The 2012 and last PGA Tour Q-School is halfway through its six rounds at PGA West in La Quinta, California. There are 171 players alternating back and forth between the iconic, Pete Dye-designed, TPC Stadium Course and the easier Nicklaus Tournament Course.
At this point, Meen Whee Kim continues to hold the lead, one-stroke over Sweden’s Robert Karlsson who is trying to gain membership so that he can play in the States full time. Kim is at 18-under par.
The top-25 and ties get their Tour cards and there are currently 10 players on the cut line tied at 10-under for the three days.
So those are the facts and a player’s thoughts about it should stop there. All you should be thinking about is how you’re going to play today’s course. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself.
You can’t help but try to project how the cut line is going to move over the final three days and what it would take for you to catch up to and then comfortably inside that number.
The first thing you notice in skimming the top-75 (and ties) on the leaderboard is that the last of them, the T75s, are at 5-under and five shots outside of the cut line.
The next thing you notice is that in that entire group of the guys playing well, there are a whole bunch of 7- and 6-under pars. Actually, six 7s; eight 6s, thirteen 5s and twelve 4s. That is, 65s, 66s, 67s and 68s. That’s how good these guys are.
And then you notice that of all those top-75, only three guys failed to shoot at least even par (six did shoot even par).
So you know, as you expected, that this upper half of the field is playing well. You know that the T25 cut line is going to get below 10-under. Does it move a stroke a day lower or two strokes a day? Will the noose be getting tighter and it’ll only move one or two lower period, getting to 12-under?
So if you’re at T75 and five shots out and the cut moves to 7 away, what do you have to shoot each day to keep pace with the field going lower? 2-under only gets you six strokes and you need seven; 2½ per day? 3? 3½ to be safe? Yeah, you’d like to.
And you’d like to have all of this gibberish actually work out. But the truth is all it does is drain your brain. You have to have a general idea of the flow of things, but all that you can control of that flow is…you.
And so, as always, the path to good golf is getting your swing freed up on the range and then going to the first tee thinking targets. Pick a target, envision a shot to that target and then hit that shot at the target. And then do it again…and again…etc.
You can be more or less aggressive on your targets depending on how well you’re swinging it and what you sense the drift of the field is. Sometimes you just gotta go at everything. And oddly, when you find yourself in that predicament, it frees you up because you realize that you have no choice; you can’t be too conservative.
All of these guys are experienced enough players that they’ll have their own ways of thinking about it, but the inevitability of this last chance for a card for this year can be very distracting.
That’s why Q-School is such a fascinating thing to watch, not only for the guys who rise to the top, but for the guys who managed to rise above themselves and fall, exhausted, just inside the number.
And sometimes, because there’s such a focus on those last guys into the top-25, we get to spend some time with the guys who didn’t make it. There is as much of an education in failure as there is success.
But I fear that much of that, and the drama that goes with it, will be lost after this year.