PGA Tour qualifying school hasn’t been kind to the few Illinois golfers who have tried it over the years, but that wasn’t the case this week.
Eric Meierdierks, the 2010 Illinois Open champion from Wilmette, and Scott Langley, the 2010 NCAA champion for the University of Illinois, both earned their PGA Tour cards during the six-round marathon that concluded at PGA West in LaQuinta, Calif., on Monday.
Meierdierks, a New Trier High School graduate who didn’t play golf in college at Michigan State, followed his Illinois Open win of two years ago at Hawthorn Woods with a playoff loss to Chicago’s Max Scodro in this year’s championship at The Glen Club, in Glenview. Meierdierks, who turned pro in 2009, has spent most of his time since then on the Gateway Tour in Arizona but he did return for his state’s premier championship.
Since turning pro he also had a Gateway win to his credit, but he also had to deal with personal issues in getting through Q-School. His father passed away six days before the first stage of the competition.
“That was the hardest tournament I ever played,’’ Meierdierks offered after the battle for his card ended successfully. “It made (the final stage) a walk in the park.’’
He also had good vibes as he toured the TPC Stadium Course and Nicklaus Tournament Course, the 18-holers at PGA West used for the qualifying rounds. Meierdierks’ family had vacationed off the No. 7 fairway of the Nicklaus’ course, and his glimpses of the lodging there triggered good memories for him in the heat of the competition.
This year’s Q-School – the last one to send players directly to the PGA circuit – had 1,558 registrants. There was a pre-qualifier and then three stages of eliminations before the top 25 and ties were awarded PGA playing privileges. Mierdierks tied for 14th, and Langley tied for 17th. Low man over the six tense rounds was Dong-hwan Lee, at 25—under-par. Mierdierks was at 20-under and Langley was another stroke back.
Also making it was Kris Blanks, the winner of the last Chicago area Nationwide (now Web.com Tour) tournament – the Bank of America Open at The Glen Club in 2008. Blanks earned a return trip to the PGA circuit. A shoulder injury had led to his failure to reach money-winning standards necessary to retain membership this year.
Another plus for the Illini
Langley’s arrival on the PGA Tour was just the latest in major accomplishments for University of Illinois alums. Five will play on the PGA Tour in 2013, with Langley joining Steve Stricker, D.A. Points, Luke Guthrie and Joe Affrunti. Affrunti is still recovering from major shoulder surgery last spring.
Like Langley, Guthrie will be a PGA Tour rookie. He qualified for the big tour by finishing second on the Web.com Tour money list – and he needed only 10 tournaments to do it. Guthrie didn’t turn pro until the Illinois season was over in June. Interestingly, Meierdierks’ Illinois Open win came in a duel with Guthrie.
Langley’s advancement was no surprise. In addition to winning his NCAA title the left-handed golfer was a factor in the last two U.S. Opens. He tied for 16th in 2011 and tied for 19th this year.
Illinois’ run of success hasn’t been without a cost. Coach Mike Small lost his assistant coach when Zach Guthrie, Luke’s brother, resigned that post. He’ll be Luke’s caddie on the PGA circuit in 2013.
They didn’t make it
Those who didn’t crack the top 25 (actually 26 earned turn cards) at PGA West included Camilo Villegas, Heath Slocum Billy Mayfair, Nick O’Hern, Skip Kendall, former Northwestern star Chris Wilson, ex-British Open winner Todd Hamilton and Patrick Cantlay, who dazzled the PGA Tour when he shot a 60 as an amateur in the 2011 Travelers Championship.
Next year’s Q-School will only offer spots on the Web.com Tour. That circuit will play a bigger role in determining who advances to the big circuit. This year the top 25 on that tour’s money list was promoted to the PGA Tour for 2013.