have their own Q-Schools, but it is no secret that every player who plays for money dreams of playing on the PGA Tour, where the money and the courses are the best in the world.

Professional golfers get rich on the PGA Tour; lots of them, so rich that they don’t need to worry about money the rest of their lives and, in many cases, neither do their children. Every shot by every player at PGA Tour Q-School is hit with this knowledge – and the corresponding knowledge that the alternative to success may well be oblivion.

I first attempted Q-School in 1985. Fresh out of college, I made it to finals. At that time there was a 72-hole cut in the 108-hole event. I made that cut, and for the next two nights had to go to mandatory classes to learn the business of the PGA of America as well as the PGA Tour. Playing at the time for one of only 50 cards, I missed out and had to wait a year to try again. I tried and failed again in 1986. So in 1987 I decided to take a different approach.

The Last Q-School: Articles, videos and photos

After playing obscure mini-tours all over the world in 1985 and '86, I decided I would test myself against the best players in the world by playing in Monday qualifying for Tour events. These events, known as four-spotters because they typically offer four spots into that week’s event from a field of more than 100, seemed an unlikely way to try to support myself, but I was searching for a frame of mind. I also decided to try to qualify for the U.S. and British Opens, so I would spend the year in my own way playing at the highest level without a Tour card. I made the four-spotters at Phoenix, Hawaii and Las Vegas and qualified for both the U.S. and British Opens. Even though I didn’t make as much money as I had the previous two years playing in state opens, I felt like I had seen the best in the world. Now Q-School didn’t seem as daunting.

I entered the Fall Classic, as Q-School is known, determined not just to qualify, but to win. That attitude and the experience I had gained in 1987, competing against the best players in the world, proved comforting. I led Q-School after 36 holes and qualified with ease. My traveling companion, however, had a far more stressful week than I did.

Mark Brooks, my teammate at the University of Texas, a former first-team All-American, had played the Tour from 1984-87 without success and he arrived at the Fall Classic in financial distress and without an ounce of confidence. He was staying next door to me in the hotel and every night I could hear him on the phone to his loved ones, saying he didn’t know what he was going to do the next year should he fail at Q-School. He was well outside the number for the top 50 and as we made the 30-minute drive for the final round, neither of us spoke until we were pulling in to the course.

Mark had a dozen golf balls in his hands. Out of the heavy silence he started screaming at them.

'Whichever one of you is afraid of the dark, say so now and there are no hard feelings, I just won’t put you in,' he yelled. 'C’mon, you gutless balls, speak up!'

I looked at him, he smiled and we both started laughing. 

He began the day five shots outside the top 50. I didn't know how his final round went until I spotted him as I was playing the last hole, walking to the green. He had a beer in each hand and sunglasses on. I didn’t know if the beers were being consumed in celebration or despondency, but I suspected the latter. I pointed at him as if to say, what did you shoot? He cradled one beer under his arm and held up five fingers, then pointed them downward, indicating he had shot 5-under-par 67. It was the lowest round of the day. 

He got his Tour card, and that night at dinner we sat in a glow of achievement that felt better than any moment I had known in golf. Mark said to me, 'Qualifying for the Tour was a lot easier than succeeding on the Tour.'

Mark would go on to win seven times on the PGA Tour, including the 1996 PGA Championship. He missed the John Daly-Costantino Rocca playoff for the British Open by one shot in 1995 and would lose the U.S. Open in a playoff in 2001. His life and his career changed all because of that last round at Q-School in 1987.

As for me, well, my career on Tour was nowhere near as successful as Mark’s, but my life changed drastically in the fall of 1987 and I still look back at that week as one of the turning points of my life.

Every year, every player at Q-School knows that every shot means the difference between living a dream and enduring a nightmare. That's why there is no event that comes remotely close to the pressures of Q-School.

Getty Images

McCarthy wins Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

Getty Images

LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

Getty Images

For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

Getty Images

Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.