In a normal year, only two Nationwide players slide out of the top 25 at the completion of the Tour Championship and, of course, two take their place. The top 25 on the money list at the end of the year win PGA Tour cards for the following year. In the life of a professional golfer it is a very big deal.
But at this year’s Tour Championship played at the Daniel Island Club, in Charleston, South Carolina, four players swapped PGA Tour cards for another year of training on the Nationwide. And there were some very dramatic moves:
Brendan Steele won the tournament in a four-hole playoff and jumped from 30th on the money list to 6th—a huge payday and a Tour card. He shot a first-round 66 to kick things off for himself.
Colt Knost, a former PGA Tour player, lost in the playoff, but went from 36th to 15th. Back in business.
David Hearn finished 4th and went from 27th to 21st, and Joe Affrunti managed to finish 3rd and vault from 34th to 22nd on the money list.
None of those who fell out of the top 25 fell very far, but it will end up costing them another year on the Nationwide unless they manage to get through Q-School. At least they have solved one of the biggest problems of professional golfers: they know they have a good place to play next year. Scott Gardiner went from 22nd to 26th with his T24 finish, Nate Smith went from 24th to 27th with his T33, B.J. Staten went from 23rd to 28th with his T46 and Chris Nallen went from right on the bubble 25th to 31st with his T43.
Each of these guys had the misfortune of having a bad week at the worst possible time. This was when it counted, when an entire year and everything that preceded it was on the line. Each of them was just too close to the precipice: 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th.
When you’re that close, you have to have a good week and the worst part from a mastery point of view, is that you know it. It hangs like a pall over your consciousness from the time you know where you stand and what you have to do, through almost every waking hour. It’s just like Q-School in that your mind may drift to some other thought as you go through your day, but then it will suddenly snap back with a start, shooting jolts of adrenaline through your body.
So as you go through your days prior to the tournament, it’s like plink, plink, plink…and if you’re not playing confidently, each plink makes your eyes blink, your mind blink.
If you can use the start of play as relief from thinking about it, if you are capable of competitive-round focus, you’ll be okay. But if anything goes even slightly wrong—Staten had a first-round 75—your mind opens up to the leaks of uncertainty.
To be sure, just because these guys lost their slots doesn’t mean they can’t play, even though Nallen shot a fourth round 79. At this level, every one of these guys can play. Nallen proved it in his very first Nationwide event back in 2004. He Monday qualified for one of four spots into the Gila River Classic near Chandler, Arizona. He shot a first round 60 and led wire-to-wire to win. What a start to a career.
All these guys will be fine and are so tournament hardened they may well get through Q-School and wind up with cards anyway. They are each exempt, along with every other player in the 26th through 40th positions, directly into the final stage of Q-School.
And finally, to close the loop on my earlier post about Peter Tomasulo. He managed to finish 58th in the tournament, next to last, by shooting 74, 77, 74, 74. Not very good scores until I remind you that he had his broken foot in a cast and had to hobble along between shots with a cane. It was the only way he could protect his 18th position on the money list. He wound up squeaking in at 23rd in a display of mastery every bit as impressive as, Jamie Lovemark’s, the guy who finished 1st.
All of them will have well-deserved waves of relief and joy washing through their bodies for days. It’s the narcotic of professional golf.