Jace Long grew up on the ninth hole of Oak Hills Country Club, a 2,900-yard, nine-hole course in the 1,500-person town of Dixon, Mo. He was 5 years old when the course switched from sand to grass greens. The Missouri senior will start a quest later this month that could take him from that modest layout to the gilded fairways of the PGA Tour.
Long is one of a handful of collegians trying to take advantage of the final Q-School to offer PGA Tour cards. It was thought there’d be a mass exodus from the college ranks to Q-School this year, but that isn’t the case.
Texas sophomore Jordan Spieth, the No. 2 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings last season, is exempt into Q-School’s second stage for having made the cut at the U.S. Open. He’s the only returning first-team All-American who has publicly expressed an intention to play. Long; Stanford senior Andrew Yun, the 2012 Pac-12 champion; SMU senior Mario Clemens, No. 58 in last season’s Golfweek rankings; and North Florida senior Sean Dale, an honorable-mention All-American last season, are entered in Q-School’s pre-qualifying, which begins next week.
“I expected to see a lot more guys doing (Q-School) who are seniors this year,” Long said. “I feel like it’s a good opportunity to try and get a head start before next year. I’m not going to put any pressure on myself. If I play like I can, I can make a run at it, but my career’s not over if I don’t make it.”
This is the last year that Q-School will offer PGA Tour cards. The PGA Tour’s new qualifying procedure, which will require most players to spend time on the Web.com Tour before earning a PGA Tour card, will begin next season.
Long will play pre-qualifying Sept. 19-21 at ArborLinks in Nebraska City, Neb. He’s scheduled to play with his team at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, which ends Sept. 18 in Burlington, Iowa. Long plans to make the 5 1/2-hour drive from Burlington to Nebraska City after completing the Golfweek event, then compete the next morning in Q-School.
Long is coming off an impressive victory at this week’s Turning Stone Tiger Intercollegiate hosted by Missouri at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y. His 15-under 201 (66-66-69) total was good for a 10-shot victory at Turning Stone’s Kaluhyat Course. It was his eighth collegiate victory.
“Sometimes I think about how I got to where I am right now, playing college golf and competing with these guys. If you saw (Oak Hills), you’d be like, ‘I don’t know how he did it,’ ” Long said at this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links. “I think it was more fun, instead of growing up with a lot of strict rules. I could take a golf cart and drive it wherever I want, hit it wherever I want. We didn’t have a driving range, so I would just take a bag of balls and just go to the side of a tee.”
Long was the youngest player to win an AJGA event when he won the 2003 Junior All-Star at Eagle Ridge at 13 years, 2 months and 6 days. His five AJGA victories are the 12th-most in the organization’s history.
In college, Long won the 2011 NCAA Southeast Regional with a final-round 62 that tied the school record. He also holds the school 54-hole scoring record (199). He tied for first at last year’s Western Refining All-American, the all-star event of college golf, before losing a playoff to Cory Whitsett.
Long is accustomed to low scores. He shot 57 on his home course in high school. Yes, it’s a par-70 (when played twice) that measures less than 6,000 yards, but Missouri head coach Mark Leroux said that it still provided Long with valuable experience.
“I think that made Jace a player,” Leroux said. “By the time he was 12 or 13, he was shooting way under par. He makes a lot of birdies. He’s very familiar with under-par scores.”
Long will need his share of them if he wants to earn a PGA Tour card.
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Home cooking for Jackets
Georgia Tech won’t leave its home state this fall. You can’t blame the Yellow Jackets, though. They’re hosting three of their four events. Their season begins Sept. 7 at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Rocky Face. The Ping/Golfweek Preview is two weeks later in Alpharetta at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course, site of this season’s NCAA Championship. Georgia Tech then will play the Brickyard Collegiate in Macon, followed by the U.S. Collegiate Championship at Alpharetta’s Golf Club of Georgia. The Brickyard is the only event that Georgia Tech isn’t hosting.
“We’re pretty lucky,” Heppler said. “It’s not as bad as it would seem. We’re hosts with no work. That’s about as good as it gets.”
Heppler can use any help he can get. He’s without an assistant coach after Christian Newton was announced Aug. 21 as the new head coach at Colorado State. Heppler said he may go without an assistant this year. “Coaches have made commitments to their teams for the school year,” Heppler said. “Do you want to be the guy who goes in and takes a head coach away? Do you really want to (hire) someone who would do that, leave for another opportunity?”
Former Georgia Tech assistant coach Vicky Newman is working part-time to assist with fundraising and administration tasks.
Ollie Schneiderjans, Seth Reeves, Bo Andrews, Anders Albertson and Porter Cup champion Richy Werenski are in Georgia Tech’s lineup for the Carpet Capital. Shun Yat Hak, one of the nation’s top incoming freshmen, will play as an individual.
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A look ahead . . .
Carpet Capital Collegiate
The Farm Golf Club, Rocky Face, Ga., Sept. 7-9
The field: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Chattanooga, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, LSU, Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina, North Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wake Forest
The skinny: The field features the two contestants from last season’s final match at the NCAA Championship, Alabama and Texas. Also scheduled to play are last year’s Haskins Award winner, Justin Thomas of Alabama, and the recent U.S. Amateur champ, Steven Fox of Chattanooga. Alabama is No. 1 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, and Texas ranks third.
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Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove, Ill., Sept. 8-9
The field: Augusta State, Ball State, Central Florida, Indiana, Iowa State, Liberty, Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Purdue, St. Mary’s, Virginia
The skinny: More than half of the field was ranked in the top 50 in last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings: Augusta State (No. 44), Indiana (38), St. Mary’s (35), Liberty (28), Central Florida (22) and Virginia (19). They’ll gather at the site of the 2009 Solheim Cup.
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Spring Hill Golf Club, Wayzata, Minn., Sept. 9-10
The field: Arizona State, Arkansas, California, Charlotte, Iowa, Kent State, Lamar, Memphis, New Mexico, North Texas, Oklahoma, Penn State, SMU, St. John’s (Minn.),
The skinny: Cal, No. 2 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, begins its season at one of the hidden gems of the college golf season, Spring Hill Golf Club. Sophomore Kyle Beversdorf, a U.S. Amateur Public Links semifinalist, will make his debut for the host school after transferring from Northern Iowa.
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Golfweek Program Challenge
True Blue Plantation, Pawleys Island, S.C., Sept. 9-11
The field: Austin Peay, Boston College, Campbell, Central Arkansas, Georgetown, Jacksonville State, James Madison, Missouri-Kansas, City, Northern Iowa, Stetson, Troy, Western Carolina
The skinny: Campbell leads the field at this co-ed event that features both men’s and women’s teams from each participating program.