After following Monday qualifier, John Hurley, in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, I asked for an interview and introduced myself.
My name is Bill Rand and I write a daily golf mastery blog called, Eye on the Tour.com, from the perspective of a former Monday qualifier on the Champions Tour. I watch what goes on the big tours and comment on them compassionately from a player’s point of view.
I saw you on the range Tuesday morning and the first thing I did was run into the media center and look you up on pgatour.com.
Can’t find me can you?
No. But Google turned up the rest of your record, all the Gateway Tour stuff, and that you went to Texas A&M.
And you’re from Valentine, Nebraska.
That’s where I was born, but I’m from O’Neill two hours east of there. That’s where I grew up.
Are you kidding me? That’s where my wife is from!
He didn’t recognize her family name, but it was an amazing connection. The reason is that the one and only time I went to O’Neill was after we were married a year or so. We flew into Omaha and took a North Central, twin engine, turboprop to Norfolk. Her parents picked us up and drove us the remaining hour and a half on the two-lane country road. There was one traffic light about halfway there and it was green…both times.
I share this little triviality because it’s important to understand how much Hurley has accomplished from an obscure, small town in the middle of the country.
I saw that you Monday qualified. You won a playoff to get in. What did you shoot?
I shot 68 and birdied the first hole of the playoff.
How many Tour players in the field?
I think there were 140 that teed it up, I’m not sure how many were Tour players.
The weather was not all that good.
It was kind of strange, it was about three seasons. It started out decent, it was about 58 degrees, sunny. Not too much wind. It picked up and then it got cold. Felt like sleet because the rain was coming down sideways and the wind was blowing about 35. And then it got decent at the end, but it was cool.
So four for how many spots, four?
And so how many guys for the playoff?
Four for two. The leader shot 67 and four of us shot 68.
Okay! Good for you!
Have you gotten in before?
I “Mondayed” into the John Deere last summer.
Oh, very great. That was the only one?
That was the only one. I Mondayed into a couple of Web.com Tours last summer and got sponsor’s exemption on the Web.com the year before that. So I played in three Web.coms, this is my second PGA Tour event.
Oh, great. But this is like a BIG…
This is a big one, yeah. Yeah, this one makes any — makes the John Deere look pretty small.
Yeah, but it’s still a great tournament. Stricker plays in it.
Yeah it is. It’s a great tournament.
So once you knew you got in, what was that like for you?
Just pure excitement, for me not having — this is the first tournament of the year for me and the weather’s been kind of bad in Houston. I went to San Diego and tried to Monday for that and before then I maybe practiced five days, I think, before that, on the day before Christmas. So I felt pretty unprepared going there. I put some good work in last week and came here feeling pretty good about my game. And then got in, felt great. So glad to be here.
So from Monday to Thursday what was that like for you?
Well, Monday night I didn’t sleep well. I was kind of restless. Kept thinking about the playoff…playoff…playoff. I haven’t been in many playoffs. So not much on the line knowing you’re in the Phoenix Open or not, so that was kind of a restless night.
Tuesday, got some good work in. Yesterday I had a great short game lesson with my short game coach, James Sieckmann, he works with a bunch of guys out here. He’s from Omaha.
He’s gotta be good, right?
Yeah, he was pretty good, so got that tuned up pretty well.
And then this morning I was pretty anxious and then there was an hour frost delay. I was itching at the bit to get going. I’d gotten my shoes on and I was getting ready to go out to meet my caddie. And then it was a half hour frost delay, and then another half hour frost delay. And I was just sitting around kind of itching at the bit to go.
So what was that like?
I don’t like waiting around too much. I’d rather just get here and go.
Did it make you nervous or did you just go with it?
I probably thought about a few things but, once I get on the range, I pretty much forget about anything that’s going on outside of this.
The reason I’m so interested because when I write about Tour players, very often I mention my nine years trying to Monday qualify on the Champions Tour. So my readers know that I did that. I have more people coming to my site trying to find out stuff about Monday qualifying.
So you may think that you’re not a star, but there’s a whole group of golfers out there that are very impressed by the fact that your would actually do that, and pull it off and be successful.
It’s tough. I know I can play with these guys. It’s just a matter of putting it all together and not making careless mistakes like I did today [two double bogies, both due to drives way right leading to an unplayable and then an out of bounds on the 18th.]
I got back to 1-under, I was 3-over at one point through three and then I pumped it out of bounds on 18. Just a terrible block, right off the toe and then made a great sand save to save a double bogey.
Do you know why you blocked it?
Just — I’d been hitting my driver great all day. I don’t know where it came from. Just unacceptable.
I told you, I discovered you hitting your driver on the range on Tuesday, I had to find out who this guy was. And when I found out you were from Spring, Texas, I called my Monday qualifying buddy who’s up at the Woodlands…
That’s where I practice.
Oh, do you?
TPC Tournament Course at the Woodlands Country Club.
…so I asked him if he knew you and he said, “No, I don’t know him, but I heard about him.” So you’re a star in Spring, Texas. [Laughs]
So what did you think about the round?
I had fun. I got off to a great start on 10 (his 1st), great drive and wedged it in there about twelve feet and left it short. So that was kind of disappointing.
And then a couple bad swings early, hit it right on eleven…
Yeah, how about that unplayable [up next to the cactus]. Would you have done anything different on that?
Probably not fade it as much as I did [laughs]. I missed my target line by twenty yards, so, not as bad as I did on 18! But the same result — taking penalty strokes — which is totally unacceptable for me. Out here it’s plenty wide open. You shouldn’t have that problem.
And then got it going and had to chip out on 15 [from another fade into the desert that wasn’t that bad], hit it a little right there. And then going into 16, that was fun walking through that tunnel and getting the crowd all riled up. So snuck it on the green barely…
Some of the people couldn’t see that because they booed, and I got up there and I said, “What are they booing for? It’s on the green.”
Yeah, it was on the green…
And that was a good two-putt there.
Great two-putt. I was looking at that first putt and, boy if it gets past the hole, it looks like it could just go off the green. And I made a great second putt there.
And on [the driveable] 17th…
What’s that driving iron that you use?
That’s a 2-iron, a Cleveland 588 NT, 18 degrees.
Now do you also have a fairway wood in your bag?
You don’t need one, right? [Laughs]
No [laughs]. I just hit that thing.
Must be nice, huh?
Yeah, I got it at [Q-School] final stage last year and took my hybrid out of the bag and put that in there.
So during the course of the day, you make double. What’s going through your mind on 11? “I’m going to 12 or, oh, shit, I made double?”
No, I was going to 12…you got a lot of golf left and it was just one hole, so you gotta, if you get flustered about one hole, you’re not going to make it very far in this game.
So, then kind of fanned it [on the par-3 12th]. Hit a great chip up there to about four feet. I didn’t see that much break in the putt. I hit it center and firm and it didn’t even hit the right edge. Kind of disappointed in missing that one there.
Then made a great birdie on the next hole [par-5 13th], kind of right the ship a little bit and got some good swings going.
No, you really settled down. That drive you hit on 13, I thought it was going to be in the desert transition area, and got down there and I was talking to the ShotLink guys and they said, “No, no, he flew it!”
Yeah, way over.
So what’s it like to be able to hit the ball that far and then have to wait on everybody?
I’m used to it. I really don’t think about it. I kind of like it because I’m ready to go. That’s why I think I’m a fast player; waiting for everyone to hit and I have my yardage and everything, I’m ready to go and it kind of settles me down. It’s fun to play golf like that. I’m a bomber and that’s how I like to play. I like watching the bombers on the PGA Tour and the crowd loves it, so it’s fun.
So did you guys get put on the clock the second time the official came by?
He put us on the clock on our 17th hole and it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Did that effect your drive [that he hit out of bounds into the driving range]?
You weren’t trying to play any faster?
Nope. I had my target and just completely hit it way off the toe and blocked right.
So where are you right now? I couldn’t see a scoreboard all day.
I shot 1-over.
I knew that, but where does that put you in the field?
I don’t know. I tied everyone in my group, that’s all I know. [laughs] I just saw Mickelson shot 60 [laughs]. That’s all I know.
Isn’t that amazing?
That’s pretty good.
And the next guys are at like, a whole bunch at 7.
Yeah, 64. Yeah.
I’ve got some ground to make up, but I putted decent, so I just have to give myself some looks and post a good round tomorrow.
You did. You have a very well rounded game. You’re name’s going to be in lights, especially as far as you hit it, because, like they said in the old baseball commercial, “Chicks dig the long ball.”
Yeah. Just a matter of being out here a few more times and getting more comfortable with the situation, dealing with all the people and stuff.
How was that? You’ve never played in front of a crowd this big.
Not this big. It was fun. I kind of got pumped up and then, when you feel the nerves going to 16, that’s quite the experience. Until you to hit that shot in the tournament, people will never understand what that’s like.
Right. What was going through your mind walking through the tunnel [that leads into the stadium]?
I was just wondering what they were going to say. [Laughs] Didn’t hear anything bad until I was on the green.
Well, it was kind of subdued by the time you guys got around there.
Yeah, I heard one guy, when I put my yellow ball down, say, “Why don’t you use the pink one instead.” [laughs] Whatever.
Is there a reason you use the yellow one?
Not really. I just had a dream, probably a year and a half ago, and I started using it and that I won my first pro tournament with it. So I had Cleveland send me some of those and put it in play, and the second tournament I shot 62 in the final round and won, so ever since then I’ve been using it. So I like it.
I know what you’re talking about. I used to dream that I shot 68 in a qualifier.
So tomorrow is just more of the same, just keep going for it?
More of the same. Just get off to a good start and ride the momentum and hopefully make as many birdies as I can and sneak in a few eagles and enjoy it.
Are you going to play aggressively or are you going to just let it happen?
Yeah, I’ll play aggressively. Gotta go out there and fire at the pins. I mean this course is there for the taking. You play smart on certain holes, but there’s plenty of opportunities where you gotta flag hunt. It’s a lot of wedges, so I just have to stick them close and make the putts.
Yeah, too bad for you, right?
Yeah. [Laughs] I’ll never complain about hitting wedges.
So anything else you can think of that Monday qualifiers out there in the universe would be interested in in terms of skills that you learned out of doing it successfully a couple of times?
The thing I’ve learned is probably — I talked to my [A&M] teammate, Bobby Gates. He’s been out here a couple of years. He says just get a lot of rest. Don’t overwork yourself. Once you get here, just kind of relax. Stay calm. I mean, it’s a lot of stuff going on. Just kind of put your blinders on, focus on what you’re here to do and you’ll be just fine.
What about for the qualifier itself? 140 guys playing for 3 spots.
That’s pretty much, you gotta put your foot on the gas and go. If you shoot 72, you’re obviously not making it unless it’s just terrible conditions. You better be shooting 68; I didn’t know if I was going to get in or not and snuck in, so…
That’s what it used to be on the Champions Tour.
Yeah, so just fire away and hope you get those butterflies because that’s what you want.
Anything else about Monday qualifying?
I don’t think so. Just hopefully I won’t have to do it for the rest of my life. [Laughs]
No you won’t. I’ve seen a lot of players…
It’s not that fun, but when you get in, it’s fun.
Well the thing is, if you can get yourself through that, this is not that big a deal. Here you make a cut, you get paid.
Yeah, there’s some good money on this tour, right?
Monday qualifying, you get in the top three and they say, “Thank you very much, here’s your pass to the show.”
There you go. See you next week.
I think that’s all.
Thanks very much. Good luck to you. I’ll be watching. You’re a very nice player.
Appreciate it. Thank you. All right, sounds good.