As the saying goes, old is gold. That certainly is true for senior male golfers who participate in competitive events. The Tour Champions Q-School for 2024 had three first stage locations to accommodate Tour-card-hopefuls, and each venue played host to around 75 participants.
There were about 225 Stage I golfers in total, with 18 from each venue going on to the final stage, from which a mere five will make it to the Tour. The profile of Tour-hopefuls has changed over the last several years, as most of them today appear very fitness-conscious, probably do some strength and speed training, and perhaps have better ball-striking abilities than some that are on the actual Champions Tour itself. The last of the Stage I events was held at the lovely Soboba Springs Golf Club, located near the historic Soboba Hot Springs, at the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountain range in Southern California.
Participants ranged from Tour players like Raphael Jacquelin, who has been a DP Tour player for 26 years, and Jonathan Kaye of Phoenix, AZ, a PGA TOUR veteran, to those who have only ever tried their hand at a couple of Tour Champions Q-Schools. Some are golf instructors, while others have had a long amateur career and now, done with family and work responsibilities, wish to try their hand at professional golf. Some participants have caddies with them, with professional-looking golf bags and logoed shirts, while others play on their own with a soft bag like any weekend warrior might use!
To play on any of the biggest Tours in the U.S. is aspirational, which is why, no matter the prior experience and skillset of the golfer, what they bring to the course over the four rounds each of Stage I and Stage II is all that matters.
So, what do they bring to the event? A mini questionnaire distributed to 25 of the 75 participants revealed some interesting facts. The first question asked which shots the golfer felt did not go well, looking back on the first round at the Soboba Springs course. Thirteen golfers felt their tee shots were not good enough, seven felt it was the approach shots to the green that were problematic, five disliked their quality of chipping, three their pitching and three their bunker shots. Fourteen participants did not like the way they putted from inside 6 feet while nine were unhappy with putts outside 6 feet.
Some of these results may indicate that for the full swing, golfers perhaps have an excessively timing-dependent swing that they cannot rely on under pressure. Some golfers at this event had very simple, compact swings, while others had so much body motion and overly complex arms’ movements, that they were sure to flounder under pressure, with there being so much at stake.
With respect to putting, 56 percent of those polled were unhappy with their putts under 6 feet. Could they, perhaps, have unrealistic expectations of what is, essentially, the final attempt at each hole to score reasonably? Incidentally, for the 2022-2023 season, up to the last week of November 2023, the PGA TOUR average for putts from 6 feet was 70.51 percent, with the highest-ranked player having a record of 91.8 percent and the lowest ranked in this category a mere 33 percent.
As to the flip side of the coin from performance – injury. An amazing 72 percent of the players said they had no pain or injury from their golf swings, while 28 percent had pain – two in the wrist, two in the elbow, one in the knee, one in the low back and one unspecified. In comparison, of 36 elite players (5-handicap or less) polled at the October 2023 Los Angeles City Seniors Championship, 58 percent had no pain, while 42 percent had one injury or the other. Research has shown that there is a high prevalence of injury among professional golfers, so how come these golfers are different? Could it be that senior golfers do not practice as much as their PGA TOUR counterparts? It could, of course, be that the small sample polled in this mini-study (only one-third of all participants), only accessed those who do not play as much golf!
Another interesting piece of information was how many golfers take lessons at this level of the game. It turned out that 60 percent do, while 40 percent do not. At the L.A. City Championship, only 28 percent of the 36 golfers polled take lessons, while 72 percent do not. The question thus arises, why do so many of these golfers not take lessons? A case of cost? Time? Lack of confidence in the coaching system?
It was very interesting to try to understand the psyche of participants at the Tour Champions Q-School. Besides how they score under pressure and whether they have pain, what even motivates them to compete at this stage in their lives?
Raphael Jacquelin is French but lives in Geneva, Switzerland. When asked why he was there and what he expected to achieve, he said that his many years on the DP World Tour have helped him know about traveling, tournaments and life on the Tour as a pro, so it was not a big deal for him. As he will turn 50 in May 2024, he thought it would be a good idea to check out the first stage of Q-School in the U.S.
Jae Suh plays golf around the Moore Park area of Southern California, and although he’s played in a lot of mini-tours before, this is the highest level of event he has participated in. He is a former instructor for Jimmy Ballard and David Leadbetter and has many years of golf coaching experience.
Then there is amateur Bryan Hoops, a businessman from Scottsdale, AZ. He has been in Stage I five times and made it to the final stage, as well. What has he done new and different for this event? “I’m older,” he replies with a laugh.
The Tour Champions is a very exciting tour, especially given that Baby Boomers are some of its most ardent fans and love to see their heroes of yesteryear still playing golf at a high level. Something that might be worthwhile to consider is a feeder Tour that gives all the 225 golfers in Q-School the opportunity to hone their skills for the main events, as many of them are extremely competent ball-strikers and merely lack the opportunity for high-level competitive golf experience.