Waste Management Phoenix Open

You just Monday qualified into a PGA Tour event—now what?

February 08, 2022

Jeffrey Kang, shown in the 2018 Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament, will be in this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open field as a Monday qualifier.

Stan Badz

SCOTTSDALE — Monday qualifiers are having a moment. Much of that is due to the work of one man: Ryan French, known in the Twitterverse as Monday Q Info, who has shined a light on the colorful characters and rich storylines percolating below the glitz and glamor of the PGA Tour. Nothing like them exists in other sports. There is no pickup game for Lakers roster spot, no open batting practice to DH for the Yankees. So long as you have a few hundred bucks and a free Monday—and, in recent years, make it through the pre-qualifier, devised to weed out the delusional (or unfunny) 90-shooters—you are one great round away from teeing it up against Brooksy and Rahmbo.

The dream scenario, of course, is parlaying a start into a PGA Tour career. The model for this is Corey Conners, who Monday’d into the 2019 Valero Texas Open and won the tournament to get into the following week’s Masters and end the purgatory of fringe Korn Ferry/PGA Tour status. Conners, boosted by that magical week in Texas, now sits No. 42 in the world and the Canadian has a great chance to make the International Presidents Cup team this fall.

More often than not, though, the Monday qualifier survivors—who almost always shoot something preposterously low to get into the field—enjoy a week in the sun before returning to the grind.

Jeffrey Kang, one of three men to get into the Waste Management Phoenix Open through Monday’s crapshoot, knows the grind as well as anyone. This will be the 30-year-old USC grad’s first start on the PGA Tour. He has played three times on the Korn Ferry Tour, but not since 2019. He’s had to wait longer than he’d ever expected for this opportunity—both on Monday, when he holed a 10-footer to end a 10-hole playoff for the final qualifying spot, and over the last decade-plus, when a gnarly case of the driver yips derailed a hugely promising prospect.

Kang was Golfweek’s top-ranked prospect when he signed at USC and started strong for the Trojans, picking up all-conference honors in each of his first two years and getting an honorable mention All-American nod as a sophomore. Then came the dreaded y-word, the result of a mechanical issue compounded by a crisis in confidence. Convinced that the driver struggles would be temporary, Kang turned pro shortly after graduation but has not been able to keep pace with the guys he beat as a teenager.

“I’ve had times where I didn’t know if this is what I need to do,” Kang says, “if this is what I’m cut-out to do. But I had some really high moments in my junior career, so I knew I could compete and play at a certain level. And then when you’re not, it puts you in a weird spot. I definitely thought about stopping, but I couldn’t tell myself that I’d be okay with that. I thought it’d always linger, like I didn’t try everything.”

Holing that right-edge putt on Monday afternoon granted him the biggest opportunity of his still-young golf life. But first, he had to figure out where to park.

Yes, after the shock of making it through a Monday wears off, the distinctly un-sexy task of sorting logistics begins. After he sunk the clinching putt, a tour official approached him with forms he needed to electronically complete in order to register for the WMPO. Kang’s phone had run out of battery when he checked it.

“It just completely died,” he says. “I’ve never had that happen before just because of messages.”

Kang and his friend/caddie, Henry Chung, didn’t return to their hotel until 5 p.m. Monday—which was one hour after the late check-out time. The hotel had already extended their stay through Monday night, but virtually every hotel in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area is fully booked for this week, which year after year draws the biggest crowds of any PGA Tour event. It took them a solid hour of searching just to find a bed to sleep in. Next came extending the rental car and a well-earned slumber.

Kang and Chung pulled up to TPC Scottsdale at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, plenty of time to take care of a number of housekeeping items and to buy a tour-issued yardage book. Of course, they proceeded to get lost. Immediately.

“I circled this parking lot a good three times this morning. Just had no idea where to go. Going, scrambling, figuring out what I needed to do. One guy told me to go there to get a player’s badge, then I go there, and they told me to go somewhere else. I didn’t get to the range until 11 a.m.”

“Definitely interesting morning, but I can’t complain.”

The best part of that interesting morning was giving the tour his bank’s routing number, putting the pieces in place for a life-changing direct deposit come Sunday evening. Fingers crossed. After finally hitting some balls, he played a full practice round on his own, discussing start lines and club selections with Chung. They agreed on a bunted driver on 15 instead of a roasted 3-wood, a decision based purely on feeling. A few groups ahead, Matt NeSmith consulted with his paid statistician, who instructed him to practice a few lay-up shots from the right rough because going for it from there is a no-go. Kang doesn’t have that kind of luxury. At least not yet.

He will, however, get the tour-pro treatment in one key department: gear. A huge benefit of Monday’ing into an event is getting to raid the on-site equipment trucks. A player like Kang gets a free set of clubs perhaps once a year, but that’s about it. On the Big Tour, however? It’s a gearhead’s dream. Head into the truck, tell them what you want and they’ll make it happen. Kang had already gotten new grips on his sticks and planned to pick up some fresh wedges for the week.

“It’s just way more compact out here—fairways are firmer, greens are a lot firmer,” he says. “I’m used to shooting darts. Soft greens, soft fairways, shorter courses.”

Any PGA Tour event was going to feel a helluva lot bigger than the Forme Tour events Kang has been playing. The WMPO, however, is the biggest of the big. Kang respectfully paused our interview to drink in the walk from the 15th green to the iconic 16th tee. It was close to 4:30 p.m. and this was Tuesday, hardly the frenetic atmosphere that’ll greet contenders come the weekend. Still, 20-odd well-served patrons dared him to hit it as close as possible and aggressively boo’d when he fanned a 9-iron out right. A fan promised Chung a free beer if he could hit it inside his boss but he, too, missed the green. Boo’s all around. Chung wasn’t bothered. “I can’t wait for Sunday!,” he yelled. Kang, too, was all smiles as he walked up to the green. This is what he’s been waiting for.