Insider: Sucher sneaks inside top 75 bubble just in time for Finals

August 07, 2013
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM

The immediate reward was a leisurely 13-hour drive to Springfield, Mo. And a less cranky baby.

Zack Sucher faced the same trek either way, but the alternative was to cram it into an 18-hour window. Drive until midnight, get a room and be back on the highway before sunup to make an 8:40 a.m. Monday qualifier.

“So that would have been fun,” quipped Sucher, who has his wife and 5-month-old daughter as travel companions. “Now we can relax a bit.”

Not for long, as the stretch run lies ahead to nail down a place in the inaugural Tour Finals. But four birdies over Sunday’s final six holes at the Mylan Classic finally took care of unfinished business that had been threatening to haunt Sucher since May.

“The window was closing fast,” said the Alabama pro, whose 5-under 66 lifted him to a tie for 10th.

When Sucher (pronounced SOO-ker) tied for second at the South Georgia Classic, he was just $6,266 short of special temporary status that essentially carries unlimited access the rest of the year. If not for some late fireworks by D.J. Brigman and Michael Putnam, he might have crossed the threshold that day.

Still, one more solid finish – top 20 would do – one week later at the Stadion Classic would fill the requirement. But Sucher missed the cut in Athens, sentencing him to an odyssey of Monday qualifiers in hopes of scoring another chance.

“I feel like it’s double digits by now,” Sucher said, reeling off a partial list of destinations. Raleigh, Potomac, Wichita, Kansas City, Boise, Utah.

“Plane tickets are getting expensive,” he said. “Especially plane tickets where you hardly play any golf.”

Monday qualifiers, as any pro will tell you, are a sprint. The mix of Monday nomads like Sucher and local hotshots make every stop a go-low adventure.

At most stops, Sucher would turn in some respectable score like a 67 or 68. Every time, he’d get thumped by a series of 65s and 66s. May turned to June and then July, and not once could he find a friendly cut line.

“I usually don’t make very many [birdie] putts, and that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “If you’re not putting well on that day, you’re going to struggle to get through.”

If only Putnam had missed that last putt in Valdosta.

It was the one locale where Sucher survived a Monday, and he was taking full advantage. Though a sizzling 65 on the final day wasn’t going to catch Will Wilcox, who won by four, it was enough to vault him into the next tier.

With two holes left for the final groups, Sucher was finished and alone in second – worth enough for special temporary membership by exceeding the earnings of No. 100 on last year’s money list. Even a two-way tie for second would beat the mark.

So Sucher wasn’t all that concerned when Brigman chipped in for birdie at the par-3 17th to tie him. Then Putnam, playing in the final group, went cross-country from the opposite side of the 18th green for a closing birdie.

“That putt on 18 killed me,” recalled Sucher, who had gone out to the final green to watch. “They both tied me then, which knocked me down I think about $10,000.”

Athens still offered hope, but an opening 74 doomed his chances. Back to Mondays, which seemed only to be an endless loop of frustration.

It wasn’t until mid-July that Sucher learned he’d be eligible for the Mylan Classic, which draws its field from the Tour money list regardless of membership.

“I was just like, ‘Keep hitting it well, keep hitting it well’ – just waiting for this event to get here,” Sucher said.

Indeed, an opening 65 at Southpointe Golf Club was enough to give Sucher the first-day lead. But he stumbled hard with a third-round 77, dropping to a tie for 37th entering the final day. Without a top-25 finish, another Monday awaited.

Nor did things look good at 1-under with six holes to play. This time, though, a long putt worked in his favor.

From the opposite side of a tricky ridge, Sucher watched his 30-foot birdie attempt break hard left for about 12 feet, then hard again back to the right before finding the hole.

“It was a complete snake,” he said. “I could probably hit it 20 more times and not make it. But that kind of got me going.”

Sucher knocked it close on the next hole for a kick-in birdie, parred twice and finished with a birdie-birdie flourish.

With his $15,525 paycheck, Sucher rose from 79th on the money list to No. 65 – inside the cut line for the Finals. “Today definitely helped me out a lot,” he said.

Sucher still isn’t out of the woods. With no reshuffle left, he’ll have to score another top-25 to get into next week’s stop in Knoxville. But the regular-season finale in Omaha also draws its field off the money list, so he’s guaranteed a spot there.

“We’ll see,” he said. “But I know I’ve got two more.”

At least he won’t have to idly stand by down the stretch. He’s cooled his heels enough.