It is the tournament that separates champions from mortals. It is the starting point for the careers of future legends and can be the final stop on the down escalator for fading stars. The annual PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament is one of the most grueling competitions in any sport. Every fall, veterans and talented hopefuls sweat through six rounds of hell at Q school, as the tournament is universally known, to get a shot at the PGA Tour, vying for the 30 slots available.
The grim reality: If you don't make it through Q school, you're not on the PGA tour. You're out. And those who make it to the sixday finals are the lucky ones: hundreds more players fail to get through the equally grueling first two stages of the event. John Feinstein tells the story of the players who compete for these coveted positions in the 2005 Q school as only he can. With arresting accounts from the players, established winners, rising stars, the defeated, and the endlessly hopeful, America's favorite sportswriter unearths the inside story behind the PGA Tour's brutal all-ornothing competition.
An inside look at the annual PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, also known as -Q School. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Little, Brown and Company
May 02, 2007
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Excerpt from Tales from Q School by John Feinstein
Dreams (and Nightmares) Come True
The dream is always the same. It starts with Tommy Tolles standing on the ninth tee of the Panther Lake course at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge on a windy Monday afternoon in December. He has a three-wood in his hands and is wondering: "Is eleven the number? Could it slide to ten? Maybe it will go to 12. Do I really need a three-wood? The hole is playing downwind, and the fairways are baked from the wind and lack of rain. A par might very well be all I need." For a moment, he wishes that instead of his pal Jamie Rowland, he had a tour caddy on his bag. Nothing against Rowland, who had walked 18 grueling holes every day for six days just to try to help Tolles, but this is one of those times when talking to someone who has been through this sort of golf-trauma would be helpful.
Tolles finally gets over the ball, three-wood in his hands. He takes the club back, and he can hear from the sound as he follows through that he has caught the ball flush, that, in golf lingo, he's hit it right on the screws. The ball screams straight down the middle of the fairway, several yards to the right of where Tolles was aiming. The left rough, he knew, was safe; he could get the ball on the green from there. But there was water on the right.
The ball drifts a little bit right, and Tolles feels his heart 2 pounding. It hits the ground and bounces -- hard -- to the right. It is bouncing in the direction of the water, and because the fairway is so burned-out, there's nothing to slow it down. It gets closer and closer. By now Tolles knows what is going to happen. It disappears into the lake. "No!" Tolles wants to scream. It can't be in the water. Only it is, and he knows, at that moment, that all his work to get back onto the PGA Tour has been for naught.
He wakes up, drenched in sweat. Even sleeping on top of the covers, he's covered in sweat.
That isn't the worst part, though. The worst part is knowing he is going to have the dream again.
It is like that every single year at what is now officially called the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, although to everyone connected with golf, it is known simply as "Q School." Once upon a time, there was a "school" aspect to the event, with players forced to sit in classrooms to learn rules, etiquette, and teaching techniques, since, once upon a time, all golf pros were expected to be teachers as well as players.
Every year at Q School, there are stories of heartbreak. At the 2005 Q School finals, Tolles was one of those stories. An accomplished player who has finished as high as 16th on the PGA Tour money list, Tolles was trying to fight his way back onto the tour after years of swing changes and frustration had landed him in golf's minor leagues. He had struggled for almost five and a half rounds, staying on the fringes of contention more because of smarts and experience than because of the way he was hitting the ball.
"I had pretty much given up hope to get back to the tour midway through the last day," he said later. "I was just trying to make sure I had full Nationwide [the tour's highest minor league] status. Then I birdied 18 [he had started his round on the 10th tee] and hit a four-iron to four feet on number one. Suddenly, it clicked in. Two hours later, I'm on the ninth tee, and I've birdied six of nine holes and I'm right there with that three-wood in my hands."
Which is where the dream of returning to the tour ended and the recurring nightmare began. After his ball found the water, he double-bogeyed the hole. His wife in tears, Tolles was finished except for the dream that would not go away.