Dayton qualifier early step to PGA

DAYTON — The Tour First Stage Qualifying tournament at Dayton Valley Golf Club starting Tuesday may seem like a long way from the ultimate goal of playing on the PGA Tour for the 76 players in the field.

However, they can all have high hopes of getting there from the example set by two players in the field at last year’s Dayton qualifier.

Just less than one year ago, Zac Blair and Tony Finau were competing at Dayton in the first stage of the long odyssey to a PGA Tour card. At the same time this year they are both playing in the Open at Silverado CC in Napa, Calif., the opening tournament on the 2014-2015 PGA Tour schedule.

Blair and Finau both advanced through the qualifying tournaments and earned playing privileges on the 2014 Tour. They both played their way into the Final Series and earned their 2014-15 PGA Tour Cards by finishing 11th and 12th respectively in the Priority Rankings.

So while the new Tour qualifying process seems daunting, the prize is attainable and worth the pursuit as exemplified by the number of players who will return to Dayton for Q-school again this year. Thirty-eight of this year’s hopefuls have previously played in and PGA qualifiers at Dayton and 25 played in the Q-school last year including 19 of the top 33 players who advanced to the second stage.

Local golfers Scott Smith of Fallon and Trent Virden of Reno head this year’s field.

Smith, who starred for the Nevada Wolf Pack golf team, finished in 22nd place in last year’s qualifier at Dayton to advance to Second Stage Qualifying. This will be his third time through Dayton having also played in the 2012 Dayton PGA Tour qualifier when he shot even par to miss the qualifying cut by five strokes. He made his professional debut in 2011 and received an exemption into the Reno-Tahoe Open where he missed the cut. He 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.

Virden is a 2010 McQueen High graduate who starred in football and also played on the golf team. He chose to pursue a career in professional golf and has been playing regional pro events. He finished in a tie for 25th at 1-over par in the Pre-qualifying tournament at Yolo Fliers Club in Woodland, Calif., Sept. 3-5 to get into the Dayton field.

A total of 23 players in the field advanced from Tour Pre-qualifying tournaments.

With the Tour now the primary avenue to PGA Tour membership, the new qualifying process is augmented by several PGA Tour affiliate tours in which players can gain experience and earn qualifying status. Many of the players in this year’s field have competed on the PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour LatinoAmerica and PGA Tour China.

The process also allows former PGA Tour players an opportunity to attempt to regain their Tour status. Like Danny Ellis, a 44-year old from Heathrow, Fla., who has played in 113 PGA Tour events with $1,355,910 in money winnings and has also played in 93 Tour events. He has not played full time on any tour since 2007 and is making his first appearance at Dayton Valley.

Scott Gordon, Fair Oaks, Calif., playing in his fourth qualifier at Dayton, also had a taste of life on the PGA Tour. Following a tie for third in the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying 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 Wil Collins, Albuquerque, N.M., who played on the PGA Tour in 2009 and is playing in his 11th Dayton Q-school; Ryan Yip, Canada, 2010 Dayton low qualifier who has played on the Tour; Dusty Fielding, St. George, Utah, who was the low qualifier in 2012; Tyler Aldridge, Nampa, Idaho, who has played on the Tour since 2008; and Reno-born Matt Marshall, Marana, Ariz., who played the 2014 PGA Tour Canada and is playing a Dayton Q-school for the fifth time.

This field also has a number of young standouts including Sean Einhaus from Germany, who starred for the Oklahoma State Cowboys in several NCAA Men’s Golf championships and has played the Euro Challenge Tour. Also entered is Gunnar Wiebe, Aurora, Colo., the son of PGA and Champions Tour star Mark Wiebe. Gunnar played in the 2012 Dayton Q-school finishing in a tie for third at 10-under par to advance.

NOTES: Dayton Valley Golf Club first hosted a 72-hole PGA Tour Q-school tournament in 1995. The 2014 Tour event continues a 20-year run as the longest consecutive streak of hosting PGA Tour qualifying events for any course in the nation...The 72-hole tournament will be played Tuesday, Oct. 14 through Friday, Oct. 17. Gallery 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 6-round, 108-hole Final Stage will be played Dec. 11 – Dec. 16 at PGA National, Fazio and Champion courses, in Palm Beach Garden, Fla. ... A total of 31 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.


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