Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Q-School Tournament in La Quinta
Professional golf's rules of inclusion are a shifting set of metrics that involve a mixture of the simple (top 125 on this year's US Professional Golfers Association money list are automatically eligible to play on tour next year) to complex (historical performance in major tournaments, injury exemptions, World Golf ranking, number of tournaments you commit to as a foreign player, you name it).
There are two other simple ways to obtain your tour card for the next year. Be in the top 25 of the money list in this year's Nationwide Tour, which is the golf equivalent of Triple-A pro baseball, and you're into the PGA tour. The other path is through something called the Qualifying School Tournament, a series of tournaments in warm weather states over the fall that filters out contenders for a grueling six-day final Q-School Tournament in early December. The top 25 players out of a field of about 170 at the end of those six days receive a PGA tour card. The next 50 also-rans are given entry into the Triple A Nationwide tour.
The cast of characters for this event is a fascinating mixture of accomplished old (in their 40s) golfers like David Duval and Lee Janzen trying to hold onto their tour cards after bad years, alongside young and striving athletes like Alexandre Rocha in the two photos above (with Dean Wilson on the putting green).
The tournament was held at PGA West in La Quinta, an upscale golf community in the southeast Coachella Valley in a beautiful desert mountain valley of its own. The strangest detail about the place was how empty it was. Even though million dollar homes lined every fairway of the two courses used for the event, I didn't see a single spectator sitting in any of the backyards. The reasons for the emptiness were a mystery. Possibly it was because the wealthy people who owned these vacation homes happened not to be visiting, or possibly they were just vacant. There are plenty of stories in this part of the Coachella Valley of people playing in the overheated real estate market who were stuck underwater with million dollar mortgages during the recent crash, and who simply walked away.
Not being able to persuade anyone in Palm Springs to make the trek to La Quinta to watch golf, I took a 90-minute bus ride on Sunday morning, and then hitchhiked for the first time in decades to PGA West itself. (Thank you, poor young Mexican man in the pickup and rich old white man in the Lexus for the rides to and from Highway 111.)
It was a remarkable experience. Not only was the tournament admission free, but there were so few spectators that you could be the entire gallery for just about any threesome of professional golfers that you wanted to follow. There were no scoreboards on the courses, which was annoying, but you could stick your head into the volunteer area at the central clubhouse and they would happily let you use their computer to look up scores.
It was also a surprisingly intimate setup where if you happened to cheer a golfer's birdie putt, they'd usually turn around and give you a wave. By the way, Alex Rocha above, who I did cheer on during Sunday's fifth round, made the top 25 by the skin of his teeth on Monday. Congratulations, kid.