Bell, Johnson, Polland and Trasamar All Advance to 2nd Stage of Q-School
October 12, 2019
The Korn Ferry Tour has an unfortunate name, but it's the highest -- and richest -- minor league in golf, and the competition is fierce. So is the competition just to qualify for the Korn Ferry, even in the early stages. That has never been more evident than it was this week in the First Stage qualifier at Dayton, Nevada.
Robert Bell, the 29-year-old former Minnesota state high school champion -- and MGA Junior Player of the Year -- from Pierz, was leading the qualifier going into Friday's final round at Dayton Valley Golf Course, which is 7,218 yards long, and he proceeded to shoot a 5-under-par 67. You'd think that would give you a good chance of winning. But Fredrik Nilehn pretty much ran the table on Bell. Nilehn, a 23-year-old former Texas Tech star from Sweden, made nine birdies and an eagle on Friday, and the resulting 63 earned him medalist honors.
Nilehn concluded 72 holes with an aggregate score of 272 (16 under), and that was good for a two-stroke victory over Derek Bayley. Bayley, also 23, is a Washington State alumnus. He went 4 under on a six-hole stretch on the back nine (11 through 16) and closed with a 65 to finish at 274.
Bell, who played college golf at the University of Minnesota, was another stroke back in third at 275.
Although he was disappointed not to win, he accomplished his main goal, which was to advance to the Second Stage of Korn Ferry Q-School. He made it easily, with 10 shots to spare. There were 12 First Stage qualifying tournaments, played over the last three weeks. There will be five for the Second Stage, beginning Oct. 29 with a qualifier in McKinney, Texas.
This is the fifth time that Bell has tried Q-School -- formerly Web.com Q-School (Korn Ferry took over sponsorship of the tour in the middle of the 2019 season) -- but the first time he's made it past the First Stage. There are four stages in all -- Pre-Qualifying, then First Stage, Second Stage and the Final Stage. The Final Stage will be played Dec. 12-15 at Orange County National's two courses, Panther Lake and Crooked Cat.
"The fifth time was the charm," Bell said, "because I was totally prepared and brought a lot of confidence in my game this time. I had a great group today (he was paired with Nilehn and Bayley), and we all played really well. It actually felt like I was trying to win a golf tournament, rather than just trying to get through Q-School."
Anyone who gets to the Final Stage will have at least limited status on the Korn Ferry Tour next year. The medalist will be exempt for the entire 2020 season. Those finishing in the top 10 will be exempt for 13 tournaments, and those finishing 11th through 45th will be guaranteed at least nine events.
At Dayton, the top 20 finishers and ties advanced to the Second Stage.
Also advancing, along with Bell, were Neil Johnson and Ben Polland. Johnson, 36, a former Gustavus Adolphus Division III All-American from River Falls, shot 73 on Friday and tied for 15th place with a total of 284. Polland, 29, who played high school golf at Bloomington Jefferson, went on to Campbell University and then took a job as an assistant pro in New York. He nearly won the National Club Pro Championship in 2015 (he double bogeyed the 72nd hole and lost by a stroke), and he did win the National Assistant Club Pro Championship in 2016. Polland reached the Final Stage of Q-School last year and tied for 51st. That got him into 21 tournaments this season, but he made only $31,032 and wound up No. 138 on the money list, which is why he's back at Q-School once again.
Conditions earlier in the week at Dayton Valley were not optimal for golf. It was cold and windy, and scores were relatively high. Polland had opened with a 69 and followed it with a 70 and a 71, which had him in fifth place after three rounds. But he struggled in the fourth round, shooting 75, and his overall 285 was barely good enough. It put him in a five-way tie for 17th.
Bell, on the other hand, was never out of the top five at any point during the week, starting off with a 68 and adding a pair of 70's in the cold and wind on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, he made only two bogeys, but they came at a bad time. Even though he started with the lead and played the front nine in 33 (3 under), he was one behind Nilehn as he made the turn. Bell birdied the 546-yard, par-5 11th hole and the 420-yard, par-4 12th, which got him into a tie with Nilehn, who had birdied the 10th (394 yards, par 4) and 11th, but bogeyed the 12th. As a result, both Bell and Nilehn were 14 under as they went to the 13th tee. Bailey was three behind at minus 11.
But then Bell bogeyed the 219-yard, par-3 13th and the 453-yard, par-4 14th, and he parred the 422-yard, par-4 15th. Meanwhile, Nilehn was playing 13 through 15 birdie-par-birdie, and Bayley was going par-birdie-birdie. So they both gained four strokes on Bell in those three holes. That put Nilehn at minus 16, Bayley at minus 13 and Bell at minus 12.
The 16th at Dayton Valley is a 234-yard par-3, not exactly what you'd call a birdie hole. Nevertheless, Nilehn, Bayley and Bell all made 2's on it. For Bayley, that was his third birdie in a row.
Nilehn gambled on his second shot at the 537-yard, par-5 18th hole -- and lost. That cost him a bogey, but by then, it didn't matter, except that he lost a chance to tie or beat the tournament and course record of 62. Bayley and Bell kept their places -- second and third -- with par-par finishes. It was a three-man race on Friday. The fourth-place finisher, Skyler Finnell of Carmel, Calif., was four shots behind Bell, at 279.
For Bell, this was his second third-place finish in less than a month. He was also second in the Tapemark Charity Pro-Am -- two behind the winner, Ross Miller, and one behind Don Berry -- at Southview CC three weeks ago. (Miller, like Bell, made it through the First Stage of Q-School. He tied for third last week at Arbor Links in Nebraska City, Neb.)
There was one other First Stage qualifier this week. It was played at SunRiver GC in St. George, Utah, and another former Gopher, Jon Trasamar, advanced, but like Polland, he cut it close and made it on the number.
SunRiver plays to a par of 70, and the scores there were low. Really low. Taylor Montgomery of Las Vegas and Californian Corey Pereira were the co-medalists at 262 (8 under), and each of them had a 63 and a 65 in his total. Only one player who finished in the top 10 posted a score in the 70's during the tournament.
Trasamar, 29, a former Pine to Palm champion from Blue Earth, opened with a 69 and added a 66 and a 68. In spite of that, he still had to shoot 68 on Friday, just to survive. The top 22 and ties made it out of Utah, and Trasamar finished in a five-way tie for 22nd at 271.
KORN FERRY TOUR Q-SCHOOL
Dayton Valley GC
Final results (The top 20 finishers & ties advance to the Second Stage of Q-School, which begins Oct. 29)
1. Fredrik Nilehn, Sweden 68-69-72-63--272
2. Derek Bayley, Rathdrum, Idaho 69-70-70-65--274
3. Robert Bell, Pierz 68-70-70-67--275
4. Skyler Finnell, Carmel, Calif. 66-73-70-70--279
T15. Neil Johnson, River Falls 72-69-70-73--284
T17. Ben Polland, Bloomington 69-70-71-75--285
What it took: 275 (5-way tie for 17th)
St. George, Utah
Final results (The top 22 & ties advance)
T1. Taylor Montgomery, Las Vegas 66-65-68-63--262
T1. Corey Pereira, Cameron Park, Calif. 65-63-67-67--262
3. Bryan Bigley, Charlotte, N.C. 68-65-64-67--264
T4. Harry Hall, England 65-68-67-65--265
T4. Steele DeWald, Park City, Utah 67-67-65-66--265
T22. Jon Trasamar, Blue Earth 69-66-68-68--271
What it took: 271 (5-way tie for 22nd)