Golf has no off-season. Yes, technically the PGA Tour season has been wrapped up and the President’s Cup already came and went, but in the world of golf there is always something going on. And in a week where most sports fans are focused on College Football’s championship games, the home stretch of the NFL regular season and the deal (finally) between the NBA players and owners, there is one golf event that is the highest pressure event a professional golfer can face, Qualifying School.
Qualifying school on the PGA Tour consists of several stages of qualifying rounds based on status that ultimately leads to the Q-School final. The final, which is being played on two courses in La Quinta, Calif., this year, is a six round pressure-cooker, designed to separate those worthy of having a PGA Tour card and those more suited for a frequent hitters card at the local driving range. Of the 172 golfers in the final stage this year, the top 25 and ties will receive PGA Tour cards for 2012, and the next 50 will receive Nationwide Tour cards.
I have never understood the name qualifying school. It is not like the players are sat down and given classroom instruction on how best to execute a flop shot from a tight lie over a bunker to a short-sided hole location. The name “Q-School” evokes a certain amusing sophomoric image of PGA Tour veterans like David Duval sitting in a classroom and learning how to control wedge shots from the fairway to avoid spinning the ball off false fronts.
If Q-School truly was a “school” class, it would be less like that easy seventh grade English class you had with the attractive 25-year-old blonde teacher fresh out of college, and more like that college class you had with the tenured professor that liked to make things devilishly difficult for the sheer fun of it. And just to ratchet up the nerve factor, it is the version of that class from your dreams where you forgot to write your final paper and you show up to class completely naked.
Most people can’t even fathom the pressure these guys are under. Imagine your entire next year of employment is decided by six days of work against competition that is all working for the same thing and is good enough to have also advanced to the last stage. There are no bad players in the final stage of qualifying school. Determination, grit, will and patience ultimately decides who is moving on to the promised land and who is spending another year on the developmental circuit. Some of the players in the field have won major championships, like David Duval and Lee Janzen, and others are fresh out of college like Harris English. But one thing is for certain for all of them; they are nervous.
Q-School is where most players make the tour. For every Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, there are dozens of golfers that never make the spotlight. These journeymen plug along year after year, hoping to finish in the top 125 of the money list, or face the masochistically designed Q-School. For some, Q-School is the last shot at that dream they had of playing professional golf. And for many, the dream will end this week. With stakes that high, Q-School is the most difficult six days of golf for most players in their career (unless they are lucky enough to avoid it, like the Woods’ and that Mickelson’s of the world).
So as the golf world is focused on Woods’ play at the Chevron World Challenge this weekend and the sports world is focused on football and basketball, don’t forget about the 172 terrified golfers in La Quinta just trying to keep the dream alive.