So I’ll be playing golf at the club with members I haven’t met before and somewhere in there, they’ll ask, “So, Bill, are you retired?” That’s not the most frequent question.
And I always respond, “No, I just look like I’m retired. I’m a writer.”
“Oh, what do you write?” That’s not the question either.
“Non-fiction. I’ve written a book about my nine-year effort to qualify to play on the Champions Tour. I played in 124 Monday qualifiers and went to the annual Q-School 8 times in an effort to play my way onto the Tour.”
“Really. That must have been a great experience. What’s the title?” That’s not the question either.
“Going For It! A Spiritual Adventure on the Champions Tour.”
“That sounds very interesting. So did you play in any of the tournaments?” That’s not the question either.
“Nope. Never got in. And that’s the hook of the story, ‘You mean you worked at this for nine years and you never got in? What were you thinking?’”
And they smile a sly smile.
The most frequently asked question used to be how long the courses were set up. That was understandable because the original players on the Senior Tour were not as fit as today’s players and the courses were whispered to play short. I don’t know the truth, but the consensus perception of the whisperers was 6,500 to 6,600 yards. But the Tour never touted the prodigious nature of their play, just that still could play. And really play, as in, “shotmakers.” (By the time I got out there, by cobbling together back tees and blue tees, our qualifying courses were set up between 6,700 to 6,800 yards for the most part and I have a vague recollection of a Q-School course closer 7,000. That stuck with me because I always practiced at 7,000 yards and I remember not being intimidated when I saw the yardage.) But I hardly get that question anymore.
“So what were the other guys like? I imagine it was pretty much dog-eat-dog?” That’s the question people most ask.
Inherent in the question is this popularized vision of knuckle-dragging, visceral tour pros who delight in dominating, leering, cutthroat competition. It wasn’t like that.
While it was true that we were all trying to get to the Tour, in Monday qualifying and at Q-School, you didn’t need to win to do that. On Mondays, we were playing for four spots in that event and at Q-School, we were playing for eight cards and eight provisional cards once a generous number of players got through the first round to the finals. So maybe that diffused a lot of the surmised contentiousness.
And truth be told, once you got to the Tour, you didn’t need to win there either because the field was always limited to 78 players with no cut. If you could make enough money to end up in the top 31 players (now 30) at the end of the year, you got your card for the following year. Do that over a couple of years as purses increased and you vaulted up the Career Money List where the top 70 were still welcome, even if it was as field-fillers. Former Monday Qualifier, Walter Hall, still 42nd on that list, has made $7 million and a grand career out of his one win in fourteen years. The guy can play. And Walter epitomized the possibility of what we were all striving for. While he played a lot of completive golf before he turned pro, he was a sales manager for an appliance distributor.
While the fields were heavily populated by club pros, the fields were also filled with guys like Hall who had business backgrounds. My friend, Pete Sylvester, from Colorado was a commercial real estate construction consultant. Larry Filippi, from Chicago, still ran his architectural business between qualifiers. Clyde Hughey, from LA, Phoenix, Atlanta, LA and now Phoenix again, was Barry White’s road manager (figures). Jim Hays retired after selling his Tulsa energy company. Sandy McCall from the San Francisco Bay area and now Houston, runs his own boutique stock brokerage. Randy Clark from San Diego, was a retired Navy captain fighter pilot. Al Riegel, now living in Scottsdale, was a book publisher. Charlie Yandell from Scottsdale, was a retired senior executive with a large electronics chain. These are just the guys I can remember off the top of my head and I hope the others forgive me.
The point of all this detail is to humanize these guys. Even when you threw in the former PGA Tour players trying to catch up to the earnings of their former peers and Senior Tour players trying to get back after not having done so the previous year, there was a certain equanimity about all of these guys. They were all serious enough players that they knew they weren’t playing against each other, they were playing against the golf course and themselves. They took personal responsibility for their results and didn’t blame them on anyone else: either you could shoot a good score or you couldn’t.
As I said in an Inside the Senior PGA Tour interview when asked what the viewers at home needed to know to decide if they were ready for Monday qualifying:
Well, go to a strange course you’ve never seen before. Play one practice round after 2 o’clock. Make any notes you want. And then be back on the first tee the next morning at 7:30 and shoot 68. And if you can do that, you have a chance to Monday qualify.
With up to 144 guys in the field (156 during daylight savings) and that daunting task in front of each of us, there was no room for gamesmanship or other brutishness. We were all too busy.