A.J. McInerney had a plan going into the week, and he’s sticking to it.
"Even with a top 10," he told reporters last Wednesday, the day before making his PGA Tour debut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, "I’d still go to second stage."
It seemed like a long shot at the start of the week, but that very decision became real when the 24-year-old caught fire on the final nine Sunday, closing with a six-under 30 that left him — you guessed it — in a tie for 10th. As a result, McInerney finds himself exempt into next week’s PGA Tour event, the OHL Mayakoba Classic in Mexico. But he won't be able to attend.
The problem with going to Mexico is that McInerney is needed in McKinney, Texas, where he’s hoping to advance through the second stage of the Web.com tour’s qualifying school. Regaining Web.com tour status would give him somewhere to play for the upcoming season, while he would need to continue finishing in the top 10 to earn further Tour starts.
The complexity of it all didn't seem to affect McInerney on the 72nd hole, when he poured in a 30-footer that drew a roar from his hometown crowd and moved him to six under par, just three shots out of a playoff eventually won by Patrick Cantlay.
"We were actually between reads," McInerney said of the final putt. "I asked my caddie, 'Which way do you see this is going?' Because I had no idea. I could see it going both ways, and I think he knew from previous years that that thing breaks a little bit left. And I hit a great putt with perfect speed and trusted him, and he had a great read. To see that reaction from the crowd was amazing."
"I mean, this whole week has exceeded my expectations. To finish top 10 is just icing on the cake for me."
There’s no doubt that entering the week McInerney would have settled for the top 10, the $150,733 check, and the difficult decision. But there was still a hint of uncertainty as he reconsidered the possibility after his round.
"I don't know what the scores are at. Which I think will be close to a top 10, which will get me into Mayakoba. But I have a flight at 6:30 tonight to Dallas for second stage of Q-school. So I need to figure out the best options for me there. But, yeah, right now I'm going to be on a Southwest flight at 6:35.
Regardless of how Q-school goes, McInerney proved to be a heck of a sponsor’s invitation and a crowd favorite during a week he won’t soon forget.
"It was just kind of a storybook ending, I guess."