It is white-knuckle time for 24 Canadian male golfers.
Ted Brown, a 33-year-old veteran from Peterborough, Ont., is one of those in action at seven qualifying sites across the U.S. for both PGA and Champions tours, the results from which will go a long way to determine where most of this country's touring professionals will be playing in 2013.
Brown teed it up Wednesday along with Vancouver's Eugene Wong in Panama City, Fla., in one of six PGA Tour second-stage qualifiers taking place. Brown has progressed through to second stage in each of the past four years, having made it to the all-important final stage twice in that span. This time around, he's coming off a broken collarbone suffered in a game of touch football last winter.
"I've been hitting it pretty well and putting good," he said. "I'm ready."
Brown's story has other unique elements from a Canadian perspective. He's chosen to stay in the U.S. rather than attempt to play the Canadian Tour. Firmly rooted in and around Richmond, Va., where he went to school at Virginia Commonwealth University, Brown has played on the Nationwide Tour (now called the Web.com Tour) and on various mini-tours around the southern U.S. prior to this season.
After losing his status on the Nationwide circuit, Brown had dwindling funds to pay for the expensive grind of touring golf and was forced to seriously curtail his tournament schedule in 2012. After a couple months to recover from his shoulder woes, Brown played a very light schedule, highlighted by a T5 showing in the Virginia Open.
Second-stage qualifying has a lot of moving parts and is arguably the most important step for rank-and-file players because those who advance through to the third and final stage know that if they play well there, they can at least count on a full schedule of events in 2013 on the Web.com schedule. On the other hand, failing to advance through to the final stage often means having to play mini-tours and chase Web.com Monday qualifying, a much more uncertain and expensive journey that offers little guarantee of even finding a regular place to play.
While acknowledging the pressure that comes with having to perform this week, Brown also pointed out that by not playing well at final stage a couple years ago, he put himself in a worse position because his limited Nationwide Tour status that resulted from finishing near the bottom of the field meant he was forced to sit and wait most weeks. He said the key difference this week is that four rounds offer little in the way of margin for error compared to the six-round final stage, where players can afford a bad day and still recover.
Second stage also features a significant jump in quality of the fields. Web.com competitors finishing outside the Top 40 on that tour's money list are joined by PGA Tour players lower than No. 150 on that circuit's ledger. Add in a whole raft of players such as Brown and Wong who advanced to the second stage and the fields are an eclectic mix of journeymen, up-and-comers and former top-flight pros who have fallen a rung or two down in golf's pecking order. To that end, joining Brown and Wong in the field this week is Peter Lonard, a two-time Presidents Cup competitor and Brett Wetterich, a 2006 U.S. Ryder Cupper.
"All second-stage qualifiers [have] good fields ... it's about surviving," Brown said.
Another wrinkle to this year's qualifying structure is that it's the final time that PGA Tour cards will be awarded at the end of play next month. Starting in 2013, Q-school will only be held to award Web.com membership.
Brown, who came within a few strokes of getting his PGA Tour card through qualifying three years ago, understands why the move was made, but shares the opinion of large swathes of tour membership in disagreeing with the changes.
"I think they are doing away with something that was a pretty long tradition," he said.
Other Canadians in action offer a host of stories.
At Champions Tour qualifying, Victoria's Jim Rutledge and Rod Spittle of St. Catharines, Ont., are trying to extend the partial status that both will carry over into 2013 from their respective money-list placings this year. Marc Girouard of Mirabel, Que., led the Canadian contingent with a T5 after Tuesday's first round. Two native Ontarians, Ahmad Bateman of Windsor and Kitchener's Dave Wettlauffer, round out the Canucks, who are chasing one of five full-time cards that will be awarded Friday, along with seven conditional ones.
Aside from Brown and Wong, other Canadians chasing a spot in the final stage of PGA Tour qualifying include former members Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont., and Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C., along with Canadian Tour 2012 order of merit winner Matt Hill from Forest, Ont.
Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., is exempt in to the final stage and he will be joined there by Brad Fritsch of Manotick, Ont., who has already earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com money list, but will contest the final stage in order to improve his priority ranking.
The final stage is slated for Nov. 28 to Dec. 3 at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.
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