Part Two — An Inside Look at Monday Qualifying
Updated: Jul 29
Austin Hughes — Professional Player and our new Editor of Coaching & Fitness, shares his insights into the rigorous test that is the PGA Tour's Monday Qualifying
In this two-part series, our new Editor of Fitness Training & Coaching provides some insight into the event known as the "Monday Qualifier". It is a one day tournament in which players compete for a limited number of spots on the PGA Tour event that is being held that week. In part-one, Austin Hughes shared his experience and insights into the Honda Classic caddying for Adam Svensson. This part looks at the Waste Management Phoenix Open qualifier with a "shot by shot" of fellow professional Blair Hamilton. While this series is generally intended for players that are considering a professional career, there is still plenty of insight for the competitive amateur, junior and recreational player.
The following written work is intended to provide the reader an insider into what it is like to play a Monday Qualifier tournament on the PGA Tour.
The following are my insight, having been by the players side, observing and sharing with the players. Qualifying for a PGA Tour event is a big accomplishment and making it through a Monday qualifier is a major achievement for any amateur/professional golfer.
As a player support/caddie on the PGA Tour, I have seen some amazing play in Monday qualifiers for PGA Tour events. Qualifying for a PGA Tour event is a lifetime dream for many, for others its just part of the job as a touring golf professional.
Many PGA Tour events require a player to play a supplemental qualifier to qualify for a PGA Tour Monday qualifier. With the amount of hungry elite players looking to compete every year, Monday qualifiers are a great opportunity for a player to obtain entry into a PGA Tour event.
Blair Hamilton is a 26-year-old professional golfer from Burlington Ontario. He is a full-time player on the PGA Tour Latin America and Mackenzie Tour, where he has had some great results. Blair was a standout player at the University of Houston (Cougars) and was part of Team Canada's national development program. He has an amazing work ethic and strong individual approach when it comes to preparing for golf tournaments. He knows what it takes to be the best player he can be, and each and every year strives to improve as a professional golfer.
The Waste Management Monday Qualifier
In 2019, I acted as player/coach support for Blair at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Blair's goal was to qualify for the PGA Tour event, proving that he could do so by making it through one of the hardest events for Monday qualifying. Prior to the Waste Management Qualifier, 7 pre-qualifying events took place at venues around the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
The pre-qualifiers were allocated 4 spots (including ties or draws) from each qualifying site or venue ( 28 spots plus ties ) with 504 players competing for one of these pre-qualifying spots. At the end of the day, 93 players ( 30 from pre-qualifiers and the remainder from the PGA priority list ) qualified for the following Monday Qualifier. while 4 - players went into a playoff all having posted scored of 65 or -7 below par. The four players included David Hearn, Max Homa, Nick Hardy and Blair Hamilton. The four players had to play in a 4-way playoff for 3 open spots remaining to play in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
McCormick Ranch Golf Club
The official Monday qualifier is hosted every year at the McCormick Range Golf Club located in Scottsdale. The course offers two 18 hole golf courses — the Pine Course and the Palm Course.
The Phoenix Open qualifier was played on the Pine course, measuring out at 7,039 yards. The par 72 course provides unique green angulation with strategic water features for visual intimidation. The firm green surfaces provide players a small landing spot on the greens, requiring the player to hit demanding and precise approach shots into the greens.
The Course also requires the player to hit some demanding tee shots if they choose to take a more aggressive approach on the par 5's. McCormick Ranch serves as a great venue to host a Monday qualifier, testing every player's ability to go low for 18 holes of golf.
Golf Course: McCormick Ranch Golf Club Tournament: PGA Tour Waste Management Monday Qualifier Date: January 28th, 2019 Location: Scottsdale Arizona Player: Blair Hamilton Tee: 1st 8AM Conditions: Cold and sunny, minimal wind. Firm ground conditions, fast greens. Course rating: 74.3/130
Prior to the round:
6:45 am — Blair has entered the day with his consistent neutral or balanced state, consisting of the following:
Interacting with team/supporters and other players
Getting loose/stretching inside prior to practice facility
Utilizes time well to hit practice balls, chip and putt prior to 8 am starting time
Determine the number (yardage)
Determine the location for the ball to finish, or where to land on the green
Determine the club choice based on yardage
Rehearse feel/swing needed to hit the shot
Pick an intermediate target between ball and destination
Walk into the ball from behind
Hit the ball
The routine that Blair developed has become vital for maximizing his performance. Making sure he stays in consistent communication with his caddy is important for him to achieve maximum success on the golf course. Staying engaged in a routine and consistent communication with a caddy helps Blair remain focused and in the moment. Staying in the "present moment" as an athlete increases the chances of maximizing performance to the best potential.
Here is what I was looking for when watching a player in the Monday Qualifier:
What Is Neutral
How are you maintaining your energy levels on a neutral or balanced level to diminish high points and low points?
How is the interaction between the player and caddy vital for overall performance?
What outside influences affect the players performance?
How consistent is the routine during performance?
The following information recorded for 18 holes gives the reader the opportunity to experience a Monday Qualifier, and what it a player encounters when trying to qualify. It is taken from my notes and observations of the actual event.
The First Nine
Hole 1) Blair is second to play from the first tee. He goes through his routine extensively prior to hitting the opening tee shot. This consists of a couple practice swings and using his right arm and eye to line his target. After executing the tee shot right of fairway, Blair takes his hat is off on the first hole, walking with his caddy (Jace). Blair does not know that his tee shot leaves a good angle to approach the pin in the back-left of the green. Other competitors have a clear shot from the fairway, with well executed tee shots. Blair hits a beautiful approach shot and makes birdie on first hole. The momentum has shifted in the right direction, creating a positive boost going to the second hole.
Hole 2) The 2nd tee shot requires a slight draw, preferably hitting the approach shot from the right side of the fairway. Blair executes his tee shot perfectly: a dead straight driver with minimal shot shape. He shows a positive reaction with his confident body language, executed with full commitment. Blair goes through his pre-shot routine trying to determine where to land the ball on the green ( ideally, approximately 12 yards short of pin)
Result: His shot is long, leaving a downhill putt for birdie. Blair and his routine stay the same, utilizing the "aim point" system, he takes his time to read the putt. Blair does not rush when looking at putts, he is really committed to the routine he has mastered. Momentum is still shifting into a positive direction. He remains -1 through 2 holes and he is off to a great start. He must mentally remain neutral or as often said, staying in the present.
Hole 3) This hole requires a tee shot to favor the left side. Hitting the tight fairway is crucial to attack the very firm sloped green. With the pin elevated to the top right portion of the green, it is impossible to spin a shot out of the rough. Conversation is engaging between the player and caddy. He decides on a 3 wood and proceeds to miss the fairway fractionally to the left side. Blair has a tough lie to a tough back pin; on a full shot, it is awfully hard to stop the ball on the green when it is not in the fairway. He plays a stock shot; a high cut needed to execute the hole design. He hits the shot well, ultimately 2 putting for par and moving on the to first par 5 of the day at the 4th hole.
Hole 4) Again, Blair does a good job going through his routine on this tee shot. It is probably the toughest tee shot on the course, requiring a drive up the right side of fairway, avoiding the bunkers on the right, and the water on the left. He steps off the ball, some sort of anxiety has interrupted his thoughts. Blair takes his time to reset. He the hits the ball right, avoiding the major trouble on the left side of the hole. Shaking his head, he is disappointed with his tee shot, knowing that he has eliminated his chances for hitting the green in two.
Momentum has shifted, and his body language indicated that he is focusing too much on what just happened. Sixty seconds has passed and he is still worried about the tee shot. A tough driving hole, and missing right is the play all day. Blair decides to lay up aggressively, close to the water, leaving himself with a tough half shot position. The pin is located at the back of the green and on the downside of a slope. Blair plays a well- judged half shot, with the perfect amount of spin to keep the ball close. After making the birdie putt, he reverts back to his normal state, interacting again with caddy and walking with confidence.
Hole 5) Blair remains at -2, heading into a very firm par 3. He keeps a strong interaction with caddy, discussing a "nothing special" shot. Like every other shot, he goes through his routine, taking his time, in no rush and hits a smart shot to the middle of the green. He leaves himself with a tough putt to the back-left crest of the green. Blair Interacts with me, joking around with a great attitude. I notice that all the players in the group are working hard to stay loose, stretching constantly as it is a cold morning. Blair takes his time, continuing to interact with Jace.
Once on the green, Blair takes control, taking his time, not rushing his routine at all. He has left himself with an 8 feet putt, having gone past the hole a bit too much. He sized up the putt, discussing it with his caddy, keeping interaction alive. He then goes through his same putting routine, sinking the putt for par. The momentum has spiked again, reassuring him that his "come back" putting is reliable.
Hole 6) The 6th hole is another tough, intimidating driving hole. You must avoid the water on the left, favoring the right side of the fairway. Blair continues to interact with Jace, going through his routine and taking his time. He plays a more conservative 4 iron, playing his tee shot into the right rough. He becomes a bit frustrated, walking faster to his ball. Once standing over the shot, he returns to his normal state and begins to visualize his approach shot. Blair displays his desired trajectory with his arm, and the caddy says "let's go, hit me a good one at you're target." Jace does a fantastic job providing positive reinforcement. Blair hits it into the front bunker, but makes an easy "up and down" from the position. A well-executed up and down leaves Blair feeling positive. His energy levels are rising, and the momentum continues to shift in a positive direction.
Hole 7) This Par 5 sets up perfectly for a fade – Blair's natural shot shape. He goes through his pre-shot routine, executing a clean drive into the middle of the fairway. Blair is now in what we call a "green light position" to play his second shot into the green and a possible eagle putt. After some discussion he settles on hitting a stock hybrid from his yardage of 248 yards.
A well executed shot leaves Blair on the front of green, needing only two putts to make a birdie. He continues to engage in conversation with his caddy as they walk up the fairway. Once over the ball, Blair goes through his routine again, taking his time. He determines the midpoint of his putt and executes his line. He finishes the hole with a routine two putt for birdie, leaving him at -3 for the round. The momentum continues to shift in a positive direction. I observe that Blair's "lag putting" and speed control is looking sharp. Blair continues to engage with his caddy until they reach the par 3 – 8th hole.
Hole 8) Blair and his caddy strategize on a plan for executing the tee shot. This par 3 requires a solid iron shot to reach the proper tier in this multi-tiered green. Collectively, they visualize how the ball will fall off the intended target. He goes through his routine again, taking his time to visualize the intended shot. Blair reconfirms the target twice with his caddy and gets back into his routine, hitting a fantastic shot – a draw shot shape, resulting in a club twirl from Blair. A sign of positive feedback. On the green, he goes through the same aim point routine, and walks off to the 9th hole having recorded two putts for par.
Hole 9) Blair goes through his routine on the tee box, choosing an aggressive line for his tee shot, along the left side of the fairway. He proceeds to hit a solid tee shot, relying on it to fade back, but it does not. Unable to see his result from the tee box, he remains neutral with the impression that his ball is in a good position. His tee shot left his ball behind a small tree, and I notice that his attitude shifts slightly. He begins discussing options for his next show with his caddy. Blair remains calm, taking the time to think about the shot, doing a great job looking over the options.
They agree on an option, rehearsing what needs to happen. It is a conservative shot to the front edge of the green. This strategy and a well executed shot leaves Blair with a routine up and down for par. Blair took his time to read the chip, doing all things necessary to judge the factors for the shot, leaving him with a two-foot putt for par. The par reinforces the confidence that his short game is reliable when faced with challenges.
The Second Nine
Hole 10) This par 4 requires a tee shot favouring the right side of the fairway, setting up an optimal approach into the green. Blair goes through his routine and decides on driver. He hits his driver slightly left into the tree line. Blair and his caddy discuss Blair's concerns about losing concentration with the tee shot. He continues engaging with his caddy until reaching his ball.
They both discuss the next shot; a high soft wedge over the tall trees in front of him. Blair executes the shot beautifully with a high trouble shot to a pin tucked in on the left. Having executed the desired shot, he begins laughing and engaging with his caddy, self confidence returning. Overcoming another uncertain situation feeds his confidence levels. Blair settles for a par, and his momentum continues moving in a positive direction.
Hole 11) On this short par 4, Blair chooses to be aggressive, playing his driver off of the tee. A well executed tee shot will leave him with a nice, full swing of his wedge. Yet, mid swing, his ball falls off the tee; he has no choice but to reset and go through his routine again. For many golfers, this can be difficult task. He confirms his target again with caddy, before executing a good tee short. His reaction to the shot is one of confidence, knowing that the outcome is good – his ball is in a location though where he is stuck with a tight 65-yard shot.
The pin is tucked over the right bunker to an elevated green. Blair leaves his approach shot 25 feet short. With putter in hand, he "two putts" for par, becoming disappointed with the outcome. His momentum shifts towards a bit of uncertainty, as he becomes a little irritated with the missed birdie opportunity.
Hole 12) Blair decides to pull out a new ball after the previous hole, trying to change the momentum ( or some would suggest 'karma' ) with a fresh golf ball. After his usual pre-shot routine, he picks a smart target up the right-hand side of the fairway. His tee shot, put him into perfect position to go for the green in two again. Blair's second shot into the green was his best shot of the tournament. He played a 4 iron from about 220 yards, to a pin tucked in on the left hand side, his approach shot leaving him with a reasonable "eagle" attempt.
Leading up to the eagle putt, Blair's pre-shot routine, target choice, shot shape, reaction and result were all executed with unhesitating confidence. He continued staying engaged and loose with his caddy. Once on the green, he unfailingly goes through his aim point routine, converting the putt for an eagle. He is now -5 after 12 holes. His momentum has significantly shifted into a state of near exhilaration and he does a great job keeping his levels neutral and balanced, trying to stay in the moment and engage with his caddy on the way to the next hole.
Hole 13) Blair does a fantastic job refocusing his thoughts after the eagle on the previous hole. He goes through his routine, choosing a smart target in discussion with his caddy. This par 3 has a very firm, sloped green with a tough pin placement. He executes a fantastic iron shot, landing just a little long of the pin, leaving him with a fast 25-foot downhill putt. This par 3 probably has the most difficult green encountered so far. Going through his usual putting routine, Blair determines his line and speed for the putt. Unfortunately, he hits his putt with too much pace, but luckily, instead of racing past the hole, it slams into the back of the cup for a birdie. A moment of despair quickly turns into relief, as Blair makes a putt that no one else did that day. He is showing a noticeably confident reaction, shifting his momentum into an even higher state of excitement. He is now -6 after 13 holes, after making a birdie on what was expected to be a par at best.
Hole 14) On the tee box, Blair discusses his shot with his caddy, asking “Do you like this target", prompting a discussion on the target, start line and finish line or landing area. Then Blair begins reconfirming the wind direction with Jace. He goes through the same pre-routine, and his caddy reminds him to focus on making a good swing. This throws him off a bit, distracted by the comment, he backs off the ball to reset himself. After resetting himself, Blair hits his tee shot to the right. He does a good job in showing no reaction or tension. Interaction between Blair and the caddy becomes a little more tense.
In discussing the second shot, they try to determine the type of lie that he has in the rough. The caddy then confirms the yardage/club selection.
Caddy: "Maybe it's a gap wedge"
Blair: "No, it's a pitching wedge."
Blair confirms it's his pitching wedge, caddy responds yes that is the club. Blair hits a slight pull, trying to swing too easy on the ball. He misses the green left, but in the right position.
A significant challenge and potential turning point occurs when Blair fails to get up and down from the left side of the green. He missed a four-foot putt for par, resulting in his first bogey of the day. The momentum had been positive all day and this was his first bogey on what had been a bogey free day, and in hindsight, turned out to be his only blemish on the day. However, walking between the green to the next tee box, Blair did not know that this would be his only bogey, so coming off hist first bogey late in the round changes the the momentum slightly, coming down from the "high" that he had been on. A development like this can create new thoughts, more negative thoughts, if he starts thinking about the bogey too much. Hopefully, he finds a way to return to his more balanced and neutral state, not letting the previous event bother him and disturb his concentration on the task at hand.
Hole 15) The 15th hole requires a tee shot favouring the right side of the fairway, taking the hazard area on the left "out of play". Blair picks his target, goes through his routine – though a little bit quicker than usual. It is most likely the effect of what happened on the previous hole. Regardless, he executes his tee shot very well, landing it on the right side of the fairway. I sense that he is now on a mission, walking with a sense of purpose and faster than normal. He is also not engaging with his caddy like he usually does in walking to the ball. In assessing his next shot, he confirms a club with his caddy, determining it is no more than a 7 iron. He the goes through his pre-shot routine, hitting a great shot into the wind. Blair executed his routine and shot very well, leaving his ball below the hole.
A more relaxed Blair begins to joke around and engage with his caddy again on the walk to the green, discussing and staying engaged in "the moment" or "the present" until reaching the green. Once there, he resets himself, focusing on the putt ahead. He finished the hole with a good 2 - putt and par. He was a bit confused by the "break" in the first putt, but he continued to stay focused and in the moment as he sinks the next putt for his par. Blair shakes out his arms and body, releasing any remaining anxiety and tension.
Hole 16) Blair does a fantastic job engaging with both me and his caddy, joking around and enjoying the moment. Staying in the moment, Blair goes through his routine again, picking a target, discussing it with his caddy before hitting another well-executed drive down the left side of the fairway. He continues to stay engaged with his caddy walking down the fairway. Blair slows his walking pace, staying "in sync" with his caddy.
Again, Blair goes through his routine once more, and hits a well struck ball – an awesome "flighted" shot with his wedge. He is looking confident with loose body language, pleased with the outcome. On the green, staying true to his routine, he executes his putts well for par. He remains at -6 after the 16th hole.
Between the 16th green and the 17 tee box, he decides to eat a protein bar, shaking out his arms, relieving tension. He continues to stay close with his caddy, continuing to engage and joke around, staying focused and in the moment.
Hole 17) At the par 3, 17th hole, Blair and his caddy decide on an 8 iron. He asks his caddy if he still likes the club choice, stating, ” I will hit my nice soft 175 shot.” With his caddy's agreement on club selection, Blair again shakes his arms continuously to reduce tension. He goes through his pre-shot routine before striking his ball to about 7 feet from the hole. He has an uphill, left to right putt for birdie.
Blair continues his routine when reading greens. He hits the putt and snaps it offline, fractionally missing the hole. He settles for par, while continuing to engage and smile with his caddy. Blair continues to focus on "staying in the now", looking worry free from an emotional standpoint. While missing a very crucial putt in the round for birdie to go to -7, he nonetheless remains at -6 and in excellent standing.
Hole 18) On the 18th tee box, a par 5, finishing hole, Blair Hamilton remains focused and engaged in the present moment, chatting with his caddy about the starting point and finishing point of his tee shot. Jace confirms the target, boosting his confidence, as he approaches his last tee shot of the day. Blair undergoes his routine before ripping his driver 345 yards, cutting the corner. His tee shot resonated with confidence and was easily the best drive of the day for Blair. On the way to the ball, he continues to stay engaged with his caddy, staying in the moment until he reaches his approach shot.
Blair and his caddy determine the target, agreeing to aim right at the pin. He pulls the club from his bag, confirming with his caddy that it is the correct club for the shot. Jace responds with a "yes". Blair takes his time, going through his pre-shot routine before hitting an amazing approach shot, setting himself up for fantastic eagle opportunity. A 6-foot downhill sliding putt is all that remains for an eagle. With the pressure mounting, he takes his time to evaluate the putt. After figuring the speed and line, he strokes the putt, leaving it on the high side of the hole.
Blair is disappointed with missing a 6-footer for eagle, his body language becomes tense after the round, as he reminisces about the lost opportunity to make an eagle and a -8 score for the day. Instead, he settles for birdie and a final score of -7 (65). It is a stunning round of golf given the conditions and circumstances!
After a grueling day of competing for the 3 - spots for the main Waste Management Phoenix Open, the final scores saw 4 - players tied for top spot all having posted scores of 65 or -7 below par. The four players in the playoff included David Hearn, Max Homa, Nick Hardy and Blair Hamilton. With dusk quickly approaching, the four players were required to return the following Tuesday morning for a 4-way playoff for 3 open spots remaining to play in one of the most anticipated PGA Tour events.
An 8 am start time is set for the playoff, starting on the 10th hole. It is an 18 - hole, "sudden death" playoff format. This is by far the most intense pressure that Blair will experience in the entire "Qualifying"process. Blair and his caddy go through the same morning routine as the day before, staying loose and going through his stretching routine. He looks noticeably confident, and I have no doubt in my head that he is going to qualify for the Waste Management Open.
On the first playoff, three of the four players land their approach shots on the green, while the fourth player lands in a green side bunker. Blair, is one of the three players to land on the green "in regulation". The player in the bunker makes bogey and is eliminated; the remaining three players advance to the Waste Management Phoenix Open starting in 2-days on Thursday.
The hard work, routine, preparation and process leading up to this tournament were the factors contributing to Blair Hamilton's qualifying for the Waste Management Open. Keeping control of his emotions, steady communication with his caddy, his consistent routine and his confidence thriving were the key activities that helped Blair stay focused on his goal of qualifying.
I have presented this "insight" into the Monday qualifying process with the purpose of sharing insight with you, so that you may glean some knowledge and understanding of what it takes to compete and succeed at the highest levels. Not all individuals will have the same routine, but the traits or elements that they contain invariably contribute to a standard routine. Relying on a steady routine enables the elite athlete to focus on the task at hand, and with practice, the routines make the difficult seem much more achievable.
Austin Hughes is a professional golfer having played in professional events over the past few seasons. He graduated from Dalton State University (Georgia) where he attended on a Golf Scholarship. He has also caddied for various professional players in tour events and qualifiers.