PGA Tour Q-School success stories

By Jason SobelDecember 2, 2012, 5:27 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The stories litter golf’s landscape this time of year, like pine needles gathering under a Christmas tree. We’ve all heard them. The final-hole putt that went halfway into the hole and inexplicably popped out. The approach shot that hit a cart path and bounced on top of the clubhouse roof. The incorrectly signed scorecard.

These are the tales of Q-School’s gloom and doom. They quench our wicked thirst for schadenfreude, but also serve a greater purpose. We learn a lesson with each one, that the line between PGA Tour glory and another year of professional deficiency is as thin as a 1-iron.

And yet, for every sob story – OK, maybe for every five, or 10, or 100 stories – there is one about the guy who made it, the guy who through some combination of talent, grit, determination, perseverance and luck aimed high and achieved his dream. Sometimes these success stories last only a year before the player is right back to Chasing the Dream; other times it can translate into long-term prosperity.

The Last Q-School: Articles, videos and photos

Every so often, there’s a player who enters Q-School with everything on the line and not only earns his way to the big leagues, but takes the fast track to superstardom on the way there. Consider them the ultimate examples of the domino effect. A bad swing here, a lipped-out putt there, and their fortunes would have become misfortune – at least for another year.

Instead, these players have gone from the six-round grind-fest to golf’s penthouse, becoming not only elite talents but household names along the way. With changes to the Q-School format impending, stories such as these will cease to exist in their current form. The following four endure – from players who need no introduction.

Hunter Mahan never played a single event on the PGA Tour’s developmental tour. It’s not terribly uncommon for some players to eschew membership, but it’s rare when one can make the leap and avoid the circuit altogether.

He knows it easily could have gone the other way.

Mahan first entered Q-School in 2003, successfully earning his PGA Tour card. He retained status that first season, then lost it the next year. So he returned to Q-School again, earned his card again and has never looked back.

“I always liked Q-School,” he recalls. “I thought through six rounds you’re going to find out who the better players are and who can make it on Tour. You earn the chance and opportunity to play out there. When you play enough rounds, you play those six rounds, I think it gets weeded out pretty good. The guys who have the mental ability and strength to get through usually do. But there’s a thin line there that separates a career from going quickly or taking a year or two.”

Seven years after his last trip to Q-School, Mahan is the world’s 25th-ranked player, a five-time PGA Tour winner who owns more than $21 million in career earnings.

He doesn’t take it for granted. Mahan understands that while talent and determination have plenty to do with which side of that thin line a player falls, there are some who simply aren’t as fortunate.

“That’s a tough life,” he says of toiling on the developmental tour. “Some of those guys are barely scraping by with families, driving all around. My hat’s off to the guys who do that, who follow their dreams, because that’s not an easy thing. That’s work. It may be harder than someone getting a 9-to-5 job, because that’s travel and pressure. That’s real life more than what we do.”

Many players enter Q-School with some advantage already intact. It can be anything from an exemption into the second stage to a lower level of status that needs improving.

Dustin Johnson wasn’t afforded these luxuries.

When he entered Q-School in 2007, he started not from the middle or the end like others, but right from the start – not that it affected him much. The easygoing long-hitter impressed in first stage, winning by some eight strokes, then easily cruised through the second and third stages to earn his playing privileges.

Since then, the Coastal Carolina product has made his mark by winning at least one PGA Tour title in each of his first five seasons, the first player to do that straight out of college since Tiger Woods.

“I’ve been fortunate enough, since I’ve gotten out here I’ve done really well,” he admits. “It’s hard work, but this is the best place to be, especially if you love to play golf. There’s no better place in the world than the PGA Tour. Sometimes it’s just really hard to get out here. Q-School is really tough, six days of grinding.'

Ask Webb Simpson what most prepared him for Q-School back in 2008 and he won’t point to the six PGA Tour starts he made that year – including three made cuts – but the eight appearances on the erstwhile Nationwide Tour, where he compiled a pair of runner-up finishes.

“If I hadn't have played those events, I don't think I would have gotten in,” he maintains. “But yeah, it set up everything. I came out in '09 and finished ninth and fifth in my first two tournaments.”

And he hasn’t looked back. Simpson tallied eight top-25 results that first season and seven more in 2010 before reaching his breakthrough performance last year. He won twice, had three runner-up results and a dozen overall top-10s, which served as a knowing precursor to his U.S. Open victory this year.

Even though his story remains a Q-School success, Simpson understands the reason for change going forward and believes it could help nurture similar tales in future years.

“It's going to be tough for guys that don't make it this year given it's the last year, but it helped me tremendously, just gave me a quick start,” he says. “It's not going to be that way anymore, but I think what they're doing is good. I think better players will come out of the playoff system.”

There may be no greater tale of instant Q-School gratification than that of Rickie Fowler.

An all-everything wunderkind out of Oklahoma State, Fowler nearly won titles on both the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour in 2009, losing each time in a playoff. Those results were enough to exempt him into the final stage, which he considered a relief in itself.

“The hardest part of Q-School is getting through second stage – it’s only four rounds, everything on the line, it can all come down to one shot, whether you have status somewhere or you have nothing,” he explains. “Once you get to third stage, six rounds kind of gives you a little bit of wiggle room for one tough round, where you can kind of figure some things out.”

For him, that round was the first one. He turned what he thought could have been a round “in the high-70s” into a 74, then went low for the next few days to easily qualify and earn PGA Tour status for 2010.

The rest, as they say, is history. Instant history. Fowler claimed seven top-10s that season, earning not only Rookie of the Year honors, but a captain’s pick for that year’s Ryder Cup team. Less than a year after grinding it out at Q-School, he was competing for his country alongside the greats of the game. Just two years later, he earned his first PGA Tour victory.

“Looking back, I could have been on the for a year, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing,” he says. “I would have had status somewhere, would have been playing for money, would have been able to make a living and get things started, hopefully continue to play well and get on the PGA Tour later. But you’re talking about no Rookie of the Year and obviously no Ryder Cup, which has been one of my biggest accomplishments besides the win. Q-School can definitely make or break some guys.”

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features 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. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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Woods, McIlroy in Sunday super group in finale

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy has made known his disdain for “super groups” in early tournament rounds.

Well, he’s now got one on Sunday at the Tour Championship. And it doesn’t get more super than this.

McIlroy will play alongside Tiger Woods in the final pairing, in the final round at East Lake Golf Club. Woods leads McIlroy – and Justin Rose – by three shots.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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“All I can do is worry about myself,” McIlroy said. “It doesn't matter who it is I'm playing with. It's obviously exciting for the golf tournament. It's exciting for golf, in general, that he's up there. But for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself. The game is hard enough without having to – without looking at other people. Go out there, take care of my business, and hopefully that's good enough.”

This is the fifth time that McIlroy and Woods have been grouped this year. They were alongside one another in the first two rounds of the Genesis Open and the first two rounds of the PGA Championship.

In the four previous rounds, McIlroy finished better twice, Woods once, and they tied once.

“It's going to be fun. We haven't done that much of late, because I've not been there,” Woods said of going head-to-head with McIlroy for a title. “He has been there, and he's won a bunch of tournaments. So it's nice for us to go back out and play against one another, be in the mix.”

We know Woods will be wearing his traditional red in the final round. As for McIlroy?

"I think I'll wear red," McIlroy joked. "No, geez, I've regretted wearing black out here today. It was hot."

They go out at 2:05 p.m. ET.

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Stricker, Jobe share lead in Sioux Falls

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 11:57 pm

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Steve Stricker and Brandt Jobe topped the Sanford International leaderboard again Saturday after another cool and breezy day in the inaugural PGA Tour Champions event.

After matching Jerry Smith and David McKenzie with first-round 7-under 63s, Striker and Jobe each shot 67 to get to 10-under 130 at Minnehaha Country Club.

''It was a challenge out there today,'' Stricker said. ''It was gusty, the wind came out of the south, where we played yesterday it was out of the north, so it was a totally different golf course.''

Jobe made an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th, and Stricker missed a 6-footer to leave them tied.

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

''It's pretty straightforward off the tee and the greens are what make it difficult at times and you've just got to be in the right spot to have good birdie putts at it,'' Stricker said. ''If not, then you've got to play pretty defensive at times. ... It's a simple game plan, but try to stay out of trouble and keep trying to put pressure on everybody.''

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. Next week in France, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants.

Jobe birdied four of the last five holes. He won last year in Iowa for his lone senior title

''I think we kind of got used to what the wind was,'' Jobe said. ''Of course, there's some scoring holes on the back. The front played very difficult. It was just kind of try not to screw up for a while there.''

Smith was a stroke back after a 68.

Scott McCarron also had a 68 to get to 8 under. Woody Austin was 7 under after a 64.

McKenzie had a 77 to drop into a tie for 43rd at even par.