The “Fall Classic” is upon the PGA Tour again today, the last chance to earn a Tour card for 2012. All the other easy last chances have long since come and gone.
There were all four tournaments in the Fall Series, any one of which, with a win, would have gotten the job done for two years, not just one. There were high finishes in at least a couple of those tournaments that would have gotten the job done for one year. But that didn’t happen. It was a disheartening collage of low finishes after just barely making the cut and sometimes missing the cut all together.
For Tour players trying to win their cards again, they go into this with a mental edge: they’re Tour players; they’ve been there; they know what it takes. For them, it should just be putting together six solid rounds at PGA West in La Quinta, California. They’re on the Nicklaus Tournament course and the Stadium Course (Pete Dye’s diabolical test). It’s a fresh start, it’s balmy Palm Springs, you’ve seen these kinds of courses before if not these courses. Fairways and greens. Pick the target, see the shot, hit the shot…without thinking about your swing. Think positively. Don’t panic. You know how to do this.
For guys who didn’t quite make it last year and ended up with a Nationwide Tour card instead, their thinking is about the same primarily because everybody knows just how competitive the Nationwide is. These guys are knuckle-dragging road warriors who stay in cheap hotels in out of the way places. A lot of out of the way places. Once the season starts, it’s like it never stops. Oh, they may go home for a week or two, but their mind is on the road, their friends, their games. They almost can’t wait to go back out again.
So they have all that going for them. But in the back of their minds is the certain knowledge that the Top 25 players on the Tour have already won promotions to the big tour. So maybe they’re thinking that they’re really not as good as the Nationwide lore would seduce them to think. If they were, they’d be in that 25 who are home gratefully celebrating. No, no, gotta think positively. The difference between those 25 and the not-25s is not much. Like nothing. Negligible. Think positively. You can’t play in doubt. Doubt is like a cancer on your swing.
Then you have the guys at the margin who have tried to get through Q-School and failed. Some of them (like me) many times (8). These are the guys who know that they can play, they just haven’t demonstrated it yet. They’re looking for their breakthrough after all those other times. But with each passing failure the seeds of doubt are sown some more. You have to really shut the world out to play your way out of that mind state. And it’s much harder to do when you don’t have any evidence that you can except for your own indomitable belief in yourself. You wouldn’t keep trying if you didn’t have that.
Then you have the new kids. The college kids. The innocents. The cocky ones. The true believers until the evidence turns against them. Oh, they’re fine as long as things are perking along and the wheels are still on. But how will they react in the biggest tournament of their lives when they make their first double bogey? Will they slough it off or will they succumb to their worst fears? What will the next year look like if they do? Who will they disappoint? Who will they have to explain it all to?
So that’s a general overview of the various categories of players and what their thinking might be.
Here’s still more, a fine summary of the notable players in the field by pgatour.com’s Brian Wacker; how they ended up at Q-School, what their chances might be and in some instances, reasons to care. There are some very famous guys on this list.
And finally, there will be tears of joy this week and tears over what might have been. The fallback outcome is that everyone who got to the finals will at least end up with a conditional Nationwide card. The good old Nationwide Tour.
Good luck to all.