Ausies Dominate Champions Tour Q-School Final Stage
December 9, 2023 | 8 min.
By Michael R Fermoyle
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Of all the professional golf tours, the Champions is the almost universally regarded as the hardest one to get on, and the hardest one to stay on. Unlike the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour, there are no feeder tours for Champions -- no Korn Ferrys, no Epsons. The final stage of the LPGA Q-School was played this week, and 50 players graduated. Ten more were already set to move up from the Epson Tour. The top 30 players from the 2023 Korn Ferry points list will get promotions to the PGA Tour next year, and the top five finishers from the PGA Tour Q-School will join them.
Alternate routes aren't really available where the Champions Tour is concerned. Steven Alker played his way onto the senior tour by way of a Monday qualifier in 2021, stayed out there by finishing in the top 10 at virtually every tournament for the rest of the year, and was the senior player of the year in 2022, but he is the exception. No one else has ever done what he did. So if you want to make your way onto the Champions Tour, there is really only one route available to you -- Champions Tour Q-School.
And only five guys get there from Q-School each year. Not five guys and ties. Five guys. That's it.
The Final Stage of this year's Champions Tour Q-School was played this week, and Cameron Percy finished first. Percy hasn't even turned yet. That won't happen until May 5th, and he was actually planning to go back to the PGA Tour Q-School Final, which will be played next week in Ponte Vedra, Fla. He played in 23 PGA Tour events this year, and felt that he still had enough game to compete with the young guys. But it was suggested to him that he should go to the Champions Final Stage instead.
"So I did," he said Friday, after shooting a 4-under-par 67 at TPC Scottsdale, finishing 72 holes with an aggregate score of 264 and beating the field by five strokes.
Percy went into the final round with the lead, and even though he played the first seven holes in 1 over, he was never seriously threatened. He birdied the par-3 eighth, the par-5 10th and the par-4 11th. There was one minor bump in the road on his way in from there, a bogey at the 12th, but he birdied the 14th hole, and if there was still any doubt about who was going to be medalist at that point, he eliminated it with an eagle at the 359-yard, par-4 15th hole. He added one more birdie, at the 17th before making a meaningless bogey at the 18th.
Percy is from Australia, and so were three of the other four top-5 finishers -- Michael Wright, Steve Allan and David Bransdon.
Wright, also 49 (he will be 50 in February), had the low round of the week, a 63 on Thursday, and he hit the shot of the day on Friday. At, the 460-yard, par-4 18th hole, he flared his tee shot into what was basically a rock pile, and was able to move his second shot only about 30 yards. The ball ended up on a dirt lie, 120 yards from the green, but he holed it from there for an unlikely birdie. That gave him a 66, a total of 269 and sole possession of second place, which was worth $20,000. Percy made $30,000 for being the medalist.
The only non-Ausie to finish in the top five was Shane Bertsch, the grizzled veteran of the group at 53 years old. He closed with a 69 and tied Steve Allen for third at 270. Bertsch, who is from Denver, won the second tournament he played on the Champions Tour -- the interminably named Charles Schwab Series at Bass Pro Shops Big Cedar Lodge in 2021 -- and he was 39th in the Charles Schwab Cup standings this year, which would have made him exempt next year. But he wanted to improve his status.
"It feels good to have 'full-exempt" next to my name," he said with a smile. "I was in pretty good shape coming in, but the bottom line is: I was trying to improve my position. So I'm really happy and proud of what I've done."
Allan, who shot 71, played 17 events on the PGA Tour in 2009, but he hasn't played a full schedule of tournaments siince 2017, when he played 20 events on the Korn Ferry Tour. He hasn't played in any senior events yet, because he just turned 50 in October.
Like Allan, Bransdon is a 50-year-old Ausie, and he hasn't played any senior tournaments yet. He's played in just two PGA Tour events and nine on the Korn Ferry, but he's had 114 starts on the DP World (European) Tour, including four top 10s. Bransdon was Mr. Clutch on Friday. Starting the day in a tie for 16th place, he shot 67, which got him into a tie for fifth, along with Raphael Jacquelin and Wes Short Jr., and he won the playoff by making an eagle on the first hole, the 542-yard, par-5 10th.
Mario Tiziani, 52, was in a position similar to Bertsch's, having finished 44th on the Champions money list with $473,582 in 18 events this year. That makes him mostly exempt for next year, but he, too, was hoping to get full status by finishing in the top 5 this week. He missed by four shots, with a 275, which put him in a tie for 18th.
The winner of a kind of Senior Triple Crown -- he won the Minnesota Senior Open and the Wisconsin Senior Open in 2021, and then won the Arizona Senior Open in the spring of '22 -- Tiziani opened with a 72 on Tuesday, which had him tied for 57th. He moved up 42 places by shooting 65 in the second round, and he followed that with a 68. You would think that should have moved him up a little more. But he went the other way, dropping three spots into a tie for 18th. From there, he would have needed a 66 to get into that playoff for fifth. But the former University of Wisconsin star who now lives in Chanhassen bogeyed the first hole, and although he birdied the par-3 third, he was 1 over for the day once again after he bogeyed the 11th.
Also in th field this week was Cameron Beckman, and he's an example of how tough it is to stay on the Champions Tour. The 53-year-old former two-sport star (hockey and golf) at Burnsville High School won three times on the PGA Tour, and he won on the Champions Tour at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open in July of 2021. Doing that on the PGA Tour would have made him fully exempt for two years plus, until the end of the 2023 season, but winning on the senior tour makes you fully exempt for only one year. Because he didn't have a great year in '22, Beckman was reduced to limited status this year, and got into only nine tournaments. He made $70,987 and ended up 97th on the money list.
That's why he was in Scottsdale, trying to get his exempt status back. He was tied with Tiziani for 57th after a first-round 72, then improved his position to 40th with a 69, but he was done in by a 78 on Thursday. He shot 67 on Friday, but that could only lift him into a tie for 56th.
2024 PGA Tour Champions Q-School -- Final Stage
At TPC Scottsdale
Par 71, 7,115 yards
Final results ( the top five finishers -- but not ties -- earned status on the 2024 Champions Tour)
1. Cameron Percy 65-66-66-67--264 (-20)
2. Michael Wright 68-72-63-66--269
T3. Shane Bertsch 65-66-70-69--270
T3. Steve Allen 69-66-65-71--270
5. David Bransdon 69-70-65-67--271 (won playoff for fifth spot on first extra hole)
Did not qualify for exempt status in 2024, but can play in Monday qualifiers (6th place through 30th)
T6. Raphael Jacquelin 67-69-67-68--271
T6. Wes Short Jr. 67-63-71-70--271
T18. Mario Tiziani 72-65-68-70--275
T56. Cameron Beckman 72-69-78-67--286