Richard Scott. Andrew Parr. Dustin Risdon. Brad Fritsch. Mike Mezei.
All got through the first part of the PGA Tour’s grueling qualifying school, perhaps the last year that golfers from places like the Canadian Tour can play their way to the PGA Tour.
I count 21 Canadians who got through to the next stage, where several other Canadians will join them (Chris Baryla, Jon Mills, for example) in the hope of playing to the finals, where Adam Hadwin and Matt McQuillan will play. See ScoreGolf’s excellent list of Canadians at Q-School here.
That said two prominent names are missing: Abbotsford’s Nick Taylor and Bright’s Grove’s Matt Hill.
In 2009 both were regarded as can’t miss prospects, with Hill winning everything at the NCAA level and Taylor playing exceptionally well at that year’s U.S. Open. Hill turned pro before finishing school, and Taylor finished and hit the mini-tour circuit. Both got some breaks; the Canadian Tour, for instance, decided neither had to attend qualifying school, a bit of an odd move, but one they justified by saying they were supporting top Canadian talent.
Well, neither Hill nor Taylor got through the first stage of qualifying school, a bit of a surprise. Taylor finished just outside the number that made it through to the second stage, while Hill missed by a bigger figure.
Hill played a little bit more on the e-Golf Tour, recording a second-place finish early in the year, while Taylor played only a couple of times on that mini-tour.
On one hand, it would seem reasonable to anticipate both players would have made more progress sooner. Just look at Rickie Fowler, or Bud Cauley. Those are the players we’re judging our best talent against.
However, I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Keegan Bradley turned pro in 2008, and didn’t make it to the PGA Tour until this year, though he did have a spot on the Nationwide Tour in 2010.
It reminds me of something Mike Weir told me recently:
“In the amateur ranks we’ve had guys who were at the top of the world, but we’re still waiting for them to break through,” Weir explains. “Is their learning curve long like mine – or will they do well a couple of years out of school? I see the drive in those guys and it gets tougher all the time. Every year the ability to separate from the pack is tougher than it was when I started, and a lot tougher than 20 years ago.
“It took me seven years to get to the PGA Tour and a lot of people thought winning the Masters [in 2003] was an overnight thing, but it took me 12 years as a pro to get there,” Weir continues. “It takes time and it is a tough game. Look at Matt and Nick – people could get impatient with them, but they could be major champions in, I don’t know, six or 10 years. Everyone wants instant gratification. And golf, maybe more than any other sport, takes patience.”
Given the emergence of some American 20-something stars — and the likes of Rory McIlroy — we’re being conditioned to expect greatness out of our golfers immediately and write them off just as quickly if they don’t succeed right away. Look at James Lepp — at the top of the amateur game and within a couple of years he’s stopped playing and was launching a shoe company (and making up golf shots). Sure, Lepp had other issues — I remember one Canadian Open where he was struggling and said he might finally need a swing coach — but the point is that if success doesn’t come rapidly, it is easy to write off a golfer.
Mike Weir went to qualifying school seven — yes seven — times before moving to the PGA Tour and never played at the Nationwide Tour level.
Should we expect more from former amateur stars like Hill and Taylor? Probably not. If they end up like Wes Heffernan and are still kicking around the Canadian Tour in their early 30s (or as Canadian Tour commish Rick Janes recently said to me during an interview “their undergraduate degrees are taking a little too long…”), then maybe it is time for concern. For the time being, let’s hope for progress, and that at least a couple of the other 21 Canadians at least progress to the final stage.