Originally created 12/04/01

Two players suffer cruel twists of fate



WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Bud Still unknowingly took the wrong step on his way to the PGA Tour, and it cost him his card Monday in the qualifying tournament.

Roland Thatcher felt even worse.

His 7-iron to the 18th green bounced off a cart path and onto the roof of the clubhouse, costing him three strokes and a spot on the PGA Tour next year.

Still and Thatcher turned out to be this year's heartbreak stories at Q-school, the six-day pressure cooker that produces more agony than joy.

"These are the little things that make Q-school so interesting," Still said.

He was in position to join the top 35 and ties at Bear Lakes Country Club. The cutoff was 17-under-par, and Still had just hit a 9-iron out of the bunker to 3 feet for birdie on the 16th hole to get to 16 under.

Next up was a par 5 that he could reach in two. Still hit his approach toward the flag, and figured it was either in the bunker or just over.

He didn't see a ball in the sand, but took another step and felt something under his foot.

Uh-oh.

"I look down and it's my golf ball," Still said. "No way this can happen. I was so mad at myself, I about started crying. At Q-school, you cannot make this mistake."

Not with two holes left in the 108-hole tournament. Not with an easy birdie opportunity to reach the magic number.

He called for a rules official and took a one-stroke penalty, then got up-and-down for a par that should have been a birdie. He made par on the last hole for a 71 to finish at 416.

He finished out of the top 35 by one shot.

Two hours later, Still was searching for the silver lining.

"I learned a lot about my game this week," said Still, from Marion, Ark. "My game really held up under the pressure. I'm not the most religious person, but maybe this is the good Lord's way of saying it's not my time yet."

Thatcher must feel the same way.

He came to the ninth hole on the Lakes Course - his final hole of the tournament - at 17-under-par, poised to get his PGA Tour card. The second shot was downwind and over a lake to a green guarded by a bunker.

Thatcher had 190 yards and chose 7-iron.

It was a combination or too much club and one incredibly bad break. The ball sailed over the green, bounced high off a cart path and onto the roof of the Bear Lakes clubhouse.

He got a free drop - albeit 50 yards over the green - but it only got worse. When he dropped the ball level from his shoulder, it hit a tee in the ground and caromed back into the tall grass surrounding a palm tree.

He had no shot, so he took an unplayable lie and returned to the fairway to hit his fourth shot. This time, Thatcher laid up, hit wedge onto the green and two-putted for a triple-bogey 7. He missed his card by those three strokes.

"Strange," Thatcher said. "It all came down to one hole after I worked 107 (holes), and it didn't end up working out for me."

Every swing, every putt is critical at Q-school, especially in a final stage where 167 players are trying for 35 spots on the tour. Every shot becomes even more critical in the final few holes - and sometimes even later.

Two years ago, Jaxon Brigman shot a 65 in the final round to earn his card, but his marker put him down for a 4 instead of a 3 on one hole. Brigman signed for a 66 and had to accept the higher score. He missed by one shot.

A year ago, Joe Daley stroked in a 4-foot putt that went into the cup, and inexplicably popped back out. He missed by one stroke.

"We're going to the (examples) of Q-school this year," Still said. "I feel even worse for Roland. To triple the 18th and still shoot 69 is pretty good."

Just not good enough.