PGA Tour rookie Andres Gonzales is ready to tee it up in the bigs, but first, he needs to get into a tournament for a shot. Playing primarily on the Canadian Tour the past few seasons, Andres placed T22 at Q-school in December, but his “number” wasn’t good enough to earn him a spot in the Sony Open.
Only 2% of the thousands of professional golfers hoping to earn their way on the PGA Tour get through the three and sometimes four stages of Q-school ever year. Just reaching the finals qualifies as an achievement since players are guaranteed conditional status (which may just mean securing a spot in one event). But for many of the top-25 finishers (and ties), the journey has only started.
A common misconception among the average, casual golf fan is that once players earn their PGA Tour card, each week they have the opportunity to to prove themselves in the meritocratic system. Sure, it’s a meritocracy, but unless you place in the top-15, it’s a waiting game.
“I’m just kind of finding this out — I got my card at Q-school, but finished lower than some guys, so I’m lower in the pecking order,” said Andres on Wednesday. “You hear about how every shot counts in the six-round marathon at Q-school. It’s frustrating because it’s becoming very apparent right now that it really is the case. I don’t regret how I played at Q-School. I obviously tried my best. But I can’t help think, one shot better here or there, I’d be in this tournament and [the Bob Hope Classic] next week. So it’s the way it goes, it’s golf.”
While Andres has his full card, his number is 48, which basically gives him conditional status. When it comes to filling a field, the top-125 on the money list receive priority. There are also the winners from 2009 and 2010 earned two-year exemptions that may have not finished in the top-125 or weren’t PGA Tour members. Next, there are the guys who have taken major medical exemptions or a one-time exemption for being among the top-50 in career earnings. After the various special exemptions, the players that finished in the top-25 on the Nationwide and Q-school receive the spots leftover.
Full-field tournaments range from 144 guys this week at the Sony Open to 128 at next week’s Bob Hope. While obviously not every player enters each event, I’m guesstimating Andres’ number put him at around 200. In other words, he needs at least 50 guys not to play before he gets the call.
“I was on top of the world when I got my card that Monday,” said Andres. “And then we went over to rookie orientation and they showed me my number and it was 48 and I was like, ‘Oooh, that doesn’t sound so good anymore.’ It’s like conditional status on steroids.”
Andres tried to earn a spot through the Monday qualifier, but finished three shots out of the playoff for the fourth and final spot. When the week started, Andres was the sixth alternate, but with several players pulling out, he’s moved up to second alternate.
“I would just like to know whether I’m in or not,” said Andres. “If I’m going to spend more money to change my flight, I’d like to know whether I’m in or not. But this is how it goes and I’ll be ready to play. Once I get in some tournaments, I just need to play well so I get bumped up in the reshuffle order so I don’t have to think about it. At the same time, it’s really creating an itch for me to want to play so that’s fun after a month off. ”
He’s already spent at least $3,000 on the trip, which is costly for a rookie. Last year Andres estimates he earned $60,000-$65,000, but he probably spent the same amount on expenses.
The greatest stress is the uncertainty of his situation. On Wednesday night Andres was faced with the decision the following morning on whether or not he should change his flight, which was originally Thursday afternoon. The bad weather delayed the first round to Friday, which made things easier. Still, he couldn’t help but ponder over the scenarios.
“Let’s say, I don’t get in the morning and the weather doesn’t cause a delay,” said Andres. “I would probably just plan on not getting in. But let’s say they don’t play and I change my flight, then I’m still not in and I’m still second alternate going into Friday and I change my ticket and spend money on something I may not be in.
“Ultimately, I just need to not think about the money because I’m going to make money this year. But I’m coming from the Canadian Tour and mini tours, I’m still not playing and not making a check, so it’s on my mind right now…but it shouldn’t be because it’s not going to be a problem to pay for it down the road.”
Though Andres was hesitant, he had already made up his mind — he was going to stay. After all, he traveled halfway across the Pacific to get here. What if he flew home and when he landed, he saw Scott Gordon, who is third alternate, playing the fourth hole? He’d probably kick himself for not taking the small risk with the rewards being much greater.
Andres canceled his flight on Thursday morning. One thing he’s had on his side? The weather. The more delays, the better the chances of someone thinking it’s not worth it and withdrawing. At least in theory, but that might not hold up in Hawaii.
“I just want to know who’s pulling out,” said Andres half-jokingly. “Let’s wish for me getting in and not wish for the worst on anybody. Gotta keep it positive. I want to play and someone let me know when I’m doing it, so I can warm up an hour before their tee time.”
A Golfwrx.com photographer took pictures of me taking pictures of Dres. Action shot!