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Dayton Valley Golf Club hosts Stage One Web.com Tour Qualifying

Larry Windsor
For the Nevada Appeal
Clayton Rask putts on the 11th hole during a previous PGA qualifier at Dayton Valley Golf Course.
NEVADA APPEAL | Nevada Appeal file photo

DAYTON — For the 22nd consecutive year a group of individual golf entrepreneurs will embark on another annual journey this week in pursuit of a career goal at Dayton Valley Golf Club. Officially known as Stage One Web.com Tour Qualifying, the tournament continues a record streak of PGA qualifiers held at any one course in the country.

The 72-hole qualifying tournament will be played Tuesday through Friday at the Arnold Palmer-designed Dayton layout. There is no admission charge.

The 77-player field includes 37 players who have previously played in a Dayton Q-school including 24 who were in the 2015 field. Twenty players in the field advanced from pre-qualifying tournaments that began the four stage qualifying process for the 2017 Web.com Tour season. The players hail from 27 states and four foreign countries.

By paying an entry fee ranging from $4,500 to $6,000, this group of journeymen and apprentice professional golfers are hoping to reap big dividends by earning a one-year exemption to play on the Web.com Tour 2017 season. With approximately 1,000 players entered nationally, 156 will make it to the final stage. And only 45 players or 4.5 per cent will be awarded exempt status and earn a finals paycheck that will at least cover the entry fee and some expenses with incremental prize money up to $50,000 to the low finals qualifier.

This high-risk achievement only earns each one of those 45 players a one season, 25-tournament Web.com Tour shot at reaching the ultimate goal of playing on the PGA Tour. Such is the so-called glamorous life of a touring golf professional for the majority at this level trying to make it to the top.

Clayton Rask, Atlanta will be making his fifth start in a Dayton qualifier this year. The experiences he has encountered in pursuit of making the PGA Tour since graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2008 are reflective of most players going through the qualifying process. It is a constant learning curve that requires a combination of patience, determination, will and endurance.

As the 31-year old Rask describes his profession, “This is a tough business where you have to pay to get paid and there are no signing bonuses or guaranteed contracts. It’s not like five days a week, 9-to-5 and when five o’clock comes you can kick back and relax.”

Rask played Q-school at Dayton for the first time in 2009 when he showed up with his uncle as his caddie. 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.”

The course suits Rask’s game as he has advanced to the second stage of qualifying all four times. In 2010 he made it to the finals where he earned an exempt spot on the then Nationwide Tour for the 2011 season. He played in 24 events and made the cut 10 times to earn $49,953.

The last time Rask played at Dayton was in 2013 when he finished in an 11-way tie for 23rd and the final qualifying position to advance to the second stage. A lot has changed in his life and career since then.

He got married and moved from Minnesota to Atlanta where his wife works for Delta Airlines. A great career coincidence for a touring pro since he now enjoys complimentary airfares.

He experienced the highlight of his career thus far by qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 where he made the cut and earned his largest career paycheck of $20,775.

“That was a tremendous learning experience, I played with some great pros and I played exceptionally well,” he recalled. “I finished in the top 10 in every stat category except putting. I could not get a feel for the greens at all.”

To add to his putting difficulties, the rule banning anchoring became effective in January of this year. Having putted with a long putter most of his career, he has changed to the more traditional short putter.

After making it to the finals of Web.com Tour qualifying in 2015, Rask had high expectations for the 2016 season even though he did not earn enough Web.com Tour status to get into any tournaments.

“From the Sony Open on, I was flying around to a Monday qualifier every week,” he explained. “Even when I played in a weekend event on the Canadian Tour, I’d fly to a Monday qualifier somewhere trying to give myself every option possible.”

His effort met with success in February when he qualified for his first ever regular PGA Tour event at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He played well with rounds of 72 and 73 but it wasn’t good enough to make the cut.

He played in 10 PGA Tour Canada events and only made the cut three times. And finally as the season wore on, the rigorous plan took its toll.

“I set goals for the year but they were more like expectations and I put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I had some issues mentally and swing-wise so I tried to fight through it but I just reached a bad place.”

Rask said he has taken off the last several weeks to work on some technical swing and mental things.

“I’m hitting the ball well and gaining more confidence with the putter,” he said. “I’m looking forward to moving on and making a fresh start and I can’t think of a better place to do it than Dayton.”

The Dayton field also includes a number of young standouts including Tye Gabriel, Portland, Ore., who won the Golden State Tour’s 54-hole Sierra Nevada Open in June at Dayton Valley. With that victory, the St. Mary’s Gaels grad earned a spot in the PGA Tour Barracuda Championship at Montreaux where he failed to make the cut.

Ben Geyer, Arbuckle, Calif., Chris Evans, Bermuda Dunes, Calif., and Gunner Wiebe, San Diego, Calif. will start at Dayton again this year after making it to the Q-school finals in 2015. However, all three did not earn high enough status to play much on the Web.com Tour last year.

Other players of note include Gavin Green of Selangor, Malaysia who represented his country in the 2016 Rio Olympics golf competition. The former New Mexico Lobo golfer also has two wins on the Asian Development Tour. And veteran Wil Collins, Albuquerque, N. M., who played on the PGA Tour in 2009, is making his 12th Dayton Q-school start.