Q School. The words alone carry some heavy baggage. It comes with the promise of a complete career turnaround, or the castigation of another year waiting for the opportunity to play with the big boys. Some people love the system, others hate it, but you can’t argue with the facts. Q School is a gauntlet meant to separate the men from the boys, and the cream tends to rise to the top.
But how does Q School work? What type of players sign up? And what does a high finish get you? Hopefully this article can answer all those questions for you, and entice you to follow the stars of tomorrows PGA Tour, on their journey to the top.
The carrot at the end of the string at Q School is membership status on the Web.com Tour. But in order to gain status, you must make it to Final Stage and finish within the top 60 at the event. Seems simple, right? Not so much.
Q School is split up into 4 stages. PreQualifying, 1st Stage, 2nd Stage, and Final Stage. Pre Qualifying is a 3 round tournament, while the remaining stages consist of 4 round tournaments with no cut in the event. The early stages are divided regionally, so that each player who signs up for Q School doesn’t have to travel across the country to compete.
Although you don’t have to travel too far to play, that doesn’t mean that Q School is cheap. The cost of Q School is tiered by your starting stage. If you have to start at Pre Qualifying, it is $5500 paid up front and that will cover every stage you make it to. Starting at 1st Stage is $5000, starting at 2nd Stage is $4500, and Final Stage is $4000… Wow. And that only covers the entry fee, not travel, lodging, food, caddies, and any other incidentals you may pick up along the way. When it’s all said and done, you could be looking at $10,000 to play in Q School.
Pre Qualifying: Show Us What Ya Got Kid
The beginning of the journey for so many of the names of tomorrow. Pre Qualifying is the stage for college players who have just turned pro, or professional golfers who don’t have status on any of the PGA Tour sanctioned developmental tours (Latinoamerica, China, Canada).
There are 6 different locations around the country for Pre Qualifying sites. Most of the sites have between 50-75 players vying for the top 30-40 spots. It shakes down to basically finishing in the top half of the field in order to move onto the next stage of Q School. This year, the average score to advance past Pre Qualifying was +4.5 for 3 rounds. So it’s nothing crazy low, but the pressure adds up especially when it’s the first time that you’re playing for your living.
1st Stage: Players Play
1st Stage is huge. Enormously huge. This year there were 12 sites for the first stage spread out across the country. Each site boasted 65-80 players vying for 21-23 spots and ties, depending on the location. 1st Stage is full of players, this is where hearts really begin to be broken. 1 Stage is also where exemptions begin. Players can be exempt into 1st Stage through multitude of situations.
If you have played on any PGA Tour sanctioned tour, you’re exempt. If you were a top 25 ranked amateur before you turned pro, you’re exempt. If you made it through 1st stage last year, you’re exempt. And the laundry list of exemptions goes on and gets more and more minute. Needless to say, the people who are at first stage are players, and you need to perform at a higher level than any college or Pre Qualifying event if you want to make it through.
The scores are ridiculously low at 1st Stage, but that alone doesn’t give these guys enough credit. Besides going low, the amount of stress and nerves at Q School is tangible and it is a huge mountain to climb when you’re in it. Of the 12 sites this year, only 1 site had an over par score to advance, and most of the sites took double digits under par to get through. The highest medalist score at 1st Stage this year was -9 at the Nebraska Springs site, which also had the highest qualifying score of +4. Four of the twelve sites had medalist scores better than -20, which is ridiculously good with the amount of pressure on these players.
2nd Stage: Now Lets Get Down to the Nitty Gritty
2nd Stage. Players are so close to their dream. Anyone who makes it to the third and final stage gets some type of Web.com Tour Status. 2nd Stage feels like you’re so close, and you can almost feel the relief of knowing you will get some Web starts if you can just put together four good rounds of golf.
The toughest thing about 2nd stage, is that every single player who makes it there deserves to be playing in 3rd stage. Friend of the podcast, Eric Sugimoto, put it perfectly when he said “125 players get their cards, but there are easily 1000 guys who deserve a Tour Card”. And those 1000 players find themselves at 2nd stage every year.
Scores at 2nd stage go very low at every location. There are 5 different locations for 2nd stage across the country, with 18 or 19 players and ties getting through at each qualifying site. Players find a way to get through, but you cannot afford to have a bad round, which means 73+, at any point during 2nd stage. The average medalist score at 2nd stage was -19 for 4 rounds. And the average score to advance to Final Stage, was -11. That’s crazy low. If you want to break those numbers down even further, that means you must average 69 at 2nd Stage to get through.
Final Stage: Playing with House Money
Final Stage. Relief, excitement, nerves, and elation. All feelings that come with a tee time at Final Stage of Q School. If you have made it this far, you are almost guaranteed a few starts on the Web.com Tour for the following season. This is the time to let it all loose and fire away. You obviously don’t want to finish in last place, but you still have a great chance of getting Web starts for the following year.
The breakdown for your finish at Final Stage looks like this. Winner receives full Web Tour status for the following year. They will not be shuffled out during any of the reshuffles throughout the season. And their future, at least for the year, is safe.
If you finish in the top 10, you will be safe from the first two reshuffles of the season. Which means you will get 16 starts for sure in the following season.
After the top 10, if you finish in the top 45, you are safe until the second reshuffle. Which guarantees you 8 starts to begin the season. And if you finish outside of the top 45, then you are “seeded”, for lack of a better word, for the reshuffles throughout the year.
For example, if you finish 46th at Final Stage, then you will be number 1 on the reshuffle list or alternate list for each event on the Web Tour. So as the season goes on, the closer you are to 45th, the better chance you have of getting into a good percentage of the events.
I hope this article answers all of your questions about Q School. I hope this will allow you to follow Q School rounds this year and find some new favorite players to root for. If you don’t know what I meant but reshuffles mentioned in the Final Stage portion of the article, feel free to listen to any of my podcasts with Martin Trainer, who goes in depth about how each reshuffle works.
Just remember, Q School isn’t always a determinant of future success on the Tour. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas never made it through Q School in both of their attempts.