Mention “Q-School” to any professional golfer you'll see the memories start racing through his mind. Virtually all professional golfers have gone through Q-School, and that experience is without doubt the source of a player’s greatest joys and heartaches.
What is Q-School?
Q-School is the term given to a qualifying tournament by which a player gains access to a professional tour. There are Q-Schools all around the world. Every major circuit and most minor circuits have a Q-School. The PGA Tour Q-School gets most of the attention because the PGA Tour is the most lucrative, and it stands as a final goal for most professional golfers.
While no “formal” education takes place, participants do get a schooling, in the old sports jargon sense of the term. Q-School offers the best form of education for a career that will never be easy.
Vagabond or bona fide Pro? One week decides
I am often asked how one becomes a professional golfer. The answer is easy: raise your hand and say “I am a professional golfer.” In this sense, I have always considered professional golfers to be more like professional artists than athletes. In very much the same way that a professional musician spends his time developing his playing skills and looking for gigs to play, the professional golfer spends his time hitting balls and looking for tournaments to play.
It is easy to become a professional golfer -- the difficult part is to do it well enough to have access to tournaments where you can make a living. Professional golfers not making a living playing golf eventually need to decide if they need to find a “real” job, as I am sure more than one player out there (Ernie Els included!) has heard his grandmother say.
The Q-School ultimately determines if you will become a bona fide touring professional or one of the thousands of professional golfers looking for a gig. This is why the pressure is so great. One week of golf will decide how you will live the following twelve months of your life. Either you will be able to plan for tournaments, or you will have to live virtually day-to-day, not knowing exactly where you will have to travel to try to make some money.
Being a professional golfer is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a way to make money. A very talented friend of mine, who decided not to turn pro, told me that he did not want to take the chance of living day to day, knowing that he would have to pick up and fly virtually anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice to play in a golf tournament.
Getting through Q-School means that you can relax and focus on developing your game and playing your best. Missing it (if even by one shot), means that it is back to another year of struggling. This is why Q-School has taken on an almost fairy-tale dimension in sports. Dreams are made and broken during that one week.
El Dorado, the PGA Tour and golf around the world
The PGA Tour in the U.S. is not the only place for a professional golfer to play, but the prize money that the Tour has managed to secure from corporate sponsors makes it the El Dorado of professional golf. One or two good weeks on the PGA Tour will make you more money than an entire year on most of the other tours. For example, last year's Q-School winner, Brendon Todd, made $475,000 this year. Not bad for his roughly $5,000 entry fee to Q-School. Unfortunately, at 150th place on the money list, he will have to participate in this year’s final version.
Q-School will not actually disappear. It won't serve as an entry to the PGA tour, but to the Web.com tour instead.
Most people are convinced that the new system will prove to be more efficient and fair in identifying who should be playing for El Dorado's treasures. But who ever said golf was supposed to be fair?
As a professional golfer always looking for the key to the swing, I will miss knowing that the PGA Tour is no longer just one week of great golf away.
I guess that I, too, will have to turn the page. But there's always the U.S. Open!
Stephen Moskal is currently the Director of Instruction for Golf Swing Exchange, an innovative on-line coaching platform whose goal is to revolutionize the ability for people to learn golf. A former professional golfer in Europe, Moskal turned pro in 1993 as a member of the French National Circuit and also spent time on the United Kingdom Mastercard Tour and the European Challenge Tour. Following a seven-year professional career, Moskal turned to teaching full-time in 1999. A 1990 graduate of Furman University with a degree in philosophy, Moskal was a four year letter winner with the Paladins and was a member of the academic honor roll. Most recently, Stephen studied under Top 100 instructor Mitchell Spearman, best known for working with major champions Nick Faldo and Ian Baker Finch. Stephen is also the Head Golf Coach at Marymount University in Arlington, VA.
(United Press International's Commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)