At No. 126 on the money list with only the top 125 keeping their PGA Tour card next year, it’s no wonder Briny Baird left the wife and kids at home this week to go to Disney World. After all, this trip is no vacation.
Baird will try to retain his full status next year from Thursday at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic. The pressure to perform and living about two hours away in Jupiter, Fla., forced him to rethink doubling the event as a family vacation.
“I’m like, ‘What are we doing? We’re coming up for the week because we got free Disney passes?” Baird said. “If I play well, I think we can afford the Disney passes.”
Probably more than that.
Players who finish No. 126-150 on the money list will get conditional status, allowing them to enter more than a dozen tournaments. But it can be a hectic year figuring out schedules each week based on what the players ranked above them choose to do. Not to mention hoping for sponsor’s exemptions or missing out on some of the most prestigious tournaments.
And what a fitting site for the finale.
The place that declares at the entrance gates “Where Dreams Come True” will crush as many hopes as it fulfills this weekend. With so many in search of that fairy tale ending, some will inevitably fall short.
“It’s a great place to come play,” Baird said. “Obviously, I don’t think I’m up here because it’s a great place to play.”
Nerves are often all over the course, too.
Players overswing on drives. They short-arm putts and take chances they otherwise wouldn’t. Even around the plush clubhouse, complete with a playroom for kids, these are anxious times for many.
“I can imagine that guys just want to get out there and get things rolling right away and get it over with so they don’t have to think about it for another 12 months,” said Troy Merritt, who is at No. 121 on the money list.
At least Merrit has another incentive.
Merritt leads Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley by one stroke in the Kodak Challenge. The contest designates a hole at 30 tournaments and keeps score throughout the year, and the lowest score for those who played at least 18 holes wins the $1 million prize. This week’s hole is No. 17 on the Magnolia Course.
But the major payday is merely a subplot this week. Stephen Ames, who has won it two of the last three years, is out with a back injury.
Even for those who are safe, the stress from others is clearly visible.
“Guys get a little more serious, guys have their swing coaches out or they have their psychologist out, really trying to do whatever they can to try and keep their cards for next year,” said Baddeley, who’s assured of keeping his full status. “You don’t laugh at them because you could be in that position.”
Last year, only two players who started inside the top 125 at Disney fell out and lost their cards: Former No. 1 David Duval and Robert Garrigus. Duval rebounded this year and will have full status after he earned enough money despite playing fewer tournaments. Garrigus enters at 122nd and again is in danger of not having full status.
Maybe nobody knows that feeling of barely missing the final cut more than Baird.
Baird finished 126th in 2005 in one of the worst ways imaginable: An event in Mississippi was rained out and rescheduled at the end of the season. If the tournament had been canceled, he would have never lost his card. As it turned out, Baird went from 125 that week to 126.
But Baird isn’t overly concerned about keeping his full status this week. The 38-year-old believes he could enter enough tournaments next year to get back his card if things don’t go his way at Disney. He’s already signed up for qualifying school just in case.
Of course, a solid outing and he won’t have to worry about his schedule.
“I’m not going to downplay it. There’s a significant difference,” Baird said. “You’re going to get to pick and choose your tournaments, and that’s huge.”