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Road to PGA Tour runs rigid

Andrew Gastelum | Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The road to the PGA tour can be a drawn-out one. It’s not as simple as going into a draft and definitely not as easy as Happy Gilmore made it look when he won one tournament before taking on Hollywood’s equivalent of the Masters.

“If you win the right tournament, I guess it could work out that way, but it’s almost always more advanced than that,” senior Max Scodro said.

College golfers are considered to have amateur status, meaning that they cannot take prize money in tournaments since it would make them ineligible by NCAA rules. But that doesn’t prevent them from playing in major PGA and international tournaments.

Even if a college amateur were somehow able to win a major tournament like the U.S. Open, he or she would not be able to take home the million-dollar prize without losing his amateur status and NCAA eligibility.

“[Senior] Chris Walker made it through the local U.S. Open qualifying tournament before advancing to sectionals, which is one step away from the big tournament,” Irish coach Jim Kubinski said. “You can play in any tournament, as long as you don’t accept their money.”

Kubinski believes that professional golfer status isn’t just for anyone, even the most skilled golfers, because of other elements that factor into the world of a professional golfer.

“When these golfers get out on their own, it’s a whole different world and everything changes,” he said. “Emotional maturity is not talked about enough. We had a great golfer in 2007 [Cole Isban] who turned pro and he tried it and just thought it wasn’t for him.”

Heralded as the most-accomplished player in Notre Dame golf history by Kubinski, and Isban turned pro before leaving the tour and returning to Notre Dame to receive his MBA.

“Some people come to school to compete in golf and some come to find something else that interests them and take that head on,” Kubinski said.

After playing in local and state-level amateur tournaments, a golfer can turn pro if he or she can play consistently at the highest-level, or just good enough to offset entrance fees and still make a sizable profit. Even so, only the world’s best 200 golfers are admitted to the PGA Tour.

“A good way to start is to play the mini-tours before heading to qualification school where you are basically sorted out,” Scodro said.

Major mini-tours include the eGolf Professional Tour, the Gateway Tour and the NGA Hooters Tour, where new professional golfers are able to gain experience while still playing at a highly competitive venue.

After mini-tours, golfers can advance to the PGA Qualifying Tournament, or Q-school. Q-school consists of a three-round tournament, preceded by a pre-qualifying round, where anyone who wants to join the PGA Tour can compete. The top 25 golfers of the tournament earns a PGA Tour card while anyone else who advances to the tournament’s final round is eligible to play in the Nationwide Tour — the PGA Tour’s second-tier.

Meanwhile, to remain on the PGA Tour, a golfer must be in the top-125 on the PGA money list at the end of the season to keep the tour card. But the PGA Tour creates a new world for the golfer psyche, something that Scodro is well aware of.

“I definitely would like to go pro, but I’ll see how the season goes and weigh my options,” Scodro said. “You go from traveling with your team and coaches to living life by yourself. I am from Chicago, so I would have to move to a warmer place like Florida or Arizona to play professionally. It’s a lonely battle and it asks a lot of you in terms of giving up so much.”

But Kubinski is confident that Scodro will be able to overcome these obstacles once he graduates.

“Max has the right disposition and he has what it takes to succeed at the next level,” Kubinski said. “It really comes down to how much fire [a potential professional] has in him, and he’s definitely got it.”