Go low or go home
Monday qualifying on the PGA TOUR is one of the tougher tasks in golf
March 07, 2016
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- Web.com Tour member Edward Loar attempted to qualify for The Honda Classic. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – One bad swing. That’s all it takes.
One bad swing and a real case of the Mondays is sure to set in.
Like many pro golfers with PGA TOUR dreams, Edward Loar knows the feeling of failure at a Monday qualifier. The 18-hole event routinely has more than 100 players competing for just a handful of spots at that week’s PGA TOUR event. Simply put, shoot in the mid-60s or go home. This is no place for a 68.
There were nearly 160 players competing two weeks ago during the Monday qualifier for The Honda Classic. Just four – yes, four -- qualifying spots were available. That’s less than 3 percent of the field, one full of accomplished professionals.
During a break in the Web.com Tour season, Loar teed it up at Mayacoo Lakes Country Club, a pristine South Florida club with a course rating of 74.5 and slope of 148. It might not rival the difficulty of The Honda’s PGA National, but it’s certainly no picnic on this breezy afternoon.
Loar was going along nicely until taking a double bogey on the 11th hole, dropping him to 2 over for the round. To put that in perspective, he would have likely needed to birdie out – or something along those lines – to have a chance at a playoff. Eleven holes into the event, he suddenly didn’t have much to play for.
“Two years ago, I shot 66 and went straight to my car because it took like 64,” said Loar, 38, a four-time All-American at Oklahoma State who has won twice on the Web.com Tour. “When you know that and you shoot even par on the front, you’re just like, ‘Oh, I better try to birdie every hole. Otherwise we might as well go to the truck.’
“I hit a bad drive on 11, and that was kind of all she wrote. At that point, in a four-spotter, I was just ready to get it over with.”
With such a large field and limited daylight on this Monday, the qualifier spilled into the next day. When the dust settled at about 9 a.m. Tuesday, three players had qualified for The Honda Classic: Tom Hoge (64), Darron Stiles (65) and Mark Blakefield (65).
Two players were tied at 66, Chris Baker and Cameron Percy, requiring a rare sudden-deathTuesday morning playoff. Baker made birdie on the first playoff hole to grab the fourth and final spot -- and earn a spot in his first TOUR event.
If there isn’t much in golf like a Monday qualifier, there really isn’t much like a Monday qualifier ending on a Tuesday.
Where else would you see a player competing as a single with something meaningful on the line? That was Stiles on Tuesday morning – play was halted due to darkness Monday after he played his first 17 holes in 5 under, and his playing partners Richy Werenski and Peter Hanson had withdrawn rather than return Tuesday with no chance of finishing in the top four.
Stiles calmly laid up to a good yardage on the water-logged par 5, wedged on and made an 8-footer for birdie.
“If you play it long enough, which I have, you’ll go through this experience more than once,” Stiles said. “This is not the first time I’ve had to come back on a Tuesday to play, and not the first time I’ve played as a single, either. So it’s just something that over the course of your career, you kind of have to deal with.”
While walking to the scoring area, Stiles received congratulations from fellow veteran Robert Garrigus, who was making his way to the parking lot. Garrigus had shot 67 early Monday, then waited (and waited some more) for four players to post scores of 66 or better.
Hoge, Baker and Percy did so, but Garrigus was tied for fourth among finishers as the sun went down Monday. So he hung around Tuesday morning at Mayacoo – as did fellow 67-shooter Brad Brunner, a Web.com Tour rookie – until Stiles posted the fourth sub-67 score.
“You just can’t leave,” said Brunner, who made the 200-mile drive for the qualifier from his home in the Tampa area. “If you’ve got any sort of chance, you’ve got to stay.”
Not all players went that far, though. Andy Pope was 1 under with three holes to play – including a borderline reachable par 5 – when play was halted. It would be feasible that he could get to 5 under, which would likely be enough for a playoff.
Then again, how feasible was it, really? With a child in Orlando to get home to, Pope turned in his card.
“If I stay, I have to call Jim Renner and ask him to take my kid to school in the morning,” Pope said before departing the premises.
The last player to debate withdrawing on Monday evening, Adam Long, was even par with two holes to play – a mid-length par 3 and a long par 4. His only scenario for advancement would involve holing out back-to-back iron shots, as well as Stiles and Blakefield faltering at the end.
Long went back-and-forth for a while, eventually pulling out.
Hoge had no such agony. The North Dakota native originally wasn’t even sure whether to compete in the qualifier: he’s in the midst of remodeling his house in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and he figured that getting some rest this week wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.
But with his girlfriend on the bag, Hoge shot a casual 7-under 64 to earn his spot comfortably. He hung around the scoring area on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, just to be sure, but the 64 was never touched.
Hoge’s girlfriend was picked up by her parents to spend a few days in Naples, and he turned his attention to the rigors of PGA National, where he went on to make the cut and finish T37 (Stiles finished 76th, while Baker and Blakefield missed the cut).
The rigors of Mayacoo Lakes consisted of narrow fairways, myriad water hazards – and for some players, a non-traditional caddying situation.
Self-caddying, that is.
Rather than paying a caddie fee for an 18-hole event, several players opted to carry their own bag on the relatively flat layout, including Web.com Tour players Brady Schnell, Matt Atkins – and Baker.
Chris Baker carried his own bag en route to shooting a 66. (Kevin Prise/PGA TOUR)
Generally, players come to enjoy carrying their own bag -- especially when they make it through. Vaughn Taylor successfully self-caddied at Mayacoo a few years back, and Baker turned the same trick this year.
“I think it’s just how I grew up, and I enjoy the experience,” Baker said. “That’s how golf is.”
The Monday qualifying experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable for those who didn’t play well.
Loar played with fellow Web.com Tour members Adam Svensson and Steve LeBrun, residents of South Florida who were vying to have a ‘home game’ for a week at PGA National.
This past December, Svensson earned medalist honors at the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament at PGA National – by seven shots. At the same event, LeBrun played his final nine holes in 4 under to earn guaranteed Web.com Tour status for the first nine events.
Loar wasn’t lacking for motivation, either. His Web.com Tour status this year is limited, and any positive result can provide a spark for the rest of the season.
For all three, though, the golf was a struggle from the get-go. Aside from Loar’s chip-in eagle on No. 9, highlights were lacking, and putts were hard to come by.
The 11th hole played pivotal for all three: Loar and Svensson each made double bogey, and Svensson made bogey. Loar eventually shot 73, LeBrun 74 and Svensson 75.
As the round drew to a close, though, the vibe shifted from frustration to peace. After all, the success rate at a Monday qualifier isn’t too high. How upset can you get?
“You just try to play as aggressively as you can, and you try to get off to a good start,” Svensson said. “And if you don’t, you’re just kind of out there playing for fun. I had a lot of fun today, and even though I didn’t play that great, it was still fun to get out.
“You’ve got to pretty much play a career round. You’ve got to play a really good round, and it’s just a crapshoot. So I’m not upset or mad about anything.”
At the very least, good conversation was had by all. LeBrun’s dad, a former fishing boat captain, caddied with a pull cart and regaled Loar and his cousin/caddie with tales from the sea.
“He was a fishing boat captain for 40 years, so that’s not going anywhere,” LeBrun said with a smile.
LeBrun and Svensson had short drives back home, but for Loar, it was back to Dallas. Things might not have broken his way on Monday, but Loar knows there will be more qualifiers, more low scores to be had, more dreams to chase.
And perhaps a little more fun before leaving South Florida.
“Do a little fishing, ate some good seafood,” said Loar, who stayed with his cousin/caddie in Jupiter during the trip. “It’s convenient and the weather’s always pretty good.
“So if I don’t qualify, just come down and work on my game for a couple days and go back home.”