Walker Shoots 63, Wins Q-School Finals; Polland Just Misses Top 40
December 10, 2018
By Mike Fermoyle (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- As an amateur golfer, Danny Walker was good but not great. In his four years at the University of Virginia, he never ended the college season as the No. 1 player on the team, and he was never higher than No. 162 in the World Amateur Rankings.
But since turning professional, Walker has been demonstrating that no one has better timing than he does. He played on the Mackenzie (Canadian) Tour this summer and fall, and won the last event of the 2018 season -- the Freedom 55 Financial Open. That victory came just in time, and it elevated him into the top 10 on the Mackenzie money list (he finished at No. 7). That top-10 finish, in turn, earned him an exemption through the first three stages of the Web.com Tour Q-School and put him directly into the Final Stage, which was played last week at Whirlwind Golf Club.
Walker took full advantage of the opportunity, and once again he saved his best for last. He shot a 9-under-par 63 Sunday at Whirlwind's Cattail course (the Devils Claw course was also used for the Q-School finals) and came from behind to claim medalist honors.
The 23-year-old former Cavalier concluded 72 holes with a total of 261 (27 under) and finished one stroke ahead of the 20-year-old former amateur phenom Norman Xiong, who closed with a 69.
There was a five-way tie for third at 263 that included 54-hole co-leader Jimmy Stanger (he shared the lead with Xiong and Andy Zhang). Stanger shot 70 on Sunday. Also tying for third was Doug Ghim, who played on the 2017 Walker Cup team with Xiong. He moved up from ninth with a 65. (Zhang slipped back into a tie for eighth with a 71.)
Walker played his last 11 holes in 8 under. After seven holes, he wasn't really going anywhere, having made one birdie -- at the par-5 second -- and six pars. Then he birdied three holes in a row, and five out of six. He was still one behind Xiong going into the last three holes, but he finished with a flourish, birdying the 451-yard, par-4 16th, the 560-yard, par-5 17th and the 450-yard, par-4 18th -- for a 30 on the back nine.
In addition to gaining fully exempt status for the entire 2019 Web.com season, Walker earned $50,000.
"I'm super excited right now," he said afterward. "My goal was to come top-10 this week. So I wasn't really thinking about winning. But I'm excited about it now, obviously, and relieved to have the week done. It's a stressful week for everybody; so it feels good to play well."
Xiong's drive on the first hole left him with an unplayable lie and resulted in a bogey. But he birdied the next five holes, before making a bogey at the par-5 seventh. For aspiring PGA Tour players, which all of these guys in the Web.com finals were, bogeying a par-5 is the Cardinal Sin. Nevertheless, Xiong did it again at the 12th. He got that lost stroke back with a 315-yard drive at the 17th and a majestic, towering 3-iron second shot (from 245 yards), plus two putts for a birdie, but he was still one behind Walker, who had already finished.
At the 18th, Xiong pounded a 350-yard tee shot, but couldn't convert the birdie chance from 100 yards and had to settle for a par -- and second place.
Xiong and the other nine players who finished in the top 10 (plus ties) will be fully exempt through the third re-shuffle of next year's Web.com schedule, which guarantees them at least 12 tournaments. Those who finished 11th through 40th (and ties) will be fully exempt through the second re-shuffle, meaning at least eight events.
Ben Polland, who played high school golf at Bloomington Jefferson, college golf at Campbell University and then established himself as one of the top players among the country's club pros -- he finished second in the 2015 National PGA Professional (Club Pro) Championship and won the 2016 National PGA Assistant Professional (Club Pro) Championship -- just missed the top 40. He was tied for 23rd going into the final round, and he shot 70 at Cattail on Sunday. Not bad, really, on a 7,334-yard course. But the fairways were relatively wide on both the Cattail and Devils Claw courses, the competition was fierce, and the birdies were coming in bunches. As a result Polland, despite going 2 under on the final day, dropped 27 spots into a tie for 50th with an aggregate of 271 (17 under).
He got off to a good start, with a birdie at No. 2 (567 yards, par 5). A bogey at No. 4 (462, par 4) undid the stroke he had gained, however, and even though he birdied No. 8 (402, par 4), he was no longer in the top 30 in the standings when he made the turn in 1-under 35.
It's a measure of what a fast a crowd he was in with that Polland, at 1 under par, had dropped all the way to 55th place by the time he finished the 15th hole. A birdie at the 428-yard, par-4 16th lifted him back into the top 40, but the decisive hole was probably the 17th, which he parred. He really needed to make a birdie there.
To the average golfer, a 560-yard par-5 is a challenge, simply by virtue of its length. But to guys on the PGA, European and Web.com tours, a 560-yard hole without water or a lot of trees, or out of bounds, is almost a par-4. That was how the 17th at Cattail and the 551-yard, par-5 17th at Devils Claw played for the Q-School guys. There were 16 players who tied for 34th place with totals of 270. Five of them started on No. 1 at Cattail on Sunday and, therefore, finished on the back nine. Four of the five birdied No. 17. Another six of the 270's finished on the back nine at Devils Claw, and five of them birdied the 17th.
The electronic scoreboard to the right of the 18th green at Cattail showed Polland tied for 38th place (with 17 other players) as he hit his drive off the 18th tee. By the time he hit his second shot, from about 130 yards, he was tied for 40th. By the time he putted, he was tied for 41st. At that point, he almost certainly knew that he needed to make the 18-footer for his birdie, but it started to the left and never had a chance. He made a 3-footer for his par.
So he missed the top 40 by a single stroke and doesn't have any guaranteed starts. He should get into quite a few events, though. Last year, as an example, Stanger missed the top 40 by one shot at Q-School, yet he still got into 19 tournaments this year.
Polland has succeeded in similar circumstances before. Last winter, he played in a PGA LatinoAmerica Tour qualifier but failed to gain exempt status. Undaunted, he got a spot in the first event on the tour's 2018 schedule through a Monday qualifier -- and then won the tournament. That gave him exempt status for the rest of the year. Since then, he's played in another 16 events, and he's made $58,074, which ranks 11th on the Latino-America Tour Order of Merit (money list) with two events remaining.
Also in the field at Whirlwind GC last week was Nick Heinen, a former two-time Resorters champion (2015, '16) from Oklahoma. He dazzled fellow competitors and spectators all week with his mamoth drives (on the par-5 17th at Cattail on Sunday, he made a birdie by hitting a 370-yard tee shot -- 340 yards in the air -- and a 7-iron second shot 20 feet past the cup), but he could do no better than 72 in his final round and finished at 280 (8 under), which put him in a tie for 115th place.
At Whirlwind Golf Club
Cattail Course (par 72, 7,334 yards)
Devils Claw Course (par 72, 7,029 yards)
(The top 40 finishers and ties earn full status for at least part of the 2019 Web.com season)
1. Danny Walker 67-65-66-63--261
2. Norman Xiong 65-63-65-69--292
T3. Jimmy Stanger 67-63-63-70--293
T3. Xinjun Zhang 66-63-69-65--263
T3. Doug Ghim 64-68-66-65--263
T3. Timothy Madigan 66-65-63-69--263
T3. Michael Gellerman 72-60-63-68--263
What it took to make top 40 -- 270 (16-way tie for 34th place)
T50. Ben Polland 71-64-66-70--271
T115. Nick Heinen 67-70-71-72--280