Nov
29
2011
Behind the Scenes at Q-School, Late Monday Edition
By Stephanie Wei under Behind the Scenes

Just another day in paradise!

While the majority of the media corps arrived in the L.A. area for the Chevron World Challenge, Tiger’s money-grab event (but proceeds all go to charity so hooray!), I stepped off a plane about two hours east in Palm Springs for my second-favorite tournament of the year (fave is the British Open), PGA Tour Q-School finals at PGA West. Which might seem strange to some, but I love the atmosphere, the concept of 150-plus guys — most of whom had to endure the first- and second- stages — whittled down from an original pool of thousands, with some fighting for a shot at livin’ the dream (for the first, fourth or tenth time) , others trying to get their jobs back and just one playing out of boredom.

At age 52, Tommy Armour III is the oldest guy in the field and perhaps the only regular from the Champions Tour (gotta check on this, but doubt there’s a long list) to wake up one morning and decide to sign up for Q-school — despite my attempts at digging for more specfic reasons, that’s pretty much what happened. “I have a full-time job, I’m just looking for some part-time work,” he said Monday in the Adams Golf trailer. More on TAIII later.

Walking down the range or through the dining room at Q-School is always a bit overwhelming, it looks like a PGA Tour event to some extent, with guys like Jason Gore, Nathan Green, Dean Wilson, Lee Janzen, Boo Weekley and Vaughn Taylor in the mix, but feels like a mini-tour event, too, with the swarm of baseball caps and polo shirts.

I absolutely love it. Maybe it’s because the access for the media is ideal (by my count, I was the only reporter on-site Monday afternoon). Or perhaps it’s because the atmosphere is relatively low-key (despite what you hear about the pressure-packed event with high stakes) and most of the guys have yet to be spoiled rotten and brainwashed to act like robots yet.

Who knows, but I do know that Q-School on a Monday is surprisingly chill, with each day, things becoming more tense.

The weather was perfect yesterday, but it’s a bit brisk this morning (Tuesday) — and by ‘brisk,’ I mean it’s in the low 70s, high 60s.  The forecast for the next few days is rather cool for the desert this time of the year and there might even be some wind (which is unusual)!

I popped by the dining area in the clubhouse to catch up with Jim Renner, who was a rookie this past season on the PGA Tour but lost his card (obviously since he’s there). He was finishing up lunch with a group of friends that included finals first-timers Andy Pope and Mike Lavery. I asked if they felt nervous, to which they responded with something like, “Naw, it’s not so bad.” /shrug

I’ll ask them again Wednesday morning.

But second stage is definitely more pressure-packed and the hardest to get through. Once you’re at finals, you’re in a better situation than you were last year — at least for guys who spent the past season grinding on the mini tours.

Daniel Summerhays, who is trying to re-earn his card after failing to keep it after the 2011 season, came in first place at the second stage site in California, besting Jason Gore and David Duval by three shots despite shooting a final-round 76.

“I think there were good players at all of (the second stage qualifying sites), but it was I think the second toughest qualifying site as far as score goes, so that was nice to shoot good numbers on a tough course, in tough conditions — that was fun, said Summerhays after playing a practice round on Nicklaus Tournament (finals are contested on two courses at PGA West– the other is the Stadium).  “And technically my first professional win.  I didn’t get paid for it, but I count it as a win.”

This is his third time at finals and he agreed that experience definitely makes it easier (along with the confidence he gained from winning second stage).

“If you’ve never played eight days straight, the two practice rounds and the six rounds, you don’t realize how long it does get,” he said.  “You get to four rounds, you’re like, I should be done with the week, you know?  So I think it’s definitely an advantage to have done it before and to just say, hey, you know what, I’m not going to practice after today’s round or I’m just going to go relax or I’m going to take it a little easier, the first practice day not play all 18 or something like that because it is such a long week, and unless you’ve played it, you really don’t learn those things.”

Meanwhile, unlike the majority consensus, Nate Smith found second-stage stress-free.

“The last day I was able to just cruise it in (because I’d played well the first three rounds),” he said. “Just having to go, it sucks, but I think if I get through (finals this year) ‑‑ I think I’ll play a lot better regardless. Towards the end of the year it was like, ‘oh, it’s good that it’s over.’

“Psychologically I was so beaten down. I was ready for it to end. I wasn’t having any fun.”

Alright, more to come later…but not before some pictures from the past two days. The ones from the Stadium course are courtesy of Chris Wilson and Blake Sattler, who is caddying for his pal — which were taken during their practice round on Sunday afternoon. Thanks, guys!

No. 3 at the Stadium course

No. 6 at the Stadium course

No. 11 at the Stadium course

Blake showing off his skills from the Stadium bunker on No. 16

No. 16 at the Stadium course

No. 17 at Stadium course

Welcome to PGA West

Looks like a Tuesday at a regular PGA Tour event!

The range on Monday afternoon

Scotty Ham working with one of his 6 students in the field this week

Last man on the range Monday evening...

Legends at the Beer Hunter, a sports bar where you're sure to see players and caddies hanging out