By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
IRVING, Texas -- Jeff Quinney came up one spot short of making the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup last fall.
Then in the q-school finals three months later, he came up one shot short of securing his TOUR card for 2011.
Now having to scramble for opportunities to play in any TOUR event this year, he was able to make a few starts but just missed making the field as the first alternate at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in Feburary and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April.
Notice a trend here?
"Missing by one -- that's been my story the last six months," Quinney said.
But perhaps his luck is turning. Making just his fourth TOUR start this year, Quinney produced a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the early lead in Thursday’s first round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
He credited his hot putter with producing his low round on a TPC Four Seasons Resort course that doesn't exactly play to his strengths. The course is long, and Quinney's strengths are his irons and short game.
Of course, when you have the kind of putting day that Quinney had Thursday -- he needed just 22 putts, nine on the front side -- you can go low almost anywhere.
"It's been a while," Quinney said when asked when the last time he felt this good with the putter. "I made an adjustment in my setup as of late yesterday afternoon. Just the way I'm setting up. I used to putt like this and have rounds like this, and it's one of those times when you're like, when are we going to have one of those hot days?
"I just came back, and you're trying to make good putts on all the greens, and it's a good feeling to have."
Quinney hasn't received many chances to enjoy those good feelings this year. His exempt status this year is 146th on last year's money list, so he can’t set his own schedule. For the most part, he must rely on sponsor invites and Monday qualifiers.
This week, he's on a sponsor’s invite that he received well ahead of time, one of the few tournaments that he could plan on playing.
"With the amount of medicals and the guys playing off career money, I haven't gotten as many starts as I thought," Quinney said. ". . . It's been a real struggle. Definitely a test of patience."
To keep his game sharp, he's played four tournaments on the Nationwide Tour this year but has finished no better than a tie for 39th. In his first three starts on the PGA TOUR, he's made two cuts, including a tie for 13th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera-Maya Cancun.
The challenge of such an uncertain schedule not only is the physical nature of making sure his game is tournament-ready but also the mental focus of staying confident and not getting frustrated.
And of course, there's the pressure of feeling the need to maximize every opportunity that arises. He can’t afford a bad week.
"It's one of those deals where you can't goof around. You've got to concentrate and I think that's in a good way," Quinney said. "Sometimes you can play three or four weeks in a row, not get too upset about missing a cut. 'OK, there's always next week.'
"Maybe there is no next week here. You've got to bear down and grind it out."
Quinney is 32 and still looking for his first PGA TOUR win. This is the 132nd start of his career; he's had a couple of second-place finishes. Opening with a 66 on Thursday is nice, but he needs to keep pushing. It won't be easy on a course that does not suit him.
But he remains optimistic.
"I know I can play out here," Quinney said. "I just have to stay patient and take advantage of my starts."
He certainly took advantage of it on Thursday.