FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE
A Q School DQ for the ages
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
Would you believe a story from Korn Ferry Tour Q School in which a pro with a purported 36 aces (eight of them on par 4s) supposedly holed-out on an approach shot from the rough that no one saw, lost a ball that was found hours later, got into a heated, hour-long meeting with a rules official involving written testimony, rudimentary hole diagrams and a flock of turkeys, ultimately leading to the wildest disqualification in Q school history?
Well, have I got a story for you.
The pre-qualifying stage of Q school can be miserable. It is designed to separate the dreamers from the real players. Those who haven’t made a cut in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event have to go to pre-q. The cost is $3,500 for three rounds, and the events are held on courses that rarely appear on top-100 lists. Last week the first three of the six pre-q sites were held. One of the sites was Quarry Oaks, a 7,200-yard par-71 course in Ashland, Neb.
It was here that Matt Moroz, Andrew Ni and Grant Haefner teed off in the final round on Friday. All three were hovering around the cut line. Unbeknownst to Ni and Haefner, Nebraska PGA officials planned to keep a close eye on the group. (PGA of America sections run Q-school sites.) Allegations of suspicious behavior had been made against Moroz from the previous day. His playing partners in the second round had told officials that Moroz was often walking well ahead of the group. They said there were incidents on two holes where the players believed Moroz was in penalty areas, only to find his ball in good shape. For four holes during the final round, nothing unusual happened. Things changed on the fifth hole, a 375-yard par 4.
Moroz hit his tee shot down the left side, leaving an approach from the rough that required him to negotiate a tree. Haefner and Ni hit their drives in the fairway down the right side, about 10 yards longer than Moroz’s. Interviewed separately, Haefner and Ni said Moroz hit a low runner that they described as thin and bladed. Moroz called the shot a “Jay Bilas,” saying he turned to Andy Smith, his caddie, and said, “I skullf***ed it.” Everyone expected the ball to stop short and left of the green. Haefner and Ni estimated it landed nearly 60 yards short. Smith said he believed the ball was five yards left, but he also thought the ball was skipping through the rough. “Because the rough was a little wet in spots, there was a potential of skippage,” Smith said later. “That’s the best I can explain it.”
Perhaps the most accurate closing sentence in the history of hole descriptions.
There is a large mound in front of the fifth green so the players couldn’t see where the ball had settled. (The description of the hole on the Quarry Oaks website says, “It’s a lot of fun getting to the green and seeing where your ball is.”) Moroz and Smith walked quickly down the fairway and reached the green before the other two players had hit their approach shots. As Haefner and Ni crested the hill, they were dismayed to see Moroz walking toward them, pumping his fists and yelling, “It’s in the hole!” Moroz approached Haefner and extended his closed hand for a fist pound; Haefner half-heartedly obliged, too stunned to ignore the gesture. Neither Haefner nor Ni saw Moroz retrieve his ball out of the hole. Both were playing in their first Q school and weren’t sure what to say. Haefner reasoned with himself, “We have all seen crazy bounces in golf.” Haefner and Ni both recall Moroz saying something like: “Maybe it bounced off the turkeys.” It was a reference to a flock of turkeys that were loitering in the rough. Moroz denied saying that, adding, “Maybe my caddie, Andy, did it as a joke.”
Smith said he caddied for Moroz at the 2017 Long Beach Open and at a few local U.S. Open qualifiers and that the two met while working at a golf course. While discussing his version of events on the fifth hole, Smith said, “I have a video of the ball in the hole.” This news came as a shock. Why would someone document such a thing during the final round of Q school? And why hadn’t the video been mentioned earlier? The video only showed Smith and Moroz and was never shared with rules officials. In my interview with him (the full verison of which can be heard in the podcast below), Smith said Moroz asked him to video the scene, telling him to “get my phone.” He added that Moroz went up to the hole, saw the ball in the cup and asked Smith to take the video. “I wouldn’t normally video a shot,” Smith said, “but we were excited. It got us from four to six under.” According to the other three people in the group, this all must have happened prior to their cresting the hill as they didn’t see Moroz pull the ball out of the hole.
A still image from the video that alledgedly showed Moroz's ball in the hole on the fifth hole.
Although they were stunned at what had happened, Haefner and Ni didn’t confront Moroz. They were grinding on their own dream. But the two didn’t have to wait long before things got strange again.
The seventh hole is a challenging uphill 458-yard par 4 with trouble down both sides. Because of the difficulty of the hole, the section assigned a spotter to help players look for errant drives and to assist with the already tortoise-like pace of play at Q school. The spotter was about 300 yards down the fairway on the right-hand side. After Haefner hit the fairway, Ni found the left penalty area. Moroz, who is left-handed, then pulled his drive into the right penalty area, roughly 30 yards from where the spotter, who doubles as a rules official, was standing. The spotter stuck a red flag in the ground where Moroz’s ball had entered the hazard and headed across the fairway to look for Ni’s ball. Haefner, Ni, his caddie, the spotter and a rules official who had rolled up to the group began searching for Ni’s ball, which they found.
Moroz and Smith didn’t join the group for the search, walking over only after Ni had chipped out. Haefner hit his approach, and when the group arrived at the green, Moroz’s ball was on the fringe, just 15 feet from the hole. Haefner, having grown increasingly skeptical, asked Moroz what he was putting for. “Birdie,” he replied. The penalty area where Moroz’s tee shot had entered was thick and for the most part unplayable; in fact, Moroz called it “jungle.” He explained that Smith had found his ball just outside the penalty area, nearly 30 yards ahead (and around a corner of the wooded area) of where the ball entered. Clayton Kucera, an experienced caddie who was carrying for Ni, had seen enough. As Haefner and Ni were putting out, Kucera approached the rules official and explained what had happened. As the group left the green, the rules official returned to where Moroz’s drive had entered the penalty area.
The eighth hole would bring even more drama as Moroz fell to the ground in apparent back pain. This scene played out so often over the next 10 holes that Kucera would say on a tee after Moroz had fallen yet again, “get up and get out of the way.” As the group walked down the fairway, Smith told Kucera, “When a guy is hurt, don’t tell him to get out of the way.” To the caddie and other players, it felt as if Moroz was faking the injury in an attempt to gain sympathy.
Aside from Moroz’s back issues, the final nine holes unfolded without incident. Ni and Haefner said they had a half-dozen or so discussions about what they had witnessed and what their plan would be after the round. Shuttles were running from the 17th green to the 18th tee, and in one of the carts was a rules official who drove Kucera to the tee. Kucera informed Ni and Haefner they should sign their cards and that the section would handle things from there.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get crazier, they did. Haefner looked at his phone to discover that Moroz was at even par and directly on the cut line. On the par-5 18th, he hit two good shots to reach the front bunker but skulled his third over the green. Then he holed a 15-yard downhill chip shot for birdie. As a result, he moved the cut line, knocking out a couple of young pros trying to launch their careers.
After discussing what transpired at the fifth and seventh holes, the three players signed and turned in their scorecards. As they left the scoring area, Tom Hearn, a PGA Tour rules official, was waiting. He pulled all five members of the group (Haefner carried his own bag) into a room to discuss what had happened. Hearn asked Moroz to go through his recollection of the seventh hole. According to Ni, Moroz said he saw the flag and was walking toward it when Smith yelled that he had found the ball, well ahead of where it had entered. He said he hit a 9-iron into the green. Kucera spoke up, saying Moroz couldn’t have reached the green with a 9-iron, considering it was an uphill 450-yard hole that was playing into the wind. On Saturday, Moroz told me he had hit 8-iron. “Andy told me I hit 8,” he said. “I thought I hit 9, but Andy told me he gave me 8. I can usually tell by looking at the loft, but …” His voice trailed off, and he didn’t finish the sentence.
After some discussion, Hearn, who has worked in rules on the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours and section events for more than 20 years, pulled a ball out of his pocket marked exactly like the one Moroz had played, with purple lines and the number 12 written on it. According to Haefner, Moroz denied it was his ball before acknowledging it was. Hearn explained the ball had been found on the seventh hole at precisely the spot where the official had placed the flag. Moroz quickly transitioned, saying although it was one of his balls, he had hit a ball there the previous day and two others during his practice round, reasoning it must have been a ball he never found from those rounds.
Hearn then called the spotter into the room to give his version. The official said he saw the ball bounce three times before entering the penalty area, and after marking the entry point with a flag, he headed over to help Ni locate his ball. He said he returned after the group had finished the hole to find the ball with Moroz’s markings on it. Ni and Haefner estimated the conversation went on for roughly 25 minutes. Smith repeated many times he was happy to show the officials where he found the ball Moroz played. Off they went.
The group piled into a couple of SUVs. Smith identified the spot where he said he had found Moroz’s ball. There was a divot, although it was around the corner of the wooded area from where the spotter had seen the ball enter the penalty area. Moroz never admitted any wrongdoing. After more than an hour of discussion, Hearn asked each of the players for a written statement. Ni and Haefner, who both had gotten through the qualifier, started their respective drives home.
Picture of 5th hole sent by PGATOUR to Moroz’s playing partners detailing the scene
In a phone call about an hour later, Hearn informed both players that Moroz had been disqualified. (This moved the cut line and brought salvation to two players.) Hearn asked them for a diagram of the fifth hole, and to explain where Moroz’s ball had landed and ended up. Hearn then called Moroz and informed him he had been DQ’d. Asked what his response was, Moroz told me, “Why? I don’t understand how I can be DQ’d. I was pissed. I paid a lot of money to play in this tournament, and I didn’t like seeing my caddie upset because they accused him of dropping the ball.”
So who is Matt Moroz? Google searches led to a lot of dead ends, but I did find a 2017 Golf Digest article headlined, “Aspiring tour pro pulls off one of the craziest hole-in-one feats we’ve ever heard about.” The story noted that in the course of eight days Moroz had made three aces, two on par 4s, bringing his career total to 17. On Saturday, I texted Moroz to ask how many holes-in-one he now has. “I have 32 officially,” he responded. “I don’t count four others since they were [during] lessons and I didn’t finish all 18 holes.” I then asked how many of the 36 were on par 4s: “Three in tournaments and five with members,” was the reply. That means he had made 19 aces in the last five years. As reference, there has been exactly one hole-in-one on a par 4 in the history of the PGA Tour.
With each phone call, the story kept getting crazier. I talked with three people who had direct knowledge of a few aces Moroz had made. All three said they were made on blind shots, and none of the people I spoke with saw the ball go in the hole.
Details about the rest of Moroz’s career are incomplete. He’s 35. He played some Minor League Tour events in 2013. He told me he lived in Florida for a bit and then Las Vegas, and worked as a club pro. He said sponsors helped fund his playing career, but he declined to disclose their names.
On Friday, I had walked off the plane upon returning home from a trip to San Diego. I was looking forward to a quiet night with my family when I got a DM. “You aren’t going to believe this,” it read. I get a lot of those DMs, and often the story turns out not to be a big deal. After spending two days learning about the enigmatic Moroz and his unusual antics, the author of that DM was right: I still can’t believe it.