Six rounds in six days with a year’s opportunities at stake. Play well and play on. Play poorly and ... well, the competitors do not like to think in those terms. The PGA Tour calls that exercise “qualifying school.” The players have harsher definitions in the grueling tournament that offers both physical and mental challenges.
But to survive is exhilarating and, at last, Mark Silvers knows that side of the equation.
A former University of South Carolina star took what he calls “the next step in my career and in the right direction” last week, earning full status on the 2015 Web.com Tour in the qualifying competition in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
After falling short in the final of q-school’s three phases for two years, Silvers used a fourth-round 62 for a springboard up the standings, tied for 14th and for the first time in his pro career can plan his season.
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“I will go into 2015 with a different outlook, a different perspective,” he said. “I know what my schedule will be and believe me, that’s a huge advantage.”
Silvers, 28, has enjoyed success on the mini-tours since finishing at Carolina in 2009. He won on the PGA-sanctioned Canadian tour in Nova Scotia earlier this year, got into four Web.com Tour events and Monday-qualified for a couple of PGA Tour tournaments. But his lack of status did not allow him to plan ahead.
“I did see a lot of Canada and piled up a lot of frequent flier miles,” he said and laughed. Serious again, he said, “This (Web.com) opportunity is the next step in what I’ve been working toward. I feel like my game has improved every year, and this is another positive. I can’t emphasize how important it is to be able to map out my schedule.”
Qualifying school is the only six-round event of the year and, Silvers said, “No matter how many times you do it, there’s no way to get used to it. You know your whole year is riding on the outcome.”
If he capitalizes and uses the Web.com Tour for a steppingstone to the PGA Tour, every pro’s ultimate goal, Silvers can look back at that fourth-round 62, a 10-under-par masterpiece that tied the course record at PGA National’s Fazio course.
“I made everything; I was really firing on all cylinders,” he said. “I started (the tournament) slow (2-over-par 74), but I knew I had a great round coming, and I took advantage. A round like that is, obviously, a real confidence-builder.”
He closed with rounds of 69 and 71 to finish six rounds at 12-under 417 and comfortably secure his card.
At Carolina, Silvers was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2009, his second season in which he earned honorable mention All-America honors from Golf Coaches Association of America. That senior year included eight top-10 finishes, including four top-fives, and a tie for 18th in the NCAA Championship.
He still works with USC coach Bill McDonald, calling their relationship “very close, and he’s a huge factor in my development.”
Despite his performance with the Gamecocks and his mini-tour victories, he is probably best remembered for his triumph in the Golf Channel’s Big Break Greenbrier. That’s OK for now, but it’s one he would like to change. At last, the opportunity is at hand.
Chip shots In addition to Silvers, four others with South Carolina connections advanced to the Web.com Tour through q-school. Dustin Bray, who lives in Charleston and played at North Carolina, finished third; former Charleston Southern player Kelvin Day, a native of Surrey, England, tied for 35th; and both Matt Atkins, who played at USC Aiken and Bluffton resident Ricky Werenski, who played at Georgia Tech, tied for 43rd. ... The NGA Tour, which stages a tournament annually at the Members Club’s Woodcreek Course, will operate as the Swingthought.com Tour this year.