KORN FERRY TOUR INSIDER
Sucher hoping to make most of opportunity in rookie season on TOUR
October 22, 2014
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- Zack Sucher is in the field at this week's The McGladrey Classic. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
As the 2013 golf season moved along, Zack Sucher had plenty of confidence in his game, but he lacked a place to display it. Without full status on the Web.com Tour, Sucher was required to Monday-qualify his way into tournaments – always a dicey proposition, as scores in the mid- to low 60s are usually required.
Sucher Monday-qualified his way into the 2013 South Georgia Classic Presented by First State Bank and Trust Company, finishing T2 and earning $48,533.34 to nearly attain full status for the remainder of the season -- but it wasn’t quite enough.
The top-25 finish did provide Sucher entry into the following week’s Stadion Classic at UGA, but he missed the cut, and he didn’t get into a field again until the Mylan Classic in August. There, his T10 finish brought him enough earnings to earn full status at the next Web.com Tour reshuffle – but there weren’t any reshuffles left.
When all was said and done, Sucher finished 79th on the 2013 Web.com Tour money list in only five events, just $4,021 outside gaining entry into the inaugural Web.com Tour Finals and securing full Web.com Tour status for 2014. Regardless of what happened at Q school, he had secured conditional status for 2014.
Sucher fell a bit short of having a chance to play for a PGA TOUR card at the Finals, but after years of struggle on various mini-tours, the 28-year-old was encouraged by the knowledge that his game was coming around.
“Last year, I knew I was close,” Sucher said. “I knew I was playing well; I just didn’t get the opportunities that I needed to. With the way it worked out, I was going to have good status this year no matter what, which made Q-School a whole lot easier this year – no pressure. I was like, 'I’m going to have my starts early; I’m going to have a chance to make money.’”
Loosened up, Sucher finished a respectable T42 at Final Stage of Q-School, securing strong status for the 2014 Web.com Tour season.
For the first time, Sucher didn’t need to worry about Monday qualifiers, and he had the opportunity to plan his tournament schedule with confidence. He took advantage, producing a near-dominant season that included a victory at the Midwest Classic in late July, and earning his TOUR card for the first time.
Sucher shot 19-under totals for three consecutive weeks (Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco; Midwest Classic; Stonebrae Classic), and the victory in Overland Park, Kansas, assured him of TOUR status for 2014-15. He ultimately finished No. 3 on the Web.com Tour Regular Season money list.
Zach Sucher: 2014 Web.com Tour Graduate
Sucher wasn’t shocked to see his game hold up so well on a big stage, but the level of success – 10th in scoring average; seventh in all-around ranking – was pleasantly surprising.
“I could kind of see it coming, but not as well as it happened this year,” said Sucher, a native of Atlanta, Georgia. “The feeling overall when I won – I don’t have to worry about this number anymore; I’m locked in – it was just incredible, knowing that. That’s really the only goal of the year, is that I want that PGA TOUR card. It made the rest of the year so much more fun.”
Sucher played his college golf at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where his game held up well against the rigors of Division I competition – his college teammate and best friend, John Darby, described him as easily the best player on their team.
Sucher racked up seven collegiate victories between 2005-06 and 2008-09 – including the 2008 Conference USA Championships and NCAA East Regional -- and Darby figured that his teammate would likely piece together a fairly quick path to the TOUR.
Things didn’t work out that way at first. Sucher struggled at Q-School, and he bounced around the NGA/Hooters Tour and eGolf Tour – “whichever one was closer to my house,” he said.
Sucher did have conditional Web.com Tour status in 2011, when he played in 11 events. But he made only five cuts, finishing No. 174 on the money list. He fell short at Q-School, and from there it was back to the mini-tours.
Darby’s belief did not wane, though, and neither did Sucher’s. Always a great scrambler, Sucher struggled at times with wayward play off the tee, but his driving accuracy began to come around over the last few years.
The statistics have reflected it: Sucher finished a respectable No. 99 on the 2014 Web.com Tour in driving accuracy (63 percent), and his short game was unsurprisingly pristine (fifth in scrambling).
“He hits the ball much straighter than he used to,” Darby said. “He’s much more in control of his ball. He’s a great scrambler, so when he hits it crooked he can still score really well, but he’s been playing much better. All around, his game has gotten better.”
Aside from Darby, another always-steady presence in Sucher’s life through all the ups and downs has been his wife, Courtney. The two met during Zack’s first week at UAB (Courtney was already attending the school), through a mutual friend of Courtney’s who was also going to be on the UAB golf team. They have been together ever since.
The Suchers got married in spring 2009, with NCAA Regionals serving as their honeymoon. Courtney didn’t play golf growing up, but she has grown to respect and appreciate the game over the years, and she has even served as Zack’s caddie at times over the past year – for parts of last year’s Q-School, and during this year’s early-season Latin America events.
Despite a lack of inherent golf knowledge, Courtney was able to keep from becoming overwhelmed during her time on the bag – with the help of her husband.
“Zack is really patient, and he guides me along the way,” Courtney said. “I was actually more nervous about the other caddies, because I knew they knew what they were doing, and I didn’t want to bother anyone. They were actually really, really nice and really helpful. The only girl out there, trying to blend in … I actually really enjoyed it.”
The Suchers have a 19-month-old daughter, Hadley, and the family travels together from tournament to tournament. Hadley doesn’t follow along on the course much – “she’s a pretty rambunctious wild child; she would yell ‘Da-Da’ the whole time,” Courtney said – but Courtney brought her onto the 18th green for congratulations when Zack earned his victory at the Midwest Classic.
Zack Sucher wins Midwest Classic
The TOUR schedule offers a variety of exotic destinations – the Suchers are particularly looking forward to Hawaii and Mexico – and the family has been making sure to soak everything in. They even keep a blog, too, moderated by Courtney.
“There are so many opportunities ahead, and we’re just thankful to be a part of it,” Courtney said. “I’m just so proud of Zack. He’s worked really hard, and it wasn’t always easy; there were a lot of trying times, but he definitely persevered through all of that. He knew the ultimate goal, and I’m just glad that he encouraged all of us to stand behind him.”
Through the ups and downs, Courtney never lost faith.
“I didn’t know when the PGA TOUR would be handed to us, and when he would make it, but I knew he would,” Courtney said. “A lot of golfers have the ability; at that point it’s not really about the ability, if you can or if you can’t. It’s ‘when,’ a matter of when. If he had the opportunity in front of him, given the chance to be out on the Web.com Tour, I knew Zack could do it.”
Courtney describes Zack as a laid-back person when it comes to golf, and Darby concurs. Now a financial analyst for a bank in Alabama, Darby recalls that Sucher didn’t like to spend endless hours on the range during college – rather, he liked to do things that he figured would have a direct, tangible impact on his game.
That may be part of why Sucher’s short game is so sublime, Darby said. The two always brainstormed various short-game challenges during practices at UAB.
“He has kind of a unique approach to the game,” Darby said. “He’s not someone that’s going to hit a huge bucket of balls and do a bunch of drills. He likes to do things that are fun, that he thinks are going to directly help his game. He would never go hit balls just to hit balls. We had a ton of chipping contests, all sorts of crazy games, and I think that actually helps a lot.”
Sucher is the same way now. With the constant demands of professional golf, it can be easy for a player to beat himself up and break himself down. He’s cognizant of this fact, and he strives not to fall into the trap.
It’s why the Web.com Tour Finals weren’t too stressful for him. Even though the opportunity to earn the No. 1 spot on the combined Regular Season and Finals money list was present, he knew his TOUR card was secure, and a high spot on the Priority Ranking was safe due to his No. 3 position on the Regular Season money list.
So he approached the Finals with a clear head. With many other players grinding at the practice area from sunrise to sunset, Sucher made his way around the grounds at each Finals event with a smile and a loose disposition.
“I’m not too big on getting out here and grinding it out,” Sucher said. “I play my golf and head home, and then I get up in the morning and play golf again, so it’s not too stressful. I’m not too big on hitting range balls, and the stress level is what’s gone, so it’s not very tiring, mentally or physically.”
Sucher and the other 49 Web.com Tour graduates had a two-week break after the Web.com Tour Championship, and the 2014-15 TOUR season is underway.
Sucher has played in the first two fall events, missing the cut at both. There was reason for optimism after an opening 4-under 67 at last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but he fell outside the cut line with a second-round 75.
Still, it’s a long season, and Sucher is far removed from where he was in 2013, when he was trying to fight his way into Web.com Tour events via low scores in Monday qualifiers.
Sucher is excited for the larger crowds on TOUR – “I really like the interaction and the fans” – and he’s particularly looking forward to the stadium setting on the par-3 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in late January.
“Since I’ve been watching it on TV, it’s like, 'Man, I really want to play that golf hole,’” Sucher said. “They boo at you, cheer for you. I absolutely love that.”
Darby has high hopes for his friend, who he figured would make it to the TOUR all along.
“I think he’ll do well,” Darby said. “He definitely has the game for it, and the right approach. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how he does. Golf’s so unpredictable, but if he keeps playing like he’s been playing, I think he’ll do great.”