Drilling Down: Q School

1. Getting Schooled
Last week the fifth and final Q school prequalifier finished up, and 224 PGA Tour hopefuls earned the right to enter the official three-stage qualifying tournament, which begins on Oct. 21. For these players it may seem as if Tour riches and stardom are only a few good weeks of golf away, but that’s not necessarily the case.

2. Stage Fright
Even if a player gets through the prequalifier, the deck is stacked against him in terms of making it to the PGA Tour. In 2008, 951 players entered the first stage and only 315 advanced; 500 entered the second stage and only 125 advanced. The third stage
had 163 participants and only the top 25 and ties earned Tour cards; 26th to 50th and ties were awarded Nationwide tour cards.

The number of those advancing doesn’t equal the number who enter the next stage because at each step along the way the survivors are joined by a pool of increasingly experienced and accomplished players who’ve been given an exemption into that stage. They include players from foreign tours, high money winners from the previous year’s Nationwide and PGA tours, top finishers from the PGA Professionals tournament, guys who’ve made the cut in a given number of official events and those who’ve
achieved a predetermined position in the World Ranking — among other criteria.

In other words, every time you advance
you have to take on all the other players who’ve
advanced and a slew of seasoned players who’ve
been given a free pass to that round. That’s why
some of those PGA Tour players who never quite
seem to cut it also never seem to go away. The
system is set up to give them an advantage in
making their way back.

3. Long Shots
If a player survives the 324-hole grind of a
prequalifier and all three stages of Q school,
his problems are just beginning. Each player
on Tour gets an eligibility number based on
his status, and players with higher numbers
are given priority when it comes to doling out
spots in tournament fields. Q schoolers are near
the bottom of the pecking order,
which means it’s hard for them to
get into tournaments. The eligibility
numbers are reset several times a
year based on performance up to
that point, so it’s possible to move
up — but it’s tough.

As an example, look at last year’s
Q schoolers. Only eight of the 28
graduates went through all three
stages. These guys received some of
the lowest eligibility numbers, and
so far this season they have averaged
16.4 Tour starts. The other
20 Q school qualifiers have averaged
20 starts, and the Nationwide
grads have averaged 21.5 starts (not
including those who haven’t pursued
a full schedule). No surprise
then that the best of the eight players who went
through all three stages, Aaron Watkins (left), is
a mere 175th on the Tour money list after earning
$250,889 in 14 starts. The five-tournament
Fall Series looms large for this group, either
allowing them to crack the top 125 and keep
their cards — or providing good practice for
another trip to Q school.

4. Pay to Play
The Q school survivors net anywhere from
$50,000 for winning to $5,000 for landing
between 26th and 50th, but the endeavor
requires a significant investment depending
on the stage at which you enter.

Stage Entered/Total Fee

Prequalifier – $5,300

First Stage – $4,500

Second Stage – $4,000

Final – $3,500