Q-School sting fuels Tim O'Neal into PGA TOUR Champions debut
Longtime Korn Ferry Tour, APGA pro competing at Ascension Charity Classic on sponsor exemption
September 08, 2022
By Kevin Prise , PGATOUR.COM
- September 08, 2022
- Tim O'Neal made 154 career Korn Ferry Tour starts and won three times on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
As he prepares for life after 50 in professional golf, Tim O’Neal remains motivated by successes.
There have been many. O’Neal reflects fondly on college wins at Jackson State, the 1997 Georgia State Amateur title, three wins on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and consistent APGA success.
O’Neal also draws energy from the flip side. As he prepared to make his PGA TOUR Champions debut at this week’s Ascension Charity Classic – he turned 50 on August 3 – he thought back to PGA TOUR Q-School attempts in the early 2000s.
O’Neal missed a TOUR card by two strokes at Final Stage in 2000. Four years later, he missed a TOUR card by a single stroke, playing his final four holes in 1 over at PGA West in California.
The soft-spoken Georgia native has played on tours across the globe in pursuit of his professional golf dreams, and he was so close to a TOUR card, he could taste it. Rather than becoming disenchanted by the knowledge that he was one shot away, though, O’Neal remains perpetually driven. He wants to see how good he can be.
O’Neal will compete at Norwood Hills CC outside St. Louis, and perhaps eventually on a full-time PGA TOUR Champions schedule, with the proverbial chip on the shoulder. Harnessed correctly, he believes, it can provide that extra boost to reach the winner’s circle.
“Twice, I was right there, of being a PGA TOUR card member,” O’Neal said before the Ascension Charity Classic. “That definitely fuels me. It’s not like I missed by a bunch of shots. I know my game was good, just didn’t get over the hump.
When you win tournaments – going down to PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and winning three times – all that stuff gives you confidence. So for me, there are several things, not just one thing, that have given me the confidence to keep going and keep striving.”
O’Neal could be described as a quintessential journeyman in professional golf. He made 154 career Korn Ferry Tour starts, highlighted by a runner-up at the 2005 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic and a third-place finish at the 2006 Scholarship America Showdown at Somerby. He was also a steady presence on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica in the mid-2010s, thriving as one of the tour’s elder statesmen, including a 2013 campaign where he won twice and finished No. 3 on the Order of Merit to regain Korn Ferry Tour status for 2014.
O’Neal has stayed competitively fresh on the APGA this season, winning twice, and he didn’t look much ahead to PGA TOUR Champions until the last few weeks.
“Business as usual,” O’Neal said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it much. People would mention to me, but it’s not like I was waking up in the morning thinking, ‘I’m one day closer to PGA TOUR Champions,’ or anything like that.
“Now that I’m eligible, it’s really getting ready to start this new chapter. I’m definitely looking forward to it, and I can’t wait to tee it up.”
Next chapter about to begin for Tim O'Neal!— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) September 8, 2022
◾️ 16 wins in college @GoJSUTigers
◾️ 3 wins on @PGATOURLA
◾️ 9 wins on @APGA_Tour
He's now 50 and trying to make his mark in debut @AscensionCCG. pic.twitter.com/utGA0matSK
Another player who stayed sharp against the “kids” right up until age 50: Steven Alker. The New Zealander never notched a top-10 finish on the PGA TOUR, but he maintained a competitive edge on the Korn Ferry Tour, on which he played the full 2020-21 combined season. He finished T5 at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank in his first start as a 50-year-old; two weeks later, he Monday qualified into the Boeing Classic and has not looked back. Alker holds four PGA TOUR Champions wins and is the current Charles Schwab Cup points leader.
“Alker was still competing on the Korn Ferry Tour; maybe that had something to do with it,” remarked O’Neal, a contemporary of Alker on that circuit. “I’m not going to say he found lightning in a bottle, but he found something. Maybe he just felt a little more comfortable (on PGA TOUR Champions) and that rolled into confidence, and he’s just playing unbelievable. It seems like he’s doing a lot of stuff well.”
O’Neal aims to follow Alker’s lead and carve out a consistent presence on PGA TOUR Champions. The threshold to secure a spot in the next event is a top-10 finish; Alker recorded six consecutive top-10s to begin his after-50 career. He cemented his place on the circuit and has not looked back.
O’Neal will strive to do the same, while also preparing for the possibility of Q-School. The PGA TOUR Champions Qualifying Tournament is no easy task, with only five cards to be awarded this fall.
But if his career mindset is any indication, he would be as prepared as anyone.
“Hopefully being a little more patient and wiser and making a few more putts,” O’Neal said. “I still have a hill to climb, but I’m prepared for it. I’m just going to go out there and try to play the best golf that I can play.”