By LORNE RUBENSTEIN
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The PGA Tour's final qualifying tournament ended last Monday, and with it came the usual complement of players once on top of the game and now falling, falling, falling. It's always sobering to see how far former winners, including major champions, can slip. The same thing goes for promising young golfers.
Where does the game go, anyway? For some players, it's a simple - well, not so simple - matter of life's problems intruding and influencing one's game. Video cameras and launch monitors can't solve all swing problems, even if they can identify them.
The top 25 players and ties at the Q-school won exempt status for the 2013 season, and it took 17-under par for the six rounds in La Quinta, Calif., to do that. The next 50 finishers and ties earned cards on the second-tier Web.com Tour. It took 10 under to make that list.
Consider some golfers who failed. There was quite a group all the way down in 104th spot at four under. Finishers that low are guaranteed just part-time Web.com status next year.
Shaun Micheel was in that group. You don't have to be that old to remember that he came to the 72nd hole of the 2003 PGA Championship with a one-shot lead over Chad Campbell. Micheel's 7-iron to the elevated 18th green at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., site of the 2013 PGA, looked good in the air.
"Be right," Micheel said. It was. The ball finished adjacent to the hole. Micheel won by two shots. He also finished second by one shot to Tiger Woods at the 2006 PGA Championship.
Micheel had shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in June of 2009. His mother died at 64 in October of 2010, and he felt lost after that. He suffered from dizziness, ringing in his ears, and headaches the next year and was diagnosed with Menière's disease, an inner-ear condition.
But once a golfer, always a golfer. And so Micheel, 43, was at Q-school playing for a place to play. He missed getting back on the PGA Tour by 10 shots.
Len Mattiace finished in the same position. Mattiace had shot seven-under 65 in the final round of the 2003 Masters and was in the clubhouse waiting to see how Mike Weir would finish. Weir and Mattiace ended up in a playoff, which Weir won. Mattiace went skiing later that year and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in both of his knees. He did six hours of therapy daily and was back on the course three months later. But his game has yet to return.
Dean Wilson also tied for 104th in the final stage of Q-school. Wilson, 42, won The International on the 2006 PGA Tour and placed second in the 2010 RBC Canadian Open at the St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto, one shot behind champion Carl Pettersson. Now, more than two years later, he'll be hunting for tournaments to play.
And what of Todd Hamilton, who beat Ernie Els in their four-hole playoff to win the 2004 Open Championship at the Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland? The 40-yard chip-and-run he played with a hybrid on the final hole of the playoff to within two feet was a creative bit of genius that gave him the claret jug by a shot.
That was then. Now, he'll try to put together some sort of hybrid 2013 schedule, playing here and there, but certainly not full-time on the PGA Tour.
Finally, consider Patrick Cantlay. The 20-year-old Californian tied for 95th place at Q-school, with just one round, his last, in the 60s.
Cantlay finished in the top 25 last year in the first four PGA Tour events he played, when he was an amateur. He tied for 47th this year in the Masters, where he was low amateur. Cantlay was the No.1-ranked amateur in the world for a record 55 weeks before he turned pro last June, signing with Excel Sports Management, which represents Tiger Woods among others. Yet he was nowhere at Q-school.
The result hardly means that Cantlay can't play at the highest level. He's shown he can.
But his poor finish, along with the others who fell, demonstrates again that anybody's game can go, any time.
Sweet game, golf. Oh, really?
THEY ALSO FLUNKED
Some other well-known players who failed to get their PGA Tour cards at Q-school:
Camilo Villegas: The most recent of his three PGA Tour victories came just a couple of years ago, when he blew away the field at the Honda Classic.
Heath Slocum: The four-time PGA Tour winner has won more than $15-million (U.S.) in his career, with his biggest moment a victory in The Barclays playoff event in 2009.
Arjun Atwal: The first Indian-born winner on the tour captured the 2010 Wyndham Championship title as a Monday qualifier, a rare feat.
Nick O'Hern: The 41-year-old Australian has five victories around the world but is perhaps best known for taking down Tiger Woods twice in match play.
Danny Lee: The youngest to win the U.S. Amateur, in 2008, the New Zealander was also the youngest to win on the European Tour. At 22, though, he still has time to make it.