It's about three months of intense competition, from September to early December. At each event, only about 20 guys move to the next stage. If you make it to the final round, you play 108 holes over 6 days straight and only the top 25 get a tour card.
A lot of guys freak out during Q-School. They're on edge and easily agitated. Their whole year rides on how they play during these three months. And you don't have to play that bad to fail and have to start from scratch the next year.
I entered Q-School in the fall of 2009. My attitude going into it was just to approach the whole thing one week at a time -- I knew if I put the work in and executed on my game plan, everything would take care of itself. I made it through the pre-qualifying, first, and second stages.
Then came the week of the final stage. It was the longest six days of my life. I shut off my phone and my computer. I didn't speak to anyone the whole week I was there in West Palm Beach, Fla. My head was completely in the game.
Now, up until the 108th hole -- the final hole of the whole thing -- I had no idea where I stood in the tournament. I made a point to never look at the scoreboard. That's how you get thrown off your game. Then you start getting ahead of yourself and thinking about how you're going to do on a hole that's 45 minutes away. I knew I had to take it not just one hole at a time, but one shot at a time.
At the 108th hole, there were a few hundred people around the green. They could all see the scoreboard. And then there were thousands of people on TV who could see the scores. At this point, if I was playing too conservatively, the difference between me and the PGA tour might be only a few strokes.
I finally turned to the scoreboard lady. "What do I need to get on the PGA tour?" I asked. She said, "All you need to do is make par and you're in."
Talk about living and dying by your shots. All I cared about first was getting it on the fairway. One shot at a time. My caddy kept saying, "These people don't matter." I got it on the fairway and on the green for a birdie. All I needed was a great putt.
At this point -- probably the most high-pressure situation so far in my golf career -- I could have done what a lot of guys do and made the situation worse by telling myself something like, "it's the tour, or else." But that's not how I handle these situations. I went into it willing to accept anything. I had nothing to lose. I had never had PGA status before. And I knew that no matter what, since I had made it this far, I'd have somewhere to play next year.
I sized up the hole. "All you need is an 8-footer," my caddy told me. I pulled back my putter and tapped the ball.
And missed. I had missed the PGA tour by a single shot.
Should I have looked at the scoreboard before the last hole so I knew earlier in the round how I was doing? I don't think so. The reason I played as well as I did was because I didn't get ahead of myself. I didn't get in my own way.
The funny thing is I think everyone else took it harder than I did. A journalist came up to me after the event and asked, "How devastated were you when you found out you missed it?" I said, "Devastated? That was the farthest thing from my mind."
I'm where I'm supposed to be. I'm willing to accept the fact that I wasn't ready to play on the PGA. And I'd rather be at my best when I get there.
(Photo: That's me and my wife Jennifer right after I finished Q-School.)