This October I did something I haven’t done in years. I went back to school – Tour Qualifying School. It’s undeniably one of the most stressful things a professional golfer faces in their career.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve been at a Q-School. It’s part and parcel of a golfer’s journey up the ranks. But the memory of the last time I was at one of them, back in 2013, still haunts me.
Eight years ago I was trying to get on to the European Tour. Guess what? I missed out by one shot. One. Shot.
I was absolutely heartbroken when I walked off the 18th green. To suffer the disappointment of missing out on a dream is one thing. To get so close, and then be so far, seemed to make it that much worse. You go back and you think of where you could have picked up just one stroke along the way. It is hard!
Now, in 2021, I have found myself in a different, albeit similar, situation. I went to Q-School to try to earn my Korn Ferry Tour card. That is a pathway to a PGA Tour card. You might be saying to yourself, ‘What did he just say?’ And I don’t blame you. So, I’ll try to explain.
As I write this column I haven’t actually begun my second stage of qualifying. So, I am obviously hoping that subsequently I’ve had success. But, what I can talk about is why I’m at Q-School again, and describe the anxiety and emotions around attending one of them. It’s hell!
Let me just say it’s not something I was forced into doing. I still have my playing rights on the European Tour and as you know, my blood is green and gold and I’ll always tee it up in South Africa and support the Sunshine Tour when my schedules allow. But the lure of the PGA Tour is something I can’t say no to, and I have to attempt to get my playing rights for that Tour down the line.
So, I am very fortunate to be in the position of having something to fall back on if it doesn’t work out. For 99% of the guys out here that is not the case at all.
Many of them have bills to pay and no Tour to play on. They play ‘mini-Tours’ all year, building up to the Qualifying Schools.
Many of these players were stripped of their opportunity to play at a Q-School in 2020 due to Covid. So for the past two years, life has been rough. The Korn Ferry Qualifying School entrance fee is $5 200. Yes, $5 200. That’s before you book a flight, rent a car, get a hotel or buy a meal. For a golfer who is barely scraping by, Qualifying School is often the make-or-break moment in their career.
More often than not there are multiple stages you need to proceed through to reach the final stage. For the Korn Ferry Tour there are 14 first-stage venues where the top 20 players at each venue advance. That is followed by four second-stage venues, where the top 17 and ties advance to the finals. After all that, with thousands having taken part, only a few will earn full playing rights for the season. There’s no reason to question why so many professionals buckle under the pressure. Not to mention the cost of it all, which also adds to the mounting stress.
It really makes one appreciate the grit and determination many professionals have shown to be where they are today. So often we look at the McIlroys, Spieths and Rahms and think what an incredible life a professional golfer must have. But that’s the top 1%. Rather think about the other 99% grinding away in the hope of one day having the opportunity to play at a PGA Tour event.
Now combine all those factors and visualise yourself standing over a three-metre putt on the final green to make the cut. If you make it, you have a job. If you miss it, you have to give up on your dream and get a ‘real day job’. Are you going to make that putt?
– This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!