DAYTON — For the 23rd consecutive year a PGA Tour qualifying tournament will be played at Dayton Valley Golf Club this week. A lot has changed since Arnold Palmer’s venerable layout first hosted Q-school in 1995.
During that first qualifier, there was a guy in the field who didn’t break 100 through three rounds and finally got into double digits with a final round 97. Now there are so many qualified young players who can regularly break par that six Pre-Qualifying tournaments are held to weed out the players who don’t have what it takes to play at the tour level.
Back in 1995 Q-school contestants needed to get through the first two stages and the grueling 6-round, 108-hole Finals to potentially earn a PGA Tour card. Now there are the pre-qualifiers and same First, Second and Final Q-school Stages and that only earns players the possibility of playing for one season on the Web.com Tour.
Although every player making it to the Q-school Finals is guaranteed some status on the following year’s Web.com Tour, only the top 45 and ties in the Finals get a guaranteed number of tournament starts for the next Web.com Tour season. And even then, the priority status is shuffled four times during the year based upon performance.
At the end of each Web.com Tour season, 50 players earn a PGA Tour card for the following season. The top 25 money-winners (The 25) from the first 22 tournaments and the Finals 25 from the leading money-winners in the last four tournaments of the year make-up the fortunate 50.
Most pros and veteran observers of the PGA Tour agree that the new process that began five years ago has produced a stronger tour product with more quality players. It’s play well or go home and the difference in the caliber of play on the PGA and Web.com Tours is barely discernable.
This year’s highly-credentialed Dayton field includes 26 players who have previously played in a Dayton Q-school including 19 who were in the 2016 field. Eighteen players in the field advanced from Pre-qualifying tournaments that began this year’s qualifying process. Twelve players in the field have previously played on the Web.com Tour, and many in the field have played in an event or two on the PGA Tour.
One of the young players making his first attempt at the rigors of Q-school is Jordan Wright of Incline Village, who completed a five-year college career at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in June. The 23-year old Wright finished in a tie for 20th at 1-under par in the 54-hole Pre-qualifying tournament at Yolo Fliers Club in Woodland, Calif., to advance into the Dayton field.
Wright won the 2011 Nevada State 2A High School Championship as a junior at Incline High, but his experiences at Cal Poly shaped the calm and level approach he has going into the professional ranks. You might say it was a school of hard knocks kind of experience.
In his first two years as a walk-on, his play was up and down until he shot a first round 64 that resulted in a third-place tournament finish. The coach took notice and he became a regular in the team’s matches until suddenly he lost 20 pounds in a week and had trouble seeing in class.
The initial diagnosis was Type II diabetes but after two weeks of unsuccessful treatments it was determined to be Type I and insulin injections began to work. He now uses an insulin pump to control the diabetes and must also control his diet because of celiac disease. “It ruined my sophomore year of golf plus I missed a lot of school,” said Wright who earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
Then in his junior year he broke his wrist in a pick-up basketball game and had to redshirt.
“I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to play golf again, but fortunately the surgery worked and it healed,” he said. “It was a whole change of attitude for me, I was just glad to be able to play golf again and enjoy myself.”
With a new lease on his golf life, his on course performance improved dramatically and he reached a defining moment that gave him an inkling he could compete as a professional.
“It was my senior year when we played in the Stanford Invitational and the biggest and best field we ever played against,” he explained. “I shot a final round 67 to tie for 14th place. That convinced me I had the ability to play with top players because most of those guys were at the top of the World Golf Amateur Rankings. That’s when I decided I’m going to give it a shot!”
Wright has only had a small taste of professional competition this summer. He played in a Monday qualifier in Council Bluffs, Iowa for the Web.com Tour Pinnacle Bank Championship where he failed to qualify. He shot a 2-under 70 in the Barracuda Championship pre-qualifier at Dayton to advance to the final qualifier at Hidden Valley Country Club. He didn’t qualify but said he had a great learning experience playing with former PGA Tour member Matt Bettencourt who advanced through Q-school at Dayton in 2007.
Wright says he has a game plan set for the week. “I have played this course so many times in all kinds of weather conditions imaginable and played well here a lot, so my main focus was to get to here (Dayton) for Q-school,” he explained. “I know the course demands that I stay focused on hitting all the shots, stay aware of where I am in the competition and commit to hitting the right shot each time.”