PGA TOUR Champions Q-School offers shot at redemption
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Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour
There is nothing more challenging, nerve-racking and potentially rewarding as PGA TOUR Champions Q-School.
No, it’s not the dream of longtime PGA TOUR pros. It doesn’t have to be. The ones who enjoyed success on the regular tour know it will be waiting for them.
But for the hundreds of players who tasted a modicum of success on the PGA TOUR but never got over the hump, or for the thousands of clubs pros who dreamed of teeing it up against the best but for whatever reason never got the chance, this is their mulligan.
There are five fully exempt spots available every year. It’s not much in a field of 78 players, but it represents the hope and the dream of playing golf for a living.
Scott Parel is the best recent example of a guy who parlayed Q-school into a big-time career. The co-medalist with Phillip Price in 2017 at Walt Disney World’s Magnolia Course in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Parel has gone on to claim four PGA TOUR Champions titles and record two top-10 finishes in the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
What kind of advice did Parel have to offer fellow pros about to enter the final stage of Q-school?
“It’s a 72-hole tournament, and you have to think about going in to win it,” said Parel, who still follows the qualifying stages pretty closely. “You try to shut out the distractions and just play your game.
“Don’t stress so much. We all know how difficult it is because there are so few spots. But if you treat it like more than just a golf tournament, you’ll end up probably not doing very well.”
Longtime club pro Rob Labritz was last year’s Q-school medalist. His advice wasn’t far off from Parel’s.
“You gotta go low,” Labritz said. “You gotta play like you’re going to win a Champions Tour event. I shot 17 under at TPC Tampa Bay and that’s kinda like the going rate for under par for winning on a week-to-week basis on Champions. Gun for that. Get to double digits under par and you’ll have a really good chance.”
Obviously a player has to be on top of his game to finish in the top five. Parel and Labritz said to attack early but then as the tournament wears on remember it’s not a tournament that has to be won. The guy who comes in fifth gets the same reward as the winner: fully exempt status for a year on PGA TOUR Champions.
“Approach it like it’s a four-day tournament,” Parel said. “It’s not a one-day qualifier. You shoot only 1-under, 2-under and you’re outside the top 10 after the first day, and it’s easy to get discouraged. Then you pop out the numbers and figure out what you have to shoot every day, and that’s the worst thing you can do.”
Both Parel and Labritz said they tried not to pay attention to where they were on the leaderboard, which each admitted is easier said than done. But each also said he knew by virtue of being in the final threesome on the final day that his Champions Tour card was well within reach.
“I was a mess the night before the final round. I mean an absolute mess,” Labritz said. “It’s a moment I’ve dreamed about. I was on my knees praying. I was calling TOUR pros who’d won asking for advice.
“But it worked out great. They all said the same thing, and it became my mantra for this season: Just smile and be yourself and have fun. You worked so hard at this game, obviously you want it, but you’re doing it because you love it. I was like, ‘You’re right.’”
It seems so simple. Relax. Go low. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And fifth is as good as first.
For the guys who make the final group, it probably will have been that simple. But the battle for those final two spots will be the roller coaster ride of a lifetime. Parel, Labritz and a bunch of the legends of the game will be waiting when it ends. Then the real fun begins.