Monday, November 17, 2008

Q-School second stage is no picnic

I spent last week on the scoreboard at Callaway Gardens, one of the second stage locations for the PGA TOUR's Q-School. Seventy-eight players were vying for the top twenty spots (plus ties) to advance to next month's grueling six-day final stage at PGA West in California. It's surprising how many well-known pros have to endure the second stage after they have fallen on hard times. At Callaway Gardens alone, the group included past TOUR winners Chris Riley (on the U.S. Ryder Cup team just four years ago), Olin Browne, Billy Andrade, Chris Smith, Tom Scherrer, Carlos Franco, Robert Damron, Jim Gallagher Jr., Mike Heinen, Ian Leggatt, Jim McGovern, Michael Clark II and Len Mattiace...and there were three other second stage sites around the country with similar fields!

A local official was taken aback by the surly mood of one of these pros before the first round. I reminded him that Q-School is much different than any other tournament these guys play in. Some participants, the youthful TOUR wannabes who have graduated here through first stage, are all excited and hopeful of realizing their dream. This week is full of nothing but promise for them.

But for the seasoned veterans who have spent years (some decades) out on TOUR, this week symbolizes something of a failure. Their V.I.P. Pass to the Big Show has been revoked, and now they finally face the daunting task of clawing their way back into the party. Surviving the final stage of Q-School is strenuous enough, but having to also grind your way through second stage, for these guys, is downright annoying. It's enough to make anyone surly.

You needed to play inspired golf to advance (9-under for four rounds was the number at Callaway Gardens), and only five of the thirteen pros above will be teeing it up at final stage. I wish them the best, and for the eight who didn't make it, I hope they can rebound quickly from the disappointment.

Concerning young Webb Simpson, who I mentioned in my last post...he did not earn enough money at the end of the Nationwide Tour's season to secure his 2009 TOUR card. Webb also played at Callaway Gardens, however, and made it through at 10-under par. So now he's off to California to try and lock up his card the hard way: posting six solid rounds to finish in the top 25 out of 150+ scrappy pros. Webb, you should heed the advice of Q-School survivor Ron Whittaker...stock up on Pepto-Bismol and Ambien!

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