As I stood on the 15th tee during round one of qualifying school (often referred to as “q-school”) for the Mackenzie Tour (aka PGA Tour Canada), I found myself in the tough position we’ve all been in at one time or another on the golf course. With every aspect of my game seemingly letting me down, I stood at 8-over par through just 14 holes – my worst start (by far) since turning professional in January.
In this position, the golf course can be a lonely place. There are no time outs, no coaches to look to, no teammates to lean on. We’re left searching deep inside ourselves to find a way to get the ball in the hole using only our own determination.
I kept reminding myself that there was a lot of golf left to play, but I knew I’d need to turn it around quickly to have any chance in this 72-hole qualifying event. After finally ripping a drive down the middle on the 545 yard par-5 15th hole, I hit a perfect 4-iron to 15 feet and rolled in the eagle putt.
I wish I could say that this kick-started my golf game and led to a slough of birdies in the days to come. Although I did finish strong on day 1 to keep myself in it, I was left searching for the sometimes elusive “A-game” that we yearn to play with on the course.
Rounds of 78 – 75 – 75 – 76 (+16 total) left me 7 shots back of earning any type of status on the Mackenzie Tour this summer. While I fell short of the goal this time, I learned a lot from my first q-school experience.
4 things I learned from my first q-school experience:
1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint: In most cases, professional mini-tour events are 1-, 2-, or 3-day events (often the 3-day events have a cut after 2-days). Poor starts require a quick turnaround and usually more aggressive play to offer any chance to place and make a paycheck that week.
Mackenzie Tour Q-school, on the other hand, stretches over 4-days with no cut. So, a less-than-ideal start does not necessarily require immediate aggressive play. Over 72-holes, a lot can happen. There will likely be periods of bad holes and missed putts, but sticking to a thought out game plan and remaining patient will give a player the best chance to manage through the bad and find the good.
Of course, patience and a positive attitude doesn’t guarantee you’ll find the magic when your swing isn’t cooperating, but it will give you a fighting chance to post the best score you are capable of each given day.
2. Going low is nice, not necessary: Golf is a game where we’re always looking at leader boards and judging performances based on those top 6-8 scores. With so many good players competing, there will always be a few guys going low. Some weeks it will be you, but many it won’t.
The important thing to remember is that (in most cases) success even at the professional level doesn’t require shooting 5 or 6-under every round. In fact, 3-over par earned full-time status (9-over par conditional status) at my qualifying location (Carlton Oaks GC) over the four days.
That number will certainly vary based on difficulty of course, weather conditions, etc. (windy conditions and a penalizing layout characterized the difficult Carlton Oaks GC location), but hitting a lot of greens and posting solid scores around even par will often be enough to keep you moving forward. And on those great days where the putter gets hot, welcome the low scores.
3. Prepare to grind: Golf is not an easy game. Competitive golf is even harder. Truth be told, this week was one of the worst ball-striking weeks that I’ve experienced in the past few months. I was averaging around 5 fairways and 8 or 9 greens in regulation each day (vs. the normal and expected 9-10 fairways and 12-14 greens).
But, I kept reminding myself that a score, and not how well you’re striking the ball, is all that mattered. My scores each day certainly weren’t what I wanted, but I grinded out countless up-and-downs each day to keep myself in it and give myself a chance. It wasn’t quite enough, but you never know when things will click and the birdies will start rolling in. It’s important to keep grinding out pars so that if and when you find it, you’re within shouting distance of qualifying.
4. Embrace the Pressure: I was definitely more nervous than usual to begin this tournament before settling down. It’s hard to replicate the feeling you have in tournament conditions when practicing, which is why I believe that tournament play is the best practice for learning how to channel and embrace the pressure. This was a great way to feel the nerves and pressure of a q-school event, and I think it will help better prepare me for the next.
While I’d love to be heading up to Canada this summer to compete on the Mackenzie Tour, I’m thankful for the experience I gained at q-school and will draw on it in future events. I’ve got some work to do, but am looking forward to continuing to improve while playing in mini-tour events throughout the US this summer. As I sometimes need to remind myself, this is just the beginning of what’s to come!
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