ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Few golf courses, let alone practice areas, offer better views than the driving range of Sea Island Resort. The Atlantic Ocean is in view to golfers’ left and as they watch their tee shots settle off in the distance.
From this setting, it’s hard to focus too much on what’s often billed as one of the most pressure-packed weeks on the PGA Tour. The McGladrey Classic, which begins Thursday, is the second-to-last official event of the 2012 PGA Tour schedule, leaving players two more opportunities before the ink dries on the record book.
The pursuit of the top 125 spots on the money list will be the focal point of this fortnight. Players in the top 125 retain full playing privileges for the following season.
Sea Island, which once hosted the G8 Summit, is a playground for the gilded class, a fact reinforced by the stream of private jets that pass overhead as they come and go from McKinnon Airport, which is across the street from this historic resort.
The close of the PGA Tour season is a focus on the PGA Tour’s have-nots, though. They don’t lack for riches, but are without certainty about their destination for next season. Most of the players who end up at Nos. 126 and beyond on the money list are left with varying degrees of status on the PGA and Web.com tours. A site like Sea Island makes these weeks more palatable, though.
“Playing on Tour, we’re really spoiled,” said rookie Richard H. Lee, who is No. 134 on the money list. “When you take a step back and see that you’re playing golf out here at this beautiful place, you can’t really get mad at yourself. You just have to really try to have fun. When you have fun, you play your best golf.
“You can tell yourself not to think about it, but in reality it’s everywhere. It’s what everyone is talking about, so you can’t really get rid of it. I just have to play golf.”
Kevin Chappell played in this year’s Masters by virtue of his third-place finish at the 2011 U.S. Open. He’s 126th on the money list, some $1,400 behind Billy Mayfair, and at risk of losing his full status if he remains in that position. Chappell is followed by Gary Christian, Alexandre Rocha, Gary Woodland and Chez Reavie, who last year advanced to the Tour Championship and competed in all four of 2012’s majors. Only Woodland is secure for next year, by virtue of last year’s Transitions Championship win.
“The challenge for me will be to get the mind as relaxed as possible,,” said Christian, a 41-year-old rookie who worked as a bartender and knife salesman before becoming a PGA Tour player. Christian is paired with fellow Auburn alum Roland Thatcher and John Daly in Thursday’s first group.
Christian said this week doesn’t feel different than a standard Tour event, however.
“I think it would if I knew … I had to do something above and beyond what I’ve ever done before to move up two spots,” said Christian, who’s made 17 of 26 cuts this year. “I don’t feel like that. I just have to get my game back the way I’m capable of playing.”
His parents – John and Barbara – and younger brother Lee traveled from England to Georgia this week to watch him compete. A Wednesday morning practice session will be followed by a tour of this quaint coastal town that should help get his mind off the task at hand. “I’m sure I’ll get a spanked bottom if I misbehave, if I’m not cheerful enough,” Christian said. That may be just what he needs.
“I haven’t enjoyed what I’ve been doing the past month, and I have to get back to that,” he said, “because if I start having a good time then the play is going to turn around.”
There’s no better time than now for that to happen.