If you thought Monday qualifiers were wild shootouts before on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, wait until you see what's coming
Manuel Blondeau - Corbis
Monday qualifying is perhaps pro sports’ closest thing to a gladiatorial contest. Many enter, but only a few survive. Although actual lives aren’t on the line, often, livelihoods are, creating fierce competition—and eye-poppingly low scores. Don’t expect things to get any easier when play resumes on both the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour.
Following a three-month pause in the schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic, pent-up playing interest is at an all-time high. Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and other big stars have said they plan on having busier schedules than usual when play resumes, which is a great thing for tournaments like this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, the RBC Heritage, the Travelers and so on, all of which can expect their best fields in years. But obviously, this creates a trickle-down effect.
With more high-ranking tour pros accepting spots in tournaments—16 of the world’s top 20 will be at Colonial, for example—that leaves more rank-and-file golfers than usual needing to play their way in each week. Even Vijay Singh wasn’t guaranteed a spot in this week’s Korn Ferry event, eventually withdrawing after it appeared likely he would have to Monday qualify. Yes, this is the same Vijay Singh who has won three majors and earned more money on a golf course than all but three people in history.
And those playing Monday qualifiers to gain entry into PGA Tour events will have even less of a chance of earning a spot with the tour recently cutting the number of those spots available the rest of this season in half from four to two. With Monday qualifying fields usually consisting of 80 to 100 players, the odds of making it through now fall somewhere between buying a winning lotto ticket and getting an extra chicken nugget with your order.
And that’s if a tournament even has a Monday qualifier. As first reported by Golf Channel in April, the PGA Tour sent a memo to players saying, “there may be locations where we cannot safely hold and open qualifier.” In those cases, those spots will go back to the field.
There are also tournaments, including this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club, in which there are no Monday qualifiers due to an event’s status as either an invitational, World Golf Championship or a major. During those weeks, tour pros will have to scramble to play in Monday qualifiers for the Korn Ferry Tour, which might look more like a lower-end PGA Tour event.
Such is the case for the Korn Ferry Tour Challenge, a new event at TPC Sawgrass that will be played opposite the Colonial this week. Those signed up for the Monday qualifier at the Palencia Club include Jonathan Byrd, Smiley Kaufman, Hudson Swafford, Julian Suri, Ollie Schniederjans and junior golf phenom Akshay Bhatia. Again, this isn’t the Korn Ferry Tour event, just the qualifier for it.
Due to the timing and the Florida location, it’s what Ryan French, AKA Monday Q Info on Twitter, calls “the perfect storm,” and it’s an event he’s looking forward to as much as the actual tournament. Many of those teeing it up, however, don’t share quite the same enthusiasm. For one thing, they are well aware of the long odds that face them in their attempt to earn a paycheck that week. For another, now they face additional fears from COVID-19.
“I’ve talked to some players who are apprehensive, but at the end of the day, they’re thinking ‘What am I going to do, quit?’” said French, who is also a contributor for PGATour.com. “If they want to play, they have to do it. So they’re in a tough spot.”
On the bright side, Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifiers will continue to offer their usual eight spots. For that reason, French feels those qualifiers might be more enticing—even for guys with PGA Tour status. However, those events also feature bigger fields. French said this week’s qualifier in St. Augustine has been maxed out at 264 players for some time.
So what scores will players have to shoot to qualify? No doubt the events will continue to have a shootout atmosphere. Patrick Reed, a former Monday qualifying star when he did it six times in 2013—a record that has since been broken by T.J. Vogel—told our John Feinstein, “You have to approach it almost like match play. Every hole is important. You have to try to birdie every hole, be very aggressive. Because there’s almost no score that’s guaranteed to be low enough. If you think being five under after six holes is good enough, you probably aren’t going to make it. You have to come out firing.”
French’s research certainly backs that up. After crunching the numbers the past two years, the average winning score for a PGA Tour Monday qualifier in 2018 and 2019 was 64.54 and 64.66, respectively. The average of the person earning the last spot those two years was only about two strokes higher and 66.54 and 66.42. And out of the 24 qualifiers last year, incredibly, three times a 64 was needed just to make it through.
With more competition and fewer spots up for grabs now, expect those scoring numbers to only go down.
“It’s going to take 64 every week basically, depending on weather and course,” French estimates. “Scoring is going to be ridiculously good.”
To those entering these races to red numbers, on your mark, get set, go low.