Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dreams And Nightmares At Q-School

There is no sport where there is more individual accountability than in professional golf.  It is you and the course.  There is no one to blame.  There is no one to save your bacon if you perform badly on a play.  It is all on you.

It is also a true meritocracy.  There are no long term contacts or signing bonuses.  There is no injured reserve or continuing contract payments if you get hurt and can't play.  You play (and you must play well) or you don't get paid.  It can be cruel and unforgiving on those 18 holes when it is just you, your swing and your mind.

Today marks the beginning of what is usually the cruelest of all weeks in professional golf.  The PGA Tour Qualifying School Tournament is played over the next 6 days with 172 golfers in the field.  108 holes must be played and only the top 25 will earn the right to tee it up in next year's PGA Tour events.  Bear in mind that success this week only gives someone the opportunity to compete for prize money next year.  There are no guarantees in this sport.  And many nightmares over the next year for those who miss the top 25 by a shot or two or three.

You really understand that point when you look at a few of the players that are teeing it up this week.  The playing field includes 4 players who have previously won major tournaments.  One of the four, David Duval, was once the top ranked player in the world and won the 2001 British Open.  The others include Rich Beem (2002 PGA Championship), Lee Janzen (1993, 1997 US Open) and Shaun Micheel (2003 PGA Championship).  There are no free passes based on your name or reputation.  David Duval or Lee Janzen is no different than Wes Roach or Jess Schutte when they tee it up.

We are fortunate that we still have a professional sport where there are no guaranteed contracts, collective bargaining disputes and million dollar crybabies.  A sport where Keegan Bradley was not eligible for the tour a year ago and he now reigns as the 2011 PGA Champion with $3.8 million in the bank from winnings during the last year.   If there is a sport that still embodies the values of the American Dream it is  professional golf.

I have seen surveys in the past that show that PGA Tour professionals are overwhelmingly Republicans.  Upwards of 90% typically support the Republican presidential nominee.  This should not be surprising.  There is no redistribution of income or guaranteed income on the PGA Tour.  The rules are strict and are honored.  Many penalties are self imposed.  There are no bail outs if you put yourself in the rough or the trees.  It is your responsibility to find a way to get back on the course.  There is little room for excuses at the end of the day or the end of the year.  It is on you.

At the same time, there is very little animosity for those at the top of the heap.  In fact, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods always got their homage from the rest of the players.  Why?  Because the other players understood that their superior play pushed everyone else to elevate their game.  In addition, their success also trickled down throughout the Tour with more interest, bigger purses, more sponsors and more tv revenue.  Everyone benefited from those on top.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned by thinking about the PGA Tour's Q-School this week.  Good luck to all those who toil on the golf course in search of that dream.

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