This past week I was busy working with some of the mini-tour players I instruct that are trying to make the PGA Tour. I asked one who had just made it through the First Stage what score it took to qualify for the Second Stage. He answered, "10-under par for 72 holes." Then, he added, "I have to shoot about 15-under to make it through the second stage."
So, what is the toughest test in golf? Of course, it's the PGA Tour Annual Qualifying School. To earn your PGA card you must go through three qualifying stages, a total of 252 holes. This includes the 108-hole final which is at Orange County National in Winter Garden from Nov. 30-Dec. 5.
The golf marathon started on Oct. 11. This First Stage of qualifying is divided into 14 sites with about 80 players at each site. This means 1,120 PGA Tour want-a-be's at the start of the qualifying school.
Twenty players from each site make it to the second stage of qualifying which is at two sites. Some started on Tuesday and end on Saturday, while others are from Nov. 16-19.
About 250 players make it out of First Stage and go to Second Stage. The Second Stage players are joined by former tour winners, Nationwide Tour winners and players in special exempt categories. The final stage is 108 holes at Orange County National of which about 40 cards will be given. If you don't make $632,000 for the year it is back to Q School, because only the top 125 players on the money list retain their PGA card.
There are no 10-year, $20-million, no-cut contracts.
If you don't shoot the score, you don't play. Nothing could be more brutally fair, but unbelievably difficult. Mac O'Grady took 17 tries at Q-School before he made it and then he won three PGA tournaments.
Tom Lehman had difficulty qualifying in Q-School so he played the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide Tour) and received his card after a specific number of wins and placing in the top 10.
We have watched as he has been a terrific competitor on the PGA Tour. At 32, it took Fred Funk five times to pass through Q-School and continue on to be a dominating force in golf.
Currently, Bart Bryant has shown how years of playing the mini-tours did not stop him, finally participating and winning three PGA tournaments this year.
Golf is a game of determination, persistence, and patience at every level. And, I think patience is perhaps the most important. It is not a surprise that participants in the game maintain their skills by using all three of these attributes and tweaking and working with their game constantly. True, the golf professionals are athletes, but it takes effort to maintain skills at any level, professional or amateur. Golf is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride and challenge.
In addition to my collaboration on the book "LAWs of the Golf Swing," I have just finished "Your Perfect Swing," published by Human Dynamics.
Dr. Jim Suttie, the 2000 PGA Teacher of the Year, is director of instruction at The Club at TwinEagles in North Naples and at Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, Ill. He also is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher and rated No. 15 by Golf Digest. Suttie coaches the FGCU men's golf team. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.