There are some sweet perks that come with finishing in the top 20 of the PGA Professional Championship.
Jeff Martin, currently the PGA Head Professional at Norton Country Club in Norton, Mass., learned that in 2005. Martin made it through an eight-man playoff for two spots to round out the top-20 finishers in the 2005 PGA Professional Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course. With that came a spot in the PGA Championship later that summer at Baltusrol.
What Martin didn't realize at the time, was that by playing in a major, he also received an exemption to the second stage of the PGA Tour's Qualifying School.
While Martin had gone to Q-School three times before, he had never made it past the first stage.
He had always thought of himself as a pretty good player. He tested his game in mini-tour events in the northeast to see how it stacked up against the competition. While he made every cut in one season playing the defunct Cleveland Tour, he admits, "I never even came close to winning. Those guys were really good."
Because of that, Martin was realistic about his chances going to the second stage of Q-School after missing the cut in his first major.
Since he'd never been that far before, Martin said he randomly selected The Hombre in Panama City, Fla., for his first choice as a second stage site.
When he got there with his dad carrying the bag, the now 43-year-old who has three PGA Championship appearances under his belt, had something amazing happen.
He played what he calls, "the best golf of my life."
Imagine striving to do what you love and doing at the highest level. Then, a test comes to get there and you're acing it. That was Martin in Panama City.
"I shot 70 in the first round, 67 in the second and then 69 in the third," he said. "That got me to 10-under par for the week with one round to go. At that point, I started to realize that all you needed to do was get through second stage and you had a place to play the following season. Even if you play like garbage in Final Stage, you were at least going to have conditional status on what's now the Web.com Tour."
Martin was ecstatic. So was his dad.
Buddies called him the night before the final round to ask how he was playing.
"I joked and told them, 'Not very well. Check the leaderboard,'" Martin said.
When they did, they found their buddy's name right at the top -- in first place. One of the names under Martin's was that of Larry Mize, owner of a green jacket for winning the 1987 Masters.
"They thought it was awesome," Martin said, "you're one round away!" they told him.
Ah, yes. One round away. This tournament was 72 holes. Not 54.
And did Martin ever learn that the next morning.
"It was a choke job of epic proportions," he said. "I'm not exaggerating. I could not pull the freaking trigger. Think of the biggest chokes you've seen in your life. Now it was happening to me. My dad is freaking out on the bag and doesn't know what to say. The guys in the group were wondering, 'What's going on here?'"
Oh, right. The guys in the group. Those guys were Skip Kendall and Boo Weekley.
On a day that began with Martin leading at 10 under, through nine holes he was suddenly 2 under after an outward 44 with no signs that the oil was going to stop leaking anytime soon.
"I was so nervous," he said. "I bogeyed the second hole, bogeyed the third hole. The seventh was a short par 3, like less than 150 yards over water. Easy shot. But for me? I made a six there and followed it with two more bogeys for the 44."
There was a long walk between the ninth green and 10th tee. Martin kept his distance from Kendall and Weekley. He dragged his 3-wood, which he was going to use for his tee shot on the par-5 10th, and tried hard to give himself a pep talk. He was lost.
"You know how you always hear about the greatest athletes in the world being the greatest because they're able to slow everything down and have the game come to them when there's pressure?" Martin rhetorically asked. "Well, let me tell you something, when you're not one of those guys and it's going south, it's moves fast. I'm talking lightspeed."
As he got closer to the 10th tee, Martin looked up and saw that Weekley had stopped walking.
He was waiting for Martin.
"So, Boo stops me and he gives me like a friendly nudge," Martin said, "Then he threw his arm over my shoulder and he says, 'Listen, Jethro. Don't worry about that nine. You make two birdies on this side and you're fine. You're in.'"
Leave it to Boo, a man who three years later would 'ride the bull' galloping off the tee box at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla on the way to what was at the time, a rare U.S. victory, to say something to quell the tension.
The same Boo who just recently had a contest with Andrew "Beef" Johnston, where the two impersonated one another:
"To this day, I have no idea why Boo Weekley called me 'Jethro' right there," Martin said, laughing as he told the story. "But I swear to God, I'm convinced that if he hadn't stopped me for those few seconds, I would have shot 110 that day."
Martin birdied the very next hole. Three-wood, three-wood just right of the green and he got up and down for birdie.
He had one bogey and the rest were pars over the final eight holes to shoot an 80... which got him to the Final Stage of Q-School on the number.
"It was the best and worst experience of my life," Martin said.
Though he was delighted to get to final stage, Martin couldn't help but be disappointed in how he played that final round. An 80? Come on, man!
That's how he felt while he talked to a friend after the round. The friend couldn't get past the gloomy tone of Martin's voice. And that's when the friend piped up and put things in perspective.
"He asked me, 'How would you feel if you shot 80 in the first round and then bounced back with your first three scores this week of 70-67-69?'" Martin said. "I told him, 'I'd be over the moon.'"
So, the friend, asked, "What's the difference? The goal was accomplished. This was a qualifier and it doesn't matter what order you shot those scores. You got through!"
He sure did.
Martin played OK at Orange County National and got conditional status on the former Nationwide Tour in 2006.
He played six tournaments total that season, but never made the cut.
"That conditional status is tough," he said. "I was always an alternate. I remember being on a driving range in Rhode Island on a Wednesday afternoon and getting a call that said I was the third alternate for the event that began the next day. I said, 'Call me when I'm in.' Twenty minutes later, I get a call that I'm in. I ask what the tee time is the next day. They said 1. I got up early the next morning and fly out to the event and teed it up at 1. Because of the status, I got pretty much no practice rounds the whole season. But, I wouldn't trade that entire experience for the world."
If it weren't for Weekley, Martin believes that whole experience would never have come to be.
"A few years later, I was in the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills," Martin said. "I was finished my round and having a beer with my family under a veranda outside the clubhouse. There was a weather delay. Boo walked by and we locked eyes and I think he remembered who I was. He saw me drinking the beer and joked, 'You know we're going back out there, right?' I laughed and said, 'Not me, buddy. I'm done.' We both laughed and that's probably the last time I've seen him."
So there you have it -- the story of the time Boo Weekley, of all people, helped an inexperienced PGA Professional get to the Final Stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School.
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