DAYTON — The name has changed from PGA Tour to Web.com Tour Qualifying but for the 75 players in the field at Dayton Valley Golf Club this week the stakes remain the same. It’s the beginning of a long road to earn potential playing privileges on the PGA Tour now that the Web.com Tour has become the primary avenue to PGA Tour membership.
Despite the added hurdles that the new PGA Tour qualifying process presents, the prize is worth the pursuit as exemplified by the number of players who will return to Dayton for Q-school again this year. Thirty-one of this year’s hopefuls have previously played in PGA qualifiers at Dayton and 20 played in the PGA Q-School last year including low qualifier Dusty Fielding, Washington, Utah and runner-up Clayton Rask of Elk River, Minn.
“I was both a little skeptical and intrigued about the new process at first, but I like how it is set up and I think it will prove to work well,” said Rask, who is making his fourth start in Q-School at Dayton having advanced to the second stage each time. “My only concern is that by stretching the commitment to qualify for the PGA Tour out over a full season that the number of international players may not be what they expect.
“You want to play against the best in day in and day out and know you can compete with them. Golf is an international sport and that’s what the game is all about having the best players in the world just like in major league baseball, NHL, NFL and NBA.”
The experiences Rask has encountered in pursuit of making the PGA Tour since graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2008 are reflective of most of the players in this field and the qualifying process. It is a constant learning curve that requires a combination of patience, determination, will and endurance. In 2010, Rask advanced from the Dayton qualifier into the Q-School finals where he played well enough to earn exempt status on the Nationwide Tour which is now known as the Web.com Tour.
“That year was a great eye opener for me,” he explained. “I’m on cloud nine for getting a chance to play a full season at the tour level. Then you go out (in a tournament) and see a guy having a bad day shoot 3-under and you shoot 4-over. You very quickly realize that you have to learn from every instance you experience out here (on tour). This is a tough business and about the only sport where you have to pay to get paid.”
Rask played Q-school at Dayton for the first time in 2009 when he showed up with his uncle as his caddie and they stayed in the golf course parking lot in a 1976 Apache pop-up camper and used the locker room as their shower and bathroom facilities. The affable former Golden Gopher golfer was an immediate hit with the Dayton golf members becoming known as their “adopted son.”
“I’ve never felt as welcome anywhere I’ve played as I do here and I’ve made many friends and we stay in contact,” he said about continuing to come back to Dayton. “This course is always in perfect shape and you can make a putt from anywhere on these greens, they are that good.
“For me it’s a perfect brew of positives to get q-school started and I’m excited to practice, get ready and get on the golf course.”
Local hopes for a future PGA Tour star from Dayton this year also rest on the shoulders of Fallon’s Scott Smith, who starred for the Nevada Wolf Pack golf team. He made his professional debut in 2011 and received an exemption into the Reno-Tahoe Open where he missed the cut. He advanced to Stage One PGA Tour Qualifying from a Pre-qualifying tournament at Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa, Ariz. but failed to make it to the second stage.
Smith had a breakout year in 2012 by qualifying for the U.S Open at Olympic Club where he failed to make the cut. He received another exemption into the 2012 RTO and made it pay off by making his first cut as a pro and finished in 70th place earning $6,000. Smith shot even par at the Dayton Q-school last year to miss the qualifying cut by five strokes.
The pursuit for PGA Tour stardom also means some players go back to square one to regain their PGA Tour status. With nearly $3 million in career PGA Tour winnings, 44-year old Todd Fischer, Livermore, Calif. is the biggest name in this field. He played in 150 PGA Tour tournaments from 2003 to 2006 and had four third-place finishes including the Reno-Tahoe Open when he was a Reno resident and Montreux Golf and Country Club member.
Fischer won the 2002 Ft. Smith Classic on the Web.com Tour and now hopes to climb back to the PGA Tour through the same avenue. He last played on the Web.com Tour in the 2012 TPC Stonebrae Championship where he finished tied for 42nd place.
Scott Gordon, Fair Oaks, Calif., playing in his third qualifier at Dayton, also had a taste of life on the PGA Tour. Following a tie for third in the first stage at Dayton in 2010, he made it to the finals where he survived an agonizing wait to tie with Billy Horschel for the final spot to earn a PGA Tour card for 2011. Gordon has struggled with recurring injuries since that year on Tour.
Other veterans in the field include James Drew, Las Vegas, playing in his 11th Q-school at Dayton; Seung-su Han, Tustin, Calif., who was co-medalist at Dayton in 2007; Tom Kalinowski, Scottsdale, Ariz. was low qualifier in 1999 and Derek Berg, Kenmore, Wash., who finished second in 2009.
The field also has number young standouts including Chris Williams from Moscow, Idaho. Williams, who played college golf for the Washington Huskies, was the top-ranked amateur in the world and represented the U.S. in the Walker Cup, the Palmer Cup and the World Amateur Championships. He has also played in two U.S. Opens and the British Open.
Dayton Valley Golf Club first hosted a 72-hole PGA Tour Q-school tournament in 1995. The 2013 Web.com Tour event continues a 19-year run as the longest consecutive streak of hosting PGA Tour qualifying events for any course in the nation.
Further evidence of the staying power of Dayton Valley as a tour-caliber qualifying site over time is that 1997 Dayton low qualifier James Blair’s son, Zac, is making his Q-school debut in this event. Both father and son from Ogden, Utah were star collegiate golfers at Brigham Young.
The 72-hole tournament will be played Tues., Oct. 15 through Friday, Oct. 18. The event is free to the public. Tee times begin at approximately 9 a.m. off the 1st and 10th tees each day with the potential for possible frost delays. The 2013 Web.com Q-school began with pre-qualifying tournaments at six sites in September. A total of 245 players qualified for the first stage from a total field of 448 players. It will follow the same pattern as the former PGA Tour Qualifying with pre-qualifying tournaments and three stages of qualifying tournaments to determine the final number of new members on the Web.com Tour.
The 6-round, 108-hole Final Stage will be played Dec. 12 – Dec. 17 at PGA West, TPC Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses, in La Quinta, Calif.
A total of 27 players have played and advanced from the Dayton field in prior years to play on the PGA Tour including Gary Woodland, Charlie Wi, Jeff Overton, Graham DeLaet, Charley Hoffman, Scott Piercy, Chez Reavie, Bryce Molder, Bill Lunde, Parker McLachlin, Rod Pampling, Matt Bettencourt, Spencer Levin, Wil Collins, Troy Merritt, Steve Allan, Bob May, Notah Begay, and Casey Martin.