Qualifiers (and that’s often after pre-qualifiers) offer lottery-type odds to dreamers with the game and gumption to think big
BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Monday is a special day on the golf calendar. It’s a day of hope, anxiety and dread.
For golfers who aren’t elite or exempt, Monday is qualifying day. It’s such a universal concept that Monday is often used as a verb in golf circles: “Yeah, I Monday-ed into Las Vegas and Mexico but missed the cuts.” Webster’s Dictionary should consider this revision in its mission to keep the language current.
This week’s RSM Classic is the final PGA Tour event of 2019, the last stop before an odd year-end midseason break to which we’re still getting accustomed. It feels as if the PGA Tour season never ends, but it actually does. It ends here, briefly, before resuming in January.
So maybe that gave RSM Classic qualifying here at Brunswick Country Club as The Last Monday of 2019 an added sense of urgency, not that 114 players vying for four spots in the RSM Classic weren’t already enough urgency.
“Last chance for glory?” Tag Ridings said with a bemused smile. He’s 45, a long-time on-and-off-the-tour veteran. “No, it wasn’t any different today,” Ridings said. “Each week is a new prospect. You’re not entertaining any long-term thoughts. You just want to get in ‘The Show’ for a week and make a nice check.”
Ridings didn’t have a good Monday at the crafty Brunswick Country Club layout. He shot 75 and was dead in the water. He’s still alive to keep his Korn Ferry Tour card, however. He made it through the second stage of qualifying and will play in the finale next month at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Fla. He’s got three kids, ages 12, 10 and 7, and he’s living the golf gypsy’s life when he’s not at home in the Dallas area.
Something else made Monday here feel a little more hopeful. Brendon Todd won the rain-delayed Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico earlier in the
morning. Todd was near the end of the road last year when he played the RSM Classic qualifier.
Pat Day, tournament director of the Georgia PGA Section that runs the RSM Classic qualifier (and three pre-qualifiers last week), remembers when Todd, a University of Georgia alumnus, called to sign up for that Monday.
“I asked Brendon how things were,” Day said, “and he said, ‘I don’t know. My golf game isn’t there. I’ve got some family stuff. I figured I’d try to Monday, but I don’t know.’ You could hear it in his voice. Then he shoots 61 here and, OK, that’ll work.”
Todd kicked off his 2019-2020 season with four straight missed cuts, followed by a 28th-place finish in Houston. Suddenly, he posted back-to-back victories in the past three weeks, at the Bermuda Championship and at Mayakoba.
“Any guys who are out here or are struggling, they look at Brendon and that keeps them motivated,” Day said. “Brendon is the new poster child for every player out here with a dream.”
Asked about Todd’s back-to-back wins, Ridings chuckled as he stood in the Brunswick clubhouse. “How’s he doing?” Ridings said. “Look, all it takes is one. We all know it. That’s the fun part of golf.”
Mondays are the opposite of the “fun part of golf.” There seem to be more players competing for fewer playing opportunities than ever before. Thus, Mondays have gotten tougher than ever before.
Think playing professional golf is a cushy job? Day expanded the RSM pre-qualifiers to three sites for RSM Classic qualifying. Seven players and ties from each site advanced to Monday’s final qualifying. Two weeks before the pre-qualifier entry deadline, Day had to close entries. He already had the maximum 252 entrants (84 per site) and 25 more (75 in all) on a waiting list for each site.
“I had so many guys calling our office,” Day said. “They’d said, ‘I know the field is full. I’m trying to get on the wait list and I can’t register.’ I’d tell them, ‘Yeah, that’s because the wait list is already full, too.’ They’d say, ‘But the entry deadline is still two weeks away!’
“It’s like, Georgia is a hotbed of golf. Part of it is probably because we’re near Florida, where a lot of the players live, and since there are no Korn Ferry Tour events, all those guys figure, Why not take a shot at getting into a PGA Tour event?”
Maybe they’re also thinking, Why not take a shot at being the next Brendon Todd? PGA Tour members pay nothing for qualifiers, but Korn Ferry members pay $100, and non-members pay $450 ($200 for the pre-qualifier, another $250 if they make it to the Monday qualifier).
Brunswick hosted pre-qualifiers on Tuesday and Thursday last week. The low score each time was 64 (it took 67 or better to advance Tuesday, 69 or better Thursday) but Thursday’s play was in tough conditions: 42 degrees, winds of 15-20 mph and wind-chill factors in the mid-30s. Another pre-qualifier was held in Atlanta, where overnight rain and more morning rain delayed tee times for an hour. Only one player broke par there.
Luke Guthrie spent four years on the PGA Tour but has struggled of late. He played in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship but did not regain PGA Tour status. He took a break after that stretch – “I wound up playing 17 or 18 weeks in a row, which wasn’t good” – and saw it pay off Monday when he shot 5-under-par 65, the low score on the board when he finished in the morning half of the field.
“I struggled the three years prior to this, but I definitely have been putting the pieces back together,” said Guthrie, who has two Web.com Tour victories and a best PGA Tour finish of third. “Through the process of trying to get better, I made a few changes and screwed up a few of my strengths. I had a two-year run when I was pretty good at golf. I just need to be that guy again.”
Guthrie, 29, a college star at Illinois, had three top-10 Korn Ferry Tour finishes in 2019. He qualified for three U.S. Opens and one British Open, so he’s not afraid of Monday qualifying.
The secret, he said, is don’t make bogeys.
“I’m a confident putter, I’ve never struggled to make birdies but I make bogeys that overshadow them,” Guthrie said. “If I don’t make a bogey, I’m going to do all right. I made one bogey today, a three-putt. I broke my rule, I’m not happy about it. I hope it doesn’t cost me, but it probably will.”
Jinho Chung, Cole Miller and Kyle Reifers tied at 6-under 64, and Matt Atkins won a playoff against Guthrie and six others at 65 for the final spot to “Monday” into the RSM Classic (scores).
Sam Love, 27, didn’t wait around for a playoff. He shot 70. This is the end of his season, because he did not advance through Korn Ferry Q-School, but not the end of his career plans.
“I was paired with Brendon [Todd] a long time ago in Q-School at Callaway Gardens,” said Love, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., and came here for the RSM Classic qualifier because it was relatively close. “It’s kind of cool to see the turnaround he’s made. He’s like the blueprint for the rest of us. We know it can happen anytime for us. We just have to keep putting in the work.”
Golf place as a meritocracy was on display Monday.
“The beauty of our game is, they can’t keep you out if you play well enough,” Guthrie said. “You’ve just got to shoot the scores.”
On Mondays, the reward for shooting a score is a chance, nothing more. Brendon Todd proved that can be a life-changer.