Nov. 27, 2007
By Roberto Castro – I know you haven’t heard from me for a while, and that’s because the last six weeks have been consumed by one thing, and I didn’t want to write about it until I saw it to completion. That event was PGA Tour Qualifying School. For those unfamiliar with the details, Q-school is not a school at all, it’s a 3-stage tournament that decides where you will play for the next year. Make it to Final-Stage and you’re set for the Nationwide or PGA Tour for 2008. Come up any short of Finals, and all you’re left with is a “thanks for playing.”
I went to Durham, N.C. for my first stage. There were roughly 80 players for 25 spots. I knew I only had to do one thing to make it through this stage, and that was stay positive, not freak out, and that my game would be plenty good enough to advance. I played pretty solid the first two days, shooting 69-70, but I knew that the real tournament would start the third day, as the wind was supposed to blow and the weather get cold.
The third day was playing very tough, and I was struggling, not doing anything well, I bogeyed 8, 3-putted 9 and 11, and bogeyed 12 to put me 4-over for the day with the toughest part of the course still to play. No. 13 is a short par-3, and proved to be the turning point of the week for me. I spun my wedge off the back tier, leaving me 50 feet up the ridge. Instead of whining about hitting a poor wedge, I just said, “OK, let’s get this down in 2 somehow, and just keep grinding, something good will happen on the closing holes.” I made the 50-footer, birdied 15 and shot 2-over, which was a great score that day. If I had let the conditions and my poor play affect my attitude, I could have easily three-putted that hole, made some bogeys on the tough closing holes and shot close to 80. Instead I shot 74 and went into the final day with a healthy cushion. I shot 70 the last day, finished fourth, and advance to Stage 2.
For second stage I went to the infamous Hombre Golf Club in Panama City, FL. All the stories about how narrow, how tough, how penal, and how nerve-racking it is to play Q-school at the Hombre were dead on the money. I opened with 70 on the easy first day, followed that with a great 72 in the gale force winds the second day, and chipped and putted to a good 73 the third day. Those 3 rounds were 3 of my all-time best, each one a grueling battle, and every day I would walk off the course, and be completely, totally exhausted. I don’t look at the scores, but I knew I was in pretty good shape heading into the last round.
I started the day pretty well, thinking good thoughts, picking good targets, making good swings, and was 1-over through 6, hanging in there. No. 7 is an island-green par-3. I took a little too much off my 7-iron and it fell just short in the lake, no big deal. Then I screwed up. Don’t ask me why, but I hit the wrong club from the drop area, the dead-wrong club. I hit it straight over the flag, back into the lake. I dropped again, hit it fat, lake again. I made a 9. I shot 83. I didn’t advance.
When I look back on it, I can honestly say that when put in a similar position in the future, I’ll look back on that day and draw confidence from it. It wasn’t like I came out and just puked all over myself the entire day. Sure I was nervous, but I was insanely nervous all week, and dealt with it very effectively. I had a bad hole. I played seven great rounds in Q-school, including three or four of my career best rounds considering the situation.
It’s impossible to convey the pressure of Q-school to someone who hasn’t been through it, but here is my best analogy. A golfer is like a beach ball, and golf is like water. If you submerge the ball under water, even the tiniest, most miniscule hole will leak air right? Golf exposes EVERY weakness that you have. There is no way to hide, no way to fake it. Well, the best way to describe Q-school is to say that it’s like putting the beach ball under 10,000 feet of water.
I proved a lot to myself those two weeks. I’m a much, much better player now than I was before. I learned a lot, and I identified where I can get better. I know that if I keep learning, keep working on my mindset, keep taking small steps forward, that I’ll surely reach my goals. What now? That’s a good question. I’m in the process of deciding where I’ll play next year, and even though it won’t be on the PGA Tour, I’m confident that 2008 will be a great year for me.
This is the last of my blogs, and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to write them. It’s been a great thing for me to take a step back every once in a while and reflect on where I’ve been, where I’m going, and how the journey is unfolding. Thanks to the Georgia Tech community for your support, I can’t tell you how proud I am to be able to call myself a part of that group.
“Go confidently into the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve always imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau