Super Bowl of Monday qualifying
Winners, notable names, international stars – The Honda Classic has the deepest qualifying field of any TOUR event
February 25, 2020
By Ryan French, PGATOUR.COM
The field list that day in 2013 in South Florida included the world’s 32nd-ranked player, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who would earn an automatic spot on the Ryder Cup the following year. It also included another future European Ryder Cupper, Alex Noren, ranked 59th in the world. And another top-100 player, Shane Lowry, who later than year represented Ireland in the World Cup.
Lowry, of course, was still several years away from claiming the 2019 Open Championship, but a couple of his fellow competitors – Lee Janzen and Rich Beem -- already had major titles to their names back then. Now add a few multi-time PGA TOUR winners in Billy Mayfair, Chris DiMarco and Vaughn Taylor, and the field suddenly had serious credentials.
You might not be surprised to learn that it was the week of The Honda Classic, the annual PGA TOUR stop in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
You might be surprised that it was Monday of tournament week.
But really, you shouldn’t be surprised. The Honda Classic has the deepest field of all Monday qualifiers for any PGA TOUR event. It’s the Super Bowl of Monday qualifiers, with more notable names and more high-end resumes than other qualifiers throughout the season.
Perhaps its closest rival are the sectional qualifiers for the U.S. Open, especially the one held near the PGA TOUR event completed the day before, as non-qualified TOUR pros take one last shot at getting into the field. Some of the names that appeared in that sectional qualifier last year in Columbus, Ohio, can be found in this week’s Monday qualifier field at The Honda Classic.
That Monday qualifier in 2013 was indicative of the strength of field, and other Monday qualifiers for The Honda Classic have included the likes of Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner and Ryan Palmer and European starts such as Thomas Levet, Robert Karlsson and Jesper Parnevik.
Year after year, the Monday qualifier has numerous players in the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), major champions, and multiple PGA TOUR winners. Names you expect to see on Sunday, not Monday.
Take a look at the 2019 Monday qualifier: 24 players with at least one TOUR win; 11 players with more than one; a combined 47 total TOUR wins. Two players had made more than 500 career TOUR starts; three others had more than 400; and 11 had more than 200. From a career earnings standpoint, three players had made more than $20 million; six had made more than $10 million; and 13 made more than $5 million.
This year was no different. Thirteen different PGA TOUR winners were in the field at Banyan Cay, along with a combined 23 European Tour wins, and 41 total Korn Ferry Tour wins. The field’s total PGA TOUR earnings was in excess of $212 million. Along with the United States, a dozen other countries were represented.
Some of the names you might recognize – TOUR winners Jonathan Byrd, David Lingmerth and Arjun Atwal; veteran Australians John Senden and Robert Allenby; 2016 Olympian Seamus Power of Ireland; and Arnold Palmer’s grandson Sam Saunders.
That’s a lot of horsepower for an event that you must play just for the opportunity to play the tournament three days later. (Of the names above, only Atwal was among the four qualifiers to earn spots; click here for full story.)
"It's a great litmus test of where you stand,” said Blayne Barber, who shot a 66 at Banyan Bay to get through in 2019. “Knowing you beat a bunch of players that are basically in middle of their PGA TOUR season is a great feeling."
But a deep qualifying field like the week of The Honda Classic also comes with a dose of reality.
“Expectations are low in any Monday,” said Aron Price, who successfully qualified in 2010. “They are even lower in the Honda Monday.”
Why does The Honda Classic have the premium Monday qualifier of the TOUR season? It’s a confluence of several reasons.
The tournament itself often has an exceptional field, filled with many of the top players in the world. The strong field leaves a lot of players with world-class resumes on the outside, looking in.
Meanwhile, sponsor exemptions aren't as easy to come by for players that in some other events might get one. This is especially true for European Tour members that aren't members of the PGA TOUR. In some other TOUR events, they would often be able to grab one of the sponsor exemptions, but without securing an exemption, the last resort is the Monday.
The Honda is also one of the few events that attracts one of the best fields of the year and has a Monday qualifier.
For instance, there are no Monday qualifiers for THE PLAYERS Championship, the four majors, the World Golf Championships events, the FedExCup Playoffs or invitation-only events.
It’s also the first Monday qualifier to start the Florida swing, making it the closest Monday qualifier in the new calendar year for European players.
The Honda’s move to PGA National in 2007 also is a significant factor, according to Geoff Lofstead, Executive Director of the South Florida PGA section, who runs the Honda Classic Monday qualifier.
“The move to PGA National really moved the event to elite status and therefore helped make the Monday qualifier such a quality field,” Lofstead said.
The same year the event moved to PGA National, the South Florida PGA section began holding pre-qualifiers. Before that, they limited the Monday Qualifier field to 312 players (two courses, two spots at each). The pre-qualifiers gave the opportunity to move the Monday to one course and try to limit the field size to finish on Monday.
The reason for the schedule adjustment was simple. “Darkness has always been our biggest enemy,” said Brett Graf, tournament director for the South Florida PGA.
The pre-qualifiers not only helped ensure an actual finish on Monday, it also increased the number of participants. This year, a total of 458 players teed it up for the four pre-qualifiers and Monday qualifier.
Geography also plays a massive role in the qualifier being such a high-caliber field.
According to a Golf.com story in 2018, 35 PGA TOUR pros live in the Jupiter, Florida area, about 15 miles away from PGA National. The most celebrated local pro, of course, is Tiger Woods and he’s joined by other big names such as Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler.
Of course, those guys don’t have to worry about Monday qualifying, but for the local pros still grinding and seeking better TOUR status, being able to Monday qualify without worrying about travel demands is huge. Veterans that might otherwise not chase qualifiers and instead wait to get into events based on their status, will choose to play The Honda Monday because of its proximity to their home.
Consider Ryan Armour, who moved to Jupiter in 2003. He attempted to Monday qualify for The Honda Classic nine times before finally getting through in 2017, shooting a 67 at Mayacoo Lakes Country Club.
“It wasn’t just another Monday,” said Armour, who later that year broke through with his first PGA TOUR victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Florida also is home to a large portion of the nation's developmental tours, and the Monday qualifier creates an opportunity for developmental tour players to fight for one of the four spots in The Honda Classic without the expenses of traveling.
One of those tours is the Minor League Golf Tour, based in Stuart, Florida, about 30 minutes away from PGA National. Armour, in fact, was one of those MLGT veterans, having won eight times on that tour.
This year, of the 338 players who participated in the pre-qualifiers, 28 of those were MLGT players. Seventeen qualified to play in the Monday qualifier.
Going to a pre-qualifier and a Monday qualifier for a player with no status can cost upwards of $1,500. With the event in their backyard and minimal travel costs, many players sign up for the opportunity to rub elbows with the best golfers in the world.
“Why not take a chance?” said developmental tour player Joseph Gunerman. “It’s not often you are 36 (pre-q and Mon q) holes away from playing in a great event for millions of dollars.
“That is the reason we are all playing mini-tours anyway, to get to the big tour. When it was in my backyard, I thought I had to try."
Since 2013, there has been no Korn Ferry Tour event the same week as The Honda Classic, allowing many of those players to try gaining entry through Monday qualifier during an off-week. Plus, Korn Ferry Tour members pay just $100 for the entry fee and don’t have to play in pre-qualifiers.
In 2015, then-Korn Ferry Tour member Mark Silvers was one of the four qualifiers to get through to The Honda Classic. He called it "the ultimate badge of honor.”
This year’s schedule is different, though, with the Korn Ferry Tour playing in Mexico this week.
But what’s not different was the depth of field for this week's qualifier. Playing well enough to gain a tee time on Thursday at PGA National is an accomplishment in itself. After all, the Super Bowl comes around only once a year.