Begay on verge of failing to earn card
WINTER GARDEN, Fla. -- During each day at PGA Tour Qualifying School, GolfDigest.com's Brian Wacker will chronicle the efforts of Bill Haas, Notah Begay III and Boo Weekley as they compete in golf's most grueling week.
After battling back injuries for much of the past four years, the future of Notah Begay III -- at least, his future status on the PGA Tour for next year -- comes down to this: one 18-hole round at Orange County National.
Begay, like everyone else here at the PGA Tour Qualifying tournament, now faces that cold, hard fact. And after a round of 1-under 71 on the Crooked Cat course Sunday, he's got one more difficult hill to climb to get a PGA Tour card.
"Most certainly not the round I was looking for," Begay said Sunday night. "It's all about how you evaluate your own personal progression; six months ago, 3- or 4-over was an average round for me. I can most definitely say that's improved, but this was a very average round under some pretty tough elements of intensity."
"I've shot big rounds in big tournaments before," Begay said. "It's as close as you can get to being in major championship conditions. It's like being in the NBA Finals or the World Series and being down three games to none."
After dropping into a tie for 87th place, Begay is now faced with the realization that his initial goal to shoot 1-under for every nine holes he played this week is no longer.
"I'm going to need to kick the crap out of a couple of nines," Begay said. "[Sunday] night I'll probably figure out how aggressive I need to be and if I need to shoot at every flag."
Now 33 years old, Begay is playing pain free for the first time in several years, and that's half the accomplishment this week. The other half, he'll have to wait and see.
"I don't necessarily walk this path for the end result, I walk it for the love of the journey," Begay said. "And I wouldn't want it any other way."
Boo Weekley is what this tournament is all about. He's the ultimate journeyman, runnin' down a dream and doing it with the motivation of building a better life for his wife Karyn and their little boy Parker. With one day to go, Weekley can't help but feel how close that dream is to becoming reality.
"I try not to let it get that close, but I know what it feels like to be there," Weekley said after his wild round of 71, which included six birdies, two bogeys and a triple-bogey.
All week, Weekley hasn't looked ahead, nor has he let the bigger picture get in the way of the daily 5½- 6-hour grind each day. But when you're this close -- just two strokes from that magic land that is the top 30 heading into the last day -- you can't help but taste it, especially after missing out on a tour card by a total of seven strokes the last three years combined.
"You gotta believe," said Weekley, who shares a single-wide trailer with his wife and son in Jay, Fla. "I could've easily gave up after [triple-bogeying] 12, but I can't. Where I live and where I grew up, you can't give up."
With his wife, son, grandparents and a host of friends in town for Monday's final round, it's apparent no one else has given up on him, either.
This is where Bill Haas is supposed to be, safely in line for a tour card. At least that's where the prodigal son stood after his round of 5-under 67 that moved him into a tie for 22nd. It was a round that put him in the driver's seat and one that was on its way to being one of the best of his life after birdies on five of his first six holes.
What was perhaps most important about the round wasn't how Haas started, but how he finished. All week he's struggled to take that kind of early momentum through an entire round and Sunday was no different. He made bogey on Nos. 8 and 10 that knocked him down to 3 under, but this time Haas didn't fade. After reaching the par-5 14th in two, he two-putted for birdie before draining a 40-footer on the last hole for another birdie.
It was the second time in three days that Haas bombed in a putt on his last hole of the day for an all-important birdie. "You just hope it doesn't come down to that tomorrow where I have to make a long one on the last," Haas said.
Despite shooting one of the best rounds of the day -- only eight players posted a better score Sunday -- Haas knows he can't afford to simply just show up and expect to be given a tour card, something that outsiders thought perhaps was the case here last year when he arrived with an air of confidence that was perceived as cockiness by some.
It's also no time for rest for the weary.
"I can't afford to be tired. I have all winter to rest," Haas said. "Tomorrow I gotta have the same mindset. I can't shoot even par and think I'll be fine. I have to be conservative/aggressive."
Brian Wacker is an assistant editor for GolfDigest.com