The Primary Cut…goes to Q School
Sixth installment of The Primary Cut – weekly insights from the world of golf player management and other golf-related industry and player news.
1. Q School Finals: An Overview
The final stage of the PGA Tour’s Qualifying Tournament (Q School) is known by some as golf’s “Fifth Major” (or its “cruelest tournament” as one author put it) and will take place over six grueling rounds at the Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge in Winter Garden, Fla., this Wednesday-Monday. Q School can be up to four stages long for some (depending on one’s exemption status), and over the past few months the dreams of many to play on the PGA Tour in 2008 have already been dashed. Now, the sizeable field will be whittled down a final time. The Top 25 players and ties will have full status on the Tour next season. The next 50 and ties thereafter get full Nationwide Tour status. And beyond that, players are granted “conditional” Nationwide-status, which ultimately allows varying amounts of access to Nationwide events to various players depending on how well they play during the year.
This week the blog will feature a running diary, so to speak, both before the first day of play (see below), and also following the third round and the final round of Q School, with two players: Jeremy Anderson (3-time All-American at UNLV and former PGA Tour player in 2001, who has made numerous trips to final stage of Q School) and Brendan Steele (played well on the Canadian Tour the past two seasons and is making his first trip to the final stage of Q School). Anderson finished 29th on the 2007 Nationwide Tour Money List, just missing out on the Top 25 list of players who automatically “graduated” with an ‘08 PGA Tour card in tow.
2. Q School: Interview with the Agents
Both Anderson and Steele are represented by Scottsdale-based Gaylord Sports Management. Gaylord’s Peter Webb (player manager) and Brian Newton (Vice President of Golf) will both be in Florida this week, following eight Gaylord clients in total. They each gave me their own insights into the six-day grindfest.
Q: What are your thoughts on Q School?
Peter: It is a great test for players and the week is certainly a grind. Every year at Q School an unknown player emerges who turns out to be pretty good on the PGA Tour the following year and it is always exciting to see who that player will be.
Brian: It is a long, grinding week. It comes down to six days [which determine] whether or not you have a “full time” job for the following year. No other sport has this type of qualification system to gain access to the “big times.”
Q: What are some past experiences that you will always remember, both as spectators and as managers?
Peter: As a spectator, I will always remember Peter Tomasulo on the par-3, 17th hole in 2005 in Orlando. He was so close to earning his PGA Tour card and just missed out because he had a couple bad shots on his second to last hole. The most impressive was Lucas Glover, in 2004, when his second shot on the 18th on the final day landed 3 feet from the hole and he got in on the number (they say that shot was worth $2 million because that is how much Lucas made in 2005 on the PGA Tour).
Brian: This will be my 9th Q School finals, and I have had ONLY two clients earn their card through the Q School process. Obviously, those were some happy times. I also discovered two players at Q School finals who earned their card that week and then became clients shortly thereafter. As a spectator, the drama is truly incredible that final day when you are watching a player (whether he is a client or not) on the bubble try to finish and earn his Tour Card. I have seen miraculous shots on the final hole to make it, and I have witnessed heartbreak by others that you would not wish on your worst enemy.
Q: How do you handle the week as player managers? What things do you try to do during the week to help out your clients?
Peter: Just being supportive and staying relaxed when I am around my clients. I always try to be positive around my guys and have a positive outlook on the week, taking them out for meals, watching other sporting events (football, basketball, etc.) and doing whatever I can to keep them relaxed, but at the same time very focused. It is a very long nine days (practice rounds and six tournament days) and you need to just be there to show support and let them know that if things come up, they can count on you.
Brian: The answer here is plain and simple. Treat it like it is just another event. If I generally talk to one player a lot, then I would do the same. And if I generally leave a player alone during an event, then I do that this week as well.
Q: What is the toughest part of the week?
Peter: Probably the last day, and mainly for the guys who are right on the bubble and sitting anywhere from T15 to T40 going into the last round (who are trying to earn their PGA Tour card) and for the guys who are T55 to T90 (who are trying to earn fulltime status on the Nationwide Tour).
Brian: The toughest part of the week is “waiting, waiting, and waiting.” Six days, 108 golf holes is A LOT of golf. Things can be rocking along for a client, they can have 3 or 4 solid rounds, and then it only takes one hole, actually one shot, to change the outcome for the remainder of the event, and thus the next year. And of course, it is always hard to find the “right” words to say to your client when they walk off the 18th green on that final hole [and] you both know that [he] did not make it, and in all likelihood will have to wait 365 days to do it all over again.
Q: What are the practical consequences for your clients if they don’t secure their 2008 PGA Tour cards? For example, does this affect their sponsorship (club/apparel) and other endorsement revenues for 2008?
Peter: A couple scenarios would happen here. First, if a player had full status on the PGA Tour in 2007, and after the final stage of Q School this year they don’t get their PGA Tour card and thus only have status on the Nationwide Tour in 2008—typically the endorsement deals/club deals would drop quite a bit. Second, if a player had status on the Nationwide Tour in 2007 and after the final stage this year they don’t get their PGA Tour card and thus only retain their Nationwide status in ’08—typically the endorsement deals/club deals would remain about the same. Third, if a player had no status on either the PGA or Nationwide Tours in 2007, and they don’t get their PGA Tour card and only have status on the Nationwide in 2008—typically, the endorsement deals/club deals would go up because they now have [newfound] status. But this [analysis] is pretty generic and could change quite a bit depending on how old the player is, when they turned pro, how many years they have been on the “Big Tour”, etc.
3. Q School: Interview with the Athletes
Q: Describe your past record at Q School.
Brendan: In 2005, I made it to the 2nd stage, but didn’t advance to final. In ‘06, I didn’t advance out of 1st stage. And so far in ‘07, I finished T7 at 1st stage, and T8 at the 2nd stage in order to advance to final stage.
Jeremy: In 2000, I earned my PGA Tour card by finishing T11. In ‘01 I did not play due to season ending hernia surgery. In ’02 I missed qualifying for the final stage by two shots. ‘03 I missed qualifying for the 2nd stage by a whole bunch of shots! In ’04 I was T67 at the final stage and earned full status on Nationwide Tour. ’05 I was T101 at the final stage and earned conditional status. And last year I was T90 at the final Stage and [again] earned conditional status.
Q: Are there specific shots or other things that you took away from these past experiences that may help you this week?
Brendan: I think my experience from the Canadian Tour in 2006 and 2007 helped me prepare for final stage more than anything, especially since I have never been to final stage before.
Jeremy: I’ll always remember the 64 I shot in the final round of the 2000 Q School after starting the day right on the number. Just knowing that I can shoot a round like that under the gun gives me all the confidence in the world that I can do it again, especially after finishing the 2007 Nationwide Tour season #2 in final round scoring average.
Q: Some call Q School golf’s “Fifth Major” and one of the most pressured filled events in sports, given exactly what is at stake. However, in his book “Tales from Q School,” John Feinstein writes that “the case can be made that the [final stage] is now the least pressurized aspect of Q School,” given that those who do not earn their cards will at least receive some kind (full-time or conditional) of Nationwide status. Do you agree with Feinstein?
Brendan: For me, I am just happy to be here, and the 2nd stage for me was by far the most pressure. I improved my status from last year so I don’t have as much pressure this year at the final stage because I get to at least play on the Nationwide Tour. [But] I can see how there is a lot of pressure for somebody who was on the PGA Tour in 2007 and [is] trying to get back on for 2008.
Jeremy: A lot of it depends on what your playing status is going into Q School. I wouldn’t say it’s the “least pressurized aspect of Q school.” However I don’t think its the most pressurized either. The first year I went to Q School getting through the 2nd stage was huge for me, because if I hadn’t made it through that, I would have had nowhere to play the following year. I would have had to go play on the Hooters Tour or go to Canada where you are playing for very little money. Making it to the finals guaranteed me at least somewhere to play in 2001, so anything that happened there was sort of like an extra bonus. From that standpoint I would say that the 2nd stage is the most pressure. The finals aren’t exactly a six day walk-in-the-park though!
Q: Will you have family and/or friends following you on the course this week? Will you be using a special/new caddy for the final stage?
Brendan: I will only have my brother with me this week. He will be my caddie as well, and he was my caddie at the 2nd stage. My coach (Jim Follingstad) was here for three days during the practice rounds, and my agent [Peter Webb] gets here on Thursday.
Jeremy: I grew up about 45 minutes from where we’re playing this week so my parents and a lot of childhood friends will be out there to cheer me on. I love having some fans out there. I tend to play well in front of a crowd. As for a special caddy, there is a guy who always caddies for me at Q School. His name is Eric Schwarz. He’s caddied for Corey Pavin for the last 20 or so years so he’s been through it all. He caddied for me at the 2000 Q School finals when I made it through and he always comes back to work for me when the Fall Classic arrives. He does a great job of keeping me focused but also keeps it very lighthearted out there…so it’s a perfect combination.
Q: Have you done anything special or unusual in preparation for the final stage (for example, for this particular course)? Have you been weary of practicing too much and getting burned out?
Brendan: I don’t want to practice too much and I am not playing a round on Tuesday (the day before the tournament starts). I am just going to hit balls on Tuesday.
Jeremy: Nothing special. I prepare for this like I do any other tournament that I’m trying to win! I think you have to be a little weary about practicing too much. The tournament is six straight days so you certainly don’t want to overextend yourself early in the week. I don’t do a great deal of practicing after the rounds unless there is an area of my game that really needs to be fixed. This being my 5th Q School finals, I have learned how to pace myself.
Q: Describe your relationship with your agent/manager. What role will he play during this week?
Brendan and Jeremy: Our agent (Peter Webb) will be at Q School for about five days and will just make sure everything is running smoothly.
Jeremy: I play and he worries about everything else. It’s a great relationship!
Q: How do you approach the opening rounds? Is there a specific number or position you’re looking at immediately? When do you plan to start scoreboard watching?
Brendan: Mentally, I try to approach the opening round like any other tournament. I don’t want to watch the scoreboard at all, but will probably look every single day just to see how easy or hard the course is playing for everyone else.
Jeremy: Truthfully, I just treat this tournament just like I do every other. I don’t change my style of play because it’s Q School. I’ve always believed that you can’t finish 2nd in a tournament unless you’re trying to finish 1st, so that’s what I’m here to do.
Q: I try to express to our readers how much of the game is mental, and how with so many top notch players out there, what separates guys on this level has to do more with the mental side of the game, than anything else. Do you agree with this? How do you rate your own mental abilities, and how do you think these abilities will come into play/be tested during this upcoming week?
Brendan: This week will test everything I have mentally. I need to control my emotions and know that I will certainly have good streaks during the six days, and I might have a couple bad shots as well. I have really been better this year mentally and hope to continue this for the week.
Jeremy: They’re not lying when they say that the game is 90% mental. The bottom line is everyone here can play, so the guys who can stay focused on the task at hand and not get caught up in the big picture are the one’s who make it through. As I said before, I’m here to win and I think that mentality will carry me very far this week.
Q: How much do you try and make this a ‘normal’ week? In other words, do you stick to the same routines, on and off course? What will you do to relax?
Brendan: I try and make this as normal as possible and I have been watching all kinds of football the past few days.
Jeremy: It is a normal week. The only thing different is that we have to play two extra rounds. I’m staying at my parents’ house so it’s nice to have Mom’s home cooking to come home to!!!
So I made the Tour…now what? Once a player earns his Tour card through Q School, his priority ranking for purposes of PGA Tour tournament entry in ’08 is 25; this ranking enables him to enter most full-field events on the PGA Tour, but not more prestigious stops on the tour unless a substantial number of players in higher categories skip the events. For example, the top 125 players on the previous year’s money list who are not otherwise eligible are at priority 20; sponsor’s exemptions are priority 12; and winners of PGA Tour events in the previous two years are priority 9….Fred Couples’ last hurrah will (thankfully) have to wait. Golf’s coolest customer looked comfortable playing competitively for the first time since April at this past weekend’s LG Skins Game, and dispelled rumors that he was more or less done with the sport when he confided that he has a tentative 2008 schedule already in place. At 48, Couples may indeed have one last charge left in the tank. Still one of the Tour’s best ball strikers (and that includes Tiger), Couples can contend if he putts well, and most importantly, if his back holds up. To that extent, Couples’ agent Lynn Roach has been instrumental in helping Couples finally hook up with John Patterson, a back specialist whose clientele includes Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz and Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady. Assuming his putting and his back both remain tip top in ’08 (he putted beautifully at the Skins), Couples could be a sneaky dark horse to pull a reprisal of 1986 and Jack Nicklaus at Augusta. No victor would be more popular with golf fans. And that includes Tiger.
–Jason G. Wulterkens