2005: PGA Tour - Just another manic Monday
West Palm Beach, Fla.
Jimmy Buffett crooned a homesick ballad about Mondays. Mike Figgis wrote a post-Noir crime thriller with a cool, rainy Monday as the backdrop. And almost every week on the PGA Tour, hundreds of golf pros look upon Monday with equal doses of loathing and longing.
Monday qualifying is as much a part of pro golf as 280-yard carries and five-hour rounds. While the actual events are shells of what they once were, the unceremonious sprints still represent a narrow bridge between the game’s play-for-pay hinterlands and the big-money fairways of the PGA Tour.
All you need is $400 and a dream. That’s the price tag for a non-Tour member to play a qualifier, which probably makes a Monday event the most expensive 18 holes this side of 17-Mile Drive.
The economics of Monday qualifying, however, don’t lend themselves to logic.
Johnson Wagner arrived a little after dawn March 7 at sleepy Ironhorse Country Club for the Monday qualifier for the Honda Classic. The 8-foot alligator lounging in a pond just feet away from the pro shop, a nondescript clubhouse and no gallery was the first indication the Nationwide Tour regular was more than just one good round away from the PGA Tour.
Ironhorse is only about 6 miles as the Pro V1 flies from the swanky Country Club of Mirasol where the Honda is played, but Johnson – through little fault of his own – realized about three holes into his round he might as well have stayed home in Jupiter, Fla.
Johnson was paired with Phillip Brain, a 13-year-old Canadian. The teen regularly hit out of turn, fanned shots all over the lot and made the turn in 51. Before the group finished, Brain was disqualified for taking an incorrect drop and Johnson had the day’s best Blue Monday tale, hands down.
“It was comical. It was a circus,” Johnson says. “He should never have been in this field.”
Johnson’s is hardly a unique hard-luck qualifying tale. Four-spotters – named for the four exemptions available into that week’s Tour event – are an anomaly amid pro golf’s harmony.
Monday qualifiers are a curious cross-section of pro golf, a hodgepodge of hopefuls and hangers-on.
In the March 7 qualifier, one of two held for
the Honda, the menu included everything from card-carrying Tour members (David Hearn, Michael Long, Hunter Haas) to Brain and fellow teen Bud Cauley.
Unlike Brain, at least Cauley, 14, didn’t get disqualified, posting a respectable 71.
“Oh yeah, I was nervous. Making bogey at the first calmed me down a bit,” Cauley says. “I see Ty Tryon and (former U.S. Amateur champion) Bubba Dickerson on the range and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m playing against pretty good players.’ ”
To his credit, at least Cauley finished his round. The same can’t be said for Tryon, who at 16 became the youngest player to make the cut in a Tour event after Monday qualifying for the 2001 Honda Classic.
There was no Monday magic this time around for Tryon. No one in his threesome even turned
in a scorecard, but DNF (did not finish) is a Monday qualifier’s most common acronym. The early exits are not so much a measure of a player’s resolve as they are an understanding of simple math.
Two hundred and fifty-five players, 18 holes and only four spots leave little room for miscues or slow starts.
“They’re such a crapshoot,”
says Tour veteran John Maginnes. “You go out there and if you make a bogey in the first four holes and don’t make a birdie to go with it, then you’re pretty much finished.”
Maginnes should know. He played his first Monday qualifier in 1992 and earned a spot in the now-defunct Buick Southern Open. In an estimated 30 qualifiers since, he hasn’t played his way into a Tour event via the Monday dash.
“The one I did qualify for right of college, I went out the next round and shot 80. I was so out of my element,” he says. “The guys I was playing with were not too thrilled to be playing with me. It was very intimidating.”
Before 1983, Monday qualifiers were as common as shag bags and bell bottoms. That was the year the circuit switched from a nonexempt tour to what it is today, with an endless array of categories and loopholes for Q-School and Nationwide Tour grads, former champions and veteran members.
Prior to 1983, the only way into an event for a nonwinner was to make the cut the previous week. Everyone else packed their bags Friday and headed to the next Monday qualifier, where they played for one of 60 spots.
At least the odds were better. In horse racing parlance, taking your chance at a modern qualifier is akin to picking the No. 13 pony named “Bad Money” to win, place and show.
Today’s free-for-alls usually favor the fortunate, not the favorite. This reality has made Monday qualifiers something of an afterthought once the lucky few trade the not-quite-ready-for-primetime qualifying layouts for the thick rough and tucked pins at most Tour tracks.
Fred Wadsworth was the last player to vault from Monday qualifier to man-of-the-hour, winning the 1986 Southern Open. Of this year’s Monday qualifiers, only six have made the cut and no one has finished higher than 38th.
“What’s weird, you have a lot of guys who shoot 63, 64 in the qualifier to earn a spot, and then when the tournament starts they shoot 76,” says Kevin Johnson, who shot 65 to win the Ironhorse event. (Johnson tied for 65th at Honda.)
At Ironhorse, five players tied at 66 and headed out into the south Florida dusk to determine the final qualifier. One hole later, three players still remained and darkness dictated this Monday qualifier was headed for a Tuesday finish.
Most of the Monday dreamers, however, already were headed down the road, ready for the next crapshoot.