O'Neal ready to face return to Q-School after a trip around the world

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Timothy O'Neal passed on the final event of the Latinoamerica season to prep for q-school.
December 11, 2013
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Tim O’Neal has travelled the globe to resurrect his career. He returns this week to two California courses that have been the site of some of his most difficult memories.

O’Neal is one of 152 entrants in this week’s Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament, which begins Thursday at PGA West’s TPC Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses. The six-round event will determine Web.com Tour status for 2014. He’s one of the fortunate ones, having already clinched conditional status by finishing third on the NEC Series - PGA TOUR Latinoamerica Order of Merit ($90,015).

“I still have a job to do, to try to play well and improve my status, which is why I’m here,” O’Neal, 41, said.

Next year will be his first season on the Web.com Tour since 2008. He's made 130 starts there, with one runner-up finish and nine top-10s. He's never played the PGA TOUR. His two closest calls came at PGA West.

“They write books about Q-School,” said Mark Silvers, his friend and fellow Savannah, Ga., resident “He’s unfortunately epitomized all of the heartbreak that Q-School is made of.”

O’Neal needed a bogey at his final hole in 2000 to earn his PGA TOUR card; he made triple-bogey after hitting his tee shot into water right of the 18th fairway at the Nicklaus Tournament course. He missed his TOUR card by one shot four years later after his 8-foot birdie putt at the last hole lipped out. “I hit it right where I wanted to. It just didn’t break,” O’Neal said Wednesday.

After losing financial backing during the recession, O’Neal played but a handful of mini-tour events in 2010 and 2011. He won three tournaments in Morocco last year while travelling there as part of a goodwill group from the North Carolina-based eGolf Professional Tour. This year, O'Neal won the national opens of Colombia and Chile.

All roads lead to La Quinta for players seeking Web.com Tour status. Thirty-three players in the field competed on PGA TOUR Canada this year, while 19 played on the NEC Series - PGA TOUR Latinoamerica. Max Homa and Justin Thomas are this year's top prospects who made it directly from the Walker Cup, a team competition between the top amateurs from the U.S. and Great Britain and Ireland, to Q-School's final stage.

This week’s field ranges from two current collegians – Cal’s Michael Kim and Southern California’s Anthony Paolucci – to a major champion, 2004 Open Championship winner Todd Hamilton. He was hitting balls on the right end of the range Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by stand bags, which are prevalent on mini-tours, where sponsorship dollars are scarce and caddies are a luxury.

Many players in the field are seeking Web.com Tour status for the first time after years in golf’s minor leagues. Some of the pressure surrounding Q-School has lessened because PGA TOUR cards are no longer available here. This is still an important week, though.

Silvers, who won Golf Channel’s Big Break Greenbrier, finished 212th on the Web.com Tour money list in 2013, earning just $3,300 in six starts. A high finish this week could mean full status for 2014, unlike the conditional status he had last year.

“When so much emphasis is put on one tournament that affects your entire next year, it’s always tough,” he said.

O'Neal earned his Asian Tour card for 2009, but couldn’t afford to play there after losing his financial backing. He was basically out of pro golf the following two years, giving lessons in Savannah instead.

“Anyone who plays this game professionally knows that if you don’t have financial backing, it’s impossible to play. I knew in my heart that I could still play. I just needed a break. I needed something to happen. Fortunately enough, it did,” he said, referring to the all-expenses-paid trip to Morocco, “and I took full advantage of it.”

O’Neal underwent a swing change during the years he was scarcely competing. The changes lowered his standard trajectory and allowed him to hit a draw when necessary. He earned approximately $35,000 for his play in Morocco, money that helped him compete again.

“Every time you’d play with him (in Savannah), you’d wonder how he wasn’t on the PGA TOUR,” Silvers said.

O’Neal has taken a step toward reaching that goal.