SHANGHAI – Not long after Bill Lunde captured his first PGA Tour title at Turning Stone, his agent asked him if he had any interest in going to China the first week in November.
His first question was what tournament was in China. Told that it was the HSBC Champions, that led to another question.
“I said to him, ‘How did I qualify for that?’” Lunde said Monday afternoon while waiting to hit balls at Sheshan International.
If it was strange to see the bunkers on the range covered in red carpet – the color of HSBC’s logo – Lunde still had a hard time grasping how he had made it into his first World Golf Championship. Because of the number of players who chose not to compete, Lunde got into the 80-man field when the alternate list switched between tournament winners and world ranking.
Little did he realize that winning in Augusta at Turning Stone – the same week as another WGC, the Bridgestone Invitational – would open such doors. This will be the first time the 34-year-old Lunde has played a tournament that didn’t have a cut since he made it to the Nationwide Tour Championship at the end of the 2008.
“It’s hard to pass this up,” Lunde said. “My first world event. All the ranking points. In my position, it’s hard to say no.”
It just goes to show how quickly fortunes can change in golf.
It was only five years ago when Lunde gave up on the game. A member of UNLV’s national championship team in 1998, it took him five years to reach the Nationwide Tour, and he only lasted two years before he decided to move on.
Lunde spent a year working in sales with the Las Vegas Founders, the group that ran the PGA Tour stop in Las Vegas. He then tried real estate just as the market was starting to buckle.
He got back into the game through the Butch Harmon Vegas Tour, where about 50 players from the area ponied up $17,500 to compete in a series of tournaments. Lunde won more than $100,000, earned a spot on the Nationwide Tour in 2008 and finished fifth on the money list to earn his PGA Tour card. He kept his card after his rookie year, but only after a tie for fourth in the Frys.com Open late in the year.
Then came a one-shot victory at Turning Stone, and Lunde suddenly is places he never thought he would be.
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GO (FAR) EAST: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem embarks on a 10-day trip to Asia this week as he tries to strengthen his relationship with the China Golf Association with hopes of adding more tournaments.
In its second year as a World Golf Championship, the tour has decided that the HSBC Champions will count as an official PGA Tour victory if the winner is a PGA Tour member.
A week ago, Ben Crane won the inaugural Asia Pacific Classic, which counted only toward world ranking points.
Next up? That remains unclear.
“We’ll be meeting with some entities about a couple of tournaments we’re looking at in China in a couple of years,” Finchem said last week. “We’ll also be meeting in China with groups from two or three other countries about additional activities.
“We will be playing some more,” he said. “It’s premature to characterize it as what it will be. In today’s world, there’s lots of different ways for it to happen. If it’s a reasonably sized event, sanctioned appropriately, it can get world ranking points.”
The question is how the Fall Series will blend in with whatever tournaments are held in Asia. Earnings from the HSBC Champions do not count toward the PGA Tour money list.
There has been some speculation the Fall Series, and perhaps any tournaments in Asia, could get FedEx Cup points that would apply to the following season. Finchem dismissed the idea of the PGA Tour starting its new season before a new year.
“We’re not heading that direction right now,” he said.
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Q-SCHOOL, STAGE ONE: Brett Waldman didn’t make it out of the second stage of Q-school in 2002. With a family to feed and bills to pay, he decided to work as a caddie for a little while. It turned out to be much longer, first for his cousin, Tom Pernice Jr., then Ben Crane and most recently Camilo Villegas.
Whether he’ll ever return to playing is doubtful, although Waldman at least can consider the possibilities.
He made it through a pre-qualifying stage of Q-school, then last week made it through the first stage. His immediate future? He is caddying for Villegas in Shanghai this week, Melbourne next week for the Australian Masters, then goes home to Dallas to play the second stage of Q-school at the TPC Craig Ranch.
“I have no expectations,” Waldman said. “I know I have a job. I don’t know if that makes it easier or not.”
Villegas recently asked Waldman if he at least had Nationwide Tour status, would he play or caddie. Waldman told him he would caddie, although even he is not sure.
“Playing for a living is what I always wanted to do,” he said. “But at the end of the day, family and finances are a lot more important. But it would be a nice decision to have.”
Others who have advanced to the second stage include Jay Haas Jr., former British Amateur champion Drew Weaver, Stanford grad Joseph Bramlett and Tadd Fujikawa. Among those who failed to get out of the first stage were Casey Wittenberg, Manny Villegas and Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer who missed by nine shots.
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MASTERS ROAD: Heath Slocum didn’t have China on his itinerary until winning at Sea Island three months ago. That not only got him into the HSBC Champions, it gave him two weeks – and two different paths – to try to qualify for the Masters.
Slocum is at No. 55 in the world ranking, and the Shanghai field is about on par with the depth found at FedEx Cup playoff events. The winner this week gets 68 points. Slocum plays so many tournaments, however, that he probably would need to finish among the top three to crack the top 50 – and stay there the rest of the year.
He then goes to Disney for the final PGA Tour event. The top 30 on the money list get into the Masters, and Slocum is holding down the 30th spot by $132 over Ryan Moore, who already has qualified for Augusta National.
“I’ve got two weeks,” Slocum said. “I don’t know which way is going to be easier.”
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DIVOTS: Wegmans has signed on for two more years as the title sponsor of the LPGA Championship. It again will be held at Locust Grove, with a $2.5 million purse. … There are 13 Americans at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the same number as last year. … Asian Golf Monthly magazine has named Nicklaus Design as Golf Course Architect of the Year in Asia Pacific for the third straight year.
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STAT OF THE WEEK: Martin Laird moved to No. 49 in the world ranking, the first player from Scotland to be inside the top 50 since Colin Montgomerie was No. 48 on Oct. 7, 2007.
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FINAL WORD: “Everyone wants to be No. 1 in the world, but the only way to get there is to win tournaments.” – Phil Mickelson.