Another PGA Tour Q-School has come and gone along with the dreams and prayers of the players. Now they’re all living in the reality of the next day.
This year it was held on the West coast at PGA West on the Nicklaus Tournament Course and Pete Dye’s famous Stadium Course. Six days, six rounds, three on each course and no cut except the last one: the top 25 and ties, plus a possible three more if three already-exempt players trying to improve their positions were successful. (I add this last piece of in-the-weeds information just to illustrate how pervasive the distractions for the players can be.)
So the first thing I noticed about Q-School is that it’s not fair. Not in any rules sense of fairness, more like life-isn’t-fair fairness. These guys had all worked for years to hone golf games worthy of status on the PGA Tour. This year, some of them began as long ago as September 13th, two and a half months ago, by playing in the Pre-Qualifying stages. The First Qualifying stages began a little over a month later on October 18th. The Second Qualifying stages began a month after that on November 15th. And the Final Qualifying stage began a quick two weeks after that on November 27th. When you’re playing well, it can’t come soon enough. If you’re not, every precious day is another day to find your swing.
So all of that work over all of those years, all of that effort to keep a golf game sharp for two and a half months. It is axiomatic that golf games are cyclical, they come and go. So as a player, you have to hope that somehow your cycle is in synch with the Tour’s cycle without any real way of knowing how. That’s true for any tournament, of course, but this one has a year’s worth of consequences. Oh, there’s the traditional bromide of “working hard,” but if anybody really knew of a bulletproof way of keeping a well-rounded, Tour-quality game sharp, there would be no cycles. Golf, like life, is about doing the best you can with what you have at any moment in time.
There were a couple of great interviews yesterday with experienced Tour players who had to re-qualify many times. And one in particular said, “Last year I didn’t have it and this year it was easy.” But at least the player is in control of this situation to the extent that it can be controlled.
But the biggest situation they have no control over is the weather and particularly the wind. The weather wasn’t too bad this year, but the winds were. The same Santa Ana winds that played havoc at Tiger’s Chevron World Challenge over on the coast in Thousand Oaks were a big factor for a couple of days in the Southern California desert in Palm Springs (La Quinta, to be precise).
Just looking at the daily average scores for each course, you can see that the wind really blew in the 2nd and 4th rounds. The scoring averages for those two days were 3 to 3 ½ and 4 to 4 ½ strokes higher depending on which course you were playing. The Stadium course was the harder of the two with a cumulative stroke average 1.28 strokes higher. In fact, there was only one player, Richard Lee, who earned his Tour card while playing the Stadium Course in the final round. So the order in which you get to play the courses is another factor you can’t control. If you happened to be on the easier Nicklaus course the two days the wind really blew and on the last day, you had the better of it.
And don’t think that the players don’t think about things like that. There is the old saying that “it’s the same for everybody,” but that’s only true on the same course at the same time. They knew the Stadium Course was the tougher of the two, so on those three days, don’t think that wasn’t in the back of the minds of guys playing on it. Confidence is such a big part of the game and any little sliver of disadvantage like this can cut into it.
But for those who are able to step over all of these distractions at the margins and just play golf—choosing a target, visualizing a shot to that target and then being completely committed to hitting that shot—will always do better than those who cannot. That’s what it always comes down too.
If you want to look into the eyes of a player who was doing that, see the photo of medalist Brendon Todd in this rundown post at pgatour.com. Completely passive, completely objective, completely in the moment.
For the traditional rundown post on the agony and ecstasy of the Q-School, see this post, also at pgatour.com.
And just in case you haven’t had a chance to check yet, here’s how the 160 players finished on the leaderboard.
Good luck to each of them, wherever their paths may lead them.