On any given monday on either the Nationwide or PGA Tour the local section of the PGA holds an Open qualifier for spots into the event that week. Essentially, this means that players with no status have the possibility of qualifying for that event and playing against the best players in the world. It sounds great, but it may not be for everyone. Here are a few things to think about before adding these Open qualifiers to your schedule this year.
Not all Mondays are created equal so first I want to give you some basic facts about these qualifers and what sets them all apart. The Nationwide Tour plays about 28 tournaments per season, of those 28 only 4 tournaments do not have an Open Qualifier or some way for non-members to play their way in. Of the 30 plus events on the PGA Tour, only about 18 have Open qualifiers. That is mainly because the Nationwide Tour is a developmental tour. With that said, they have 14 spots available at each qualifier while the PGA Tour only gives out 4 spots. Each Nationwide Open Qualifier field has about 150-200 players and most sites are split in half to accommodate everyone which means each site has 7 qualifiers. The entry fee in each Nationwide Open Qualifier is $350.
Entry into all PGA Tour Open qualifying is slightly different. In recent years the PGA Tour has adopted a Pre-Qualifier tournament for any player that does not have current status on the PGA or Nationwide Tour. This additional round ensures that only serious golfers will even attempt to qualify. The Pre-qualifying round is usually held one day the week before the actually Open qualifier. Because of the Pre-qualifer, entry is split into two parts. First, the pre-qualifier entry is $200, then all successful qualifiers pay an additional $250 for the Open Qualifier.
There are several other things to think about when considering an Open Qualifier for either tour that you may not know about. There will be several other Nationwide and PGA Tour players in the fields for each Open qualifier. Because of field sizes in the host tournament, not all players will get into the field based on their own status or position on the money list. All qualifiers are played at a different course other than the host tournament course. These courses are usually located within 30 minutes of the host site and may not be of the same caliber as the tournament course. The Open Qualifiers are walking only events and some caddies will be on site. Yardage finders are not permitted. Some courses will have yardage books but don’t count on it. It’s entirely possible to play a course with no yardage book and very little yardage markers, so plan accordingly when making travel plans. You may need to arrive a little earlier than normal to scout out the course and take some notes. Also, Sunday’s are very busy days for most courses, so make sure to call ahead to make practice round time and be prepared to play with joe public or not get to play at all on that day. I’ve found that walking the course and making my own yardage books has been sufficient in some cases. Also, regarding the travel to and from Open Qualifiers, unless the host tournament is in your area you may need to fly or drive several hours to get to the site from another tournament. This extra expense can really add up at the end of the year. My suggestion is to make a schedule at the beginning of the year with all the Open qualifiers along with your other tournaments and map out a travel plan of how to efficiently get to those qualifiers without over extended yourself. One year I traveled with another player to almost every Nationwide Open qualifier they had while playing a full schedule of mini tour events. By June we were exhausted, quality not quantity definitely applies to open qualifiers. Fortunately, the better mini tours have changed the format of their schedules to accommodate their players that want to travel to the open qualifiers. They are now playing on Wednesday thru Saturday, this allows for a Saturday night or sunday morning travel with enough time Monday night or tuesday morning to get back for those players that don’t qualify. Also, Pre-qualifiers are usually very easy to get thru. About 50 guys advance and some fields are as small as 70 guys. However, it is the added travel and timing that make these difficult to play in. The addition of the pre-qualifier has significantly reduced the number of PGA Tour open qualifiers that I have on my schedule. If you have a tour event in your area that you are really excited about then it may be worth it, but traveling a long ways just to try for a big time PGA Tour event may not be worth the travel and money for only 4 spots.
Be prepared for all things before you play in the Open Qualifier. Based on my own experience, successful open qualifiers must deal with a lot of things (finding a caddy, talking to equipment reps, etc.) in a short amount of time, all while trying to focus mentally on playing in a major event that could significantly improve their careers and future schedule. If you have this stuff taken care of before the Open Qualifier you give yourself more time to prepare for the tournament and see the host tournament course. Have a caddy in mind for the week, have all equipment issues taken care of, know where you are going to stay. Act like you know you are going to qualify and plan for it. If you don’t qualify, it’s very easy to cancel room reservations and so on. Due to the wednesday pro-am, all official qualifiers are only allowed to see the tournament course on Tuesday. This puts them at a big disadvantage. All tour members get to play practice rounds on monday and tuesday and most are able to play in the wednesday pro-am which gives them two extra days to practice on the tournament course.
With all that said, I think open qualifiers can be very rewarding and also very painful. If you are new to professional golf it may be good to go try a few of them and test them out. It’s only 18 holes of golf, some players thrive under this kind of format, other don’t. As far as the golf goes, scoring is usually fairly low in this shoot out type format. However, you just never know. I’ve seen days when the condition were perfect for scoring and 69 gets in. On the flip side, I’ve played when I thought 70 was a good score and 65 goes into a playoff for the last spot. The idea of one shot at a time definitely works in open qualifiers. Play your game and focus only on what you can control and see what happens. If you’ve done that and you come up one shot short, don’t get down on yourself. Gain some confidence from it and move on to the next one.
photo credit: Elsie esq.