At Q-School, Every Stroke Really Does Matter
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Ben Martin in the third round at Q-school

Five rounds down, one to go for PGA Tour hopefuls at Orange County National for PGA Tour Q-School. Veteran Billy Mayfair and former US Amateur runner-up Ben Martin are tied for the lead at 16-under through 90 holes in the 108-hole marathon. If all goes as planned, Mayfair will earn back his card and Martin will secure his in his first try.

The final round of Q-school is one of the most nerve-wracking days in professional golf — it’s where greatness or absolute disaster can change a player’s life. For 25 players (and ties), they will be competing on the PGA Tour next year, while for others, it’s another year grinding it out on in the minor leagues before they’ll have another shot. There’s so much emphasis on finishing in the top-25, but even if you’re out of the running, every shot still matters because the guys are still playing for status on the Nationwide Tour.

After the top 25 and ties, the next-number-nearest-to-50 earn fully-exempt status on the NWT. The remaining players receive conditional status on the NWT. So if you place 103rd, that number determines your order on the waiting list for NWT events and a stroke can mean the difference between playing in nine more tournaments.

At dinner on Tuesday night — before the first round — Andres Gonzales, who has played most on the Canadian Tour in recent years, looked over at Michael Putnam, who is seeking to improve his status after already graduating from the NWT, and mused something like, “Even if you’re completely out it, every shot counts. You don’t realize that when you’re playing Q-school for the first time. But you have to grind to the very end. A guy that finished a shot better than me at finals in ’07 got into 9 more NWT events.”

Of course, there’s a reshuffling after the first ten events, so a player is rewarded for good play early in the season (and also punished for slow starts).

The NWT has also become a fall-back for some. Guys already have fully-exempt status on the NWT played Q-school because obviously the ultimate goal is to compete on the PGA Tour. Take Nate Smith, who finished 27th on the NWT money list (the top-25 get their PGA Tour cards). He’s currently 12-under and T7.

“I have a different attitude than a lot of people so I haven’t thought much a lot about it, to be honest. I know my goal is to obviously finish in the top 25, but that’s about as much thought I’ve given it,” said Nate on Tuesday. “A lot of people probably know and think they have to do a certain thing and they’ll really be thinking about the possible scenarios. I guess I’m lucky I can just go with it. I’m sure I’ll think about it at some point, but as of right now, it’s show up tomorrow and play.”

Meanwhile, Michael Putnam, who finished 23rd on the NWT money list, is seeking to improve his status (going into Q-school, his number is 46, which isn’t great because it basically means that after the top-125 on the money list, there are 45 players in front of him that get spots to fill a field before he does). Mike shot 67 on Sunday to move to T9 and 12-under for the tournament. Since he already has his card, he will not count toward the top-25 and ties. (Phew, at dinner on Tuesday, we thought he would have been taking away a spot from someone.)

“The ball went in the hole faster than usual,” said Mike via text. “I judged the wind right and made some putts — how boring is that answer?”

You’ll fit right in with the rest of the corporate drones next year, Mike! Congrats! (Sorry, inside joke over the cliched, boring answers that guys give on the PGA Tour.) Other NWT grads trying to improve their status are Mike’s fellow NWT grads, Jim Herman (No. 19), Joe Affrunti (No. 21) and Justin Hicks (No. 25).

A few other Washington-State natives are also in the mix. Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley is T22 and Bellevue’s (my home town!) Richard Lee is T27 going into Round 6.

When I asked Andres how his brain was feeling after the fifth round, he replied, “Tired. It was windy out there. I gotta focus on the process. It’s hard sometimes because I want it so effing bad. I know if I do play how I’m capable of, I’ll be good to go. Just free-wheeling tomorrow. Boom.”

I didn’t want to bother him beyond that. I’ll let his game speak for itself on Monday. (I’m almost scared to go watch them.) God, I’m super nervous. I can’t imagine how those guys must be feeling. But I know one thing’s for sure — we’ll be celebrating with beers after the round.

Lastly, just a quick note that two-time US Open Lee Janzen is one-over for the tournament and T107. In other words, he’s got no chance in hell to place in the top-25 and next-number-nearest-to-50 isn’t looking great, either. But good on him for sticking with it and finishing all six rounds. Some players, who have conditional status, have withdrawn after three or four or five rounds if they’re not in the running — who can really blame them, though?

(Photo via