Hopefuls down to last shot at winning
For all those golfers on the PGA Tour trying to guarantee playing status for next season and/or hoping to avoid Qualifying School, this is the Last Chance Saloon.
After the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic this week at Walt Disney World, golf’s traveling circus will fold up its tents for the next two months or so.
The main event might be Luke Donald and Webb Simpson duking it out for the PGA Tour money title, but for the majority of the field, it’s about improving their status for next season.
Most of these guys are thinking about the top 150 on the money list, or top 125, to give themselves a chance to put together a decent schedule for the 2012 season.
However, one of them will win the tournament and earn a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, which can become a career changer.
Even in golf, Disney World is where dreams can come true.
"We’ve had some big names win our tournament, like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, but we’ve also had 17 first-time winners," tournament director Kevin Weickel said.
"Some of them were virtual unknowns at the time but went on to make a name on the PGA Tour."
Nicklaus won the first three of what started out as the Walt Disney World Open Invitational in 1971, and Woods won it in 1996 and 1999. Other big-name champions included Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins, Payne Stewart, Larry Nelson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III and Hal Sutton.
However, lesser-known players who won at Disney include Rick Fehr, Jose Coceres, Bob Burns, Joe Durant and Ryan Palmer. Robert Garrigus closed his 2010 season with a victory and picked right up in January by cashing a $635,000 check for finishing second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Now, in the anchor position of the four-event Fall Series, the tournament gives players trying to establish themselves one last opportunity to make it a successful season and build a foundation for the next year.
Big things were expected from Kevin Na and Bryce Molder, and they might finally be ready to achieve them after recently rising to claim their first PGA Tour victories in the fall.
"I told everybody, once I get my first win, the wins are going to start rolling in," Na said after winning the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
"I think it’s like that for a lot of the guys. Once they get that first win, it seems like a lot of guys go on and win a bunch of tournaments."
However, veterans also have used victories in the Fall Series to propel themselves to bigger and better things the next season.
Bill Haas, who captured the Viking Classic last October, used that as a springboard to a career year in which he finished in the top 10 seven times, captured the Tour Championship and took home the FedEx Cup.
In 2009, Matt Kuchar resurrected his career by winning the Turning Stone Classic, his first victory in seven years, and hasn’t slowed down since. He posted 11 top-10 finishes the following year to lead the PGA Tour, won the 2010 Barclays and now resides in the top 10 of the World Golf Ranking.
Jonathan Byrd hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2007 before he captured the 2010 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but he made it two victories in as many events when he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to kick off a successful 2011.
And Zach Johnson, coming off a 2007 season in which he captured the Masters and the AT&T Classic, struggled for most of the next year before winning the Valero Texas Open during the Fall Series.
Johnson also won early in 2009 at the Sony Open in Hawaii before repeating in the Valero Texas Open when it was moved into the regular season.
"Success breeds success and it is something you can build on," Johnson said. "I mean, confidence is crucial out here, and when you are able to win it is always much easier to build on that momentum and keep going forward with it.
"My Fall Series win was great because I ended my year on a strong note and it gave me a lot of confidence opening the year in Hawaii. I can’t speak for the other players, but it is safe to assume they shared the same confidence from winning and rode it into the next year.
"The Fall Series offers a great chance to end the year strong and look positively to the next."
So that’s why veterans and youngster alike will gather on Disney’s Magnolia and Palm Courses this week for one last shot at PGA Tour glory this season.
Well, yes and no. Seems there are other things going on across the street.
"I’d like to say I come here for the golf, but my kids are 8, 6 and 5, so they aren’t going to be watching any golf," said Joe Ogilvie, who is No. 112 on the money list and wants to lock up his spot in the top 125. "And when I’m finished playing, I’ll be with them over at EPCOT or the Magic Kingdom.
"There’s a lot of stories, a lot of subplots for this tournament. There’s a little unease. But I’ve been on the bubble before. . . . I’ve been through it enough now where I just say it’s not that big in the grand scheme of things."
Ogilvie has been around long enough to know there’s always a next year.