SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — I’m spending the week at the Desert Financial Scottsdale Open, far from the buzz and glamor of the PGA Championship, and the hope and promise at the Korn Ferry Tour event in Kansas City, Mo. The Scottsdale Open is held at Talking Stick Golf Course in a hot, dusty corner of town. For most players in the field, including me, it doesn’t feel like the third most important professional tournament in America this week.
The 54-hole event has a $125,000 purse, with $20,000 going to the winner. Past winners have included Joel Dahmen, Steven Allen, Brady Calkins and a few others most golf fans have never heard of. A handful of PGA Tour members have competed in years past, and this year is no different. There are notable names and stories.
Charlie Beljan, a former PGA Tour winner, is tied for fourth at 8 under par through two rounds. On the Subpar podcast earlier this season, Beljan, now 38, talked about his past struggles and how he has rededicated himself to getting healthy and returning to the Tour. He looks the part: fit, strong, and at the top of the leaderboard. He chose to forgo the event last year because he has never felt comfortable on the tricky greens at Talking Stick, a sentiment I am sharing this week. He’s seeing the lines more clearly this year.
You may remember Andre Metzger from his successful Monday qualifying effort at this year’s Waste Management Open. Metzger, 41, has conditional Korn Ferry Tour status, but he has spent his entire career on the mini-tour circuit. He didn’t make the cut at the Waste Management but gained many news fans throughout the week. Metzger’s straight driving, piercing irons and reliable putting vaulted him to the top of the leaderboard in Scottsdale with consecutive scores of five-under-par 65. He leads by one stroke over Chris Korte and Ryan Linton.
“For me, the biggest importance (of the Scottsdale Open) is you could win more than I’ve got,” Metzger says with a laugh. “That’d be a huge win in and of itself. My wife gets ticked off at me. I’m not driven by money, and that drives her nuts. The confidence that came with winning might be even more important to me than the money. But without the money, you can’t play.”
Wil Collins won the Colorado Open last year at the age of 43. A mortgage broker in New Mexico, he still has dreams of earning his way back to the Tour. He played one full season on the PGA Tour and has won on PGA Tour Canada. A 65 came easily to Collins in the first round, but some late miscues with his short irons cost him a couple shots in the second. He signed for a 72 and is at 3 under through two rounds.
In the first two rounds, I played with Metzger and Collins in the featured journeyman pairing. It’s rare these days when I am the youngest in a group of professional golfers. (My recent victory at the SoCal Open felt like a distant memory. The cup looked the size of an aeration hole. Nothing went in. I made the cut on the number with scores of 68 and 71. I'm going to cash another check, though it figures to be nothing close to the $15,000 I pocketed for winning. )
I asked Collins about when he decided to stop chasing professional golf on a full-time basis. In 2017, he played an event on PGA Tour Latinoamerica in Bogota, Colombia. He was 2,500 miles from his family in Albuquerque, N.M., and competing for a small purse against younger players, Collins felt the weight of the grind. In the second round, he catapulted up the leaderboard with a course-record 62. It should have been an exciting time, but Collins took no enjoyment in his feat. He knew when shooting a course record in competition was no longer fun, it was time to move on.
Metzger has been on quite a ride since playing in the Waste Management Open in February. The difference in course conditions at events on the mini-tours and the PGA Tour is stark. The firmness of the greens on the PGA Tour surprised Metzger. He watched the ball flights of big-name players compared to his. The experience convinced him he needed to add loft to his irons and increase spin on his approach shots.
The adjustments paid off. Last month he won the Skyline Open, a mini-tour event in Tucson, Ariz., by nine shots. He then advanced through U.S. Open local qualifying and will head to Dallas next week for the 36-hole sectional qualifier.
Metzger has been wrestling with whether to accept a promising teaching opportunity that would take him away from the grind of the mini-tour life indefinitely. He enjoys teaching, especially junior golfers, but that’s not a decision you make when your name is at the top of the leaderboard at the Scottsdale Open.
“We keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Metzger says. “We get beat down, then all of a sudden, we win. We’re always on a rollercoaster, which is kind of like life anyways. If that rollercoaster stays up for a while, I’m going to keep playing. I still enjoy it. You never know when the lightning will hit.”
Metzger is hoping another hot qualifying day gives him another shot on the PGA Tour, or in the U.S. Open. Last year he advanced to the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q school, only to suffer an untimely illness that affected his play. He says the next test could ultimately determine his future.
“Listen, I’ve gotten two opportunities,” Metzger says, talking about his PGA Tour starts in the 3M Championship last year and the Waste Management Open. “Now I’ve learned the lessons and made the corrections. If I don’t do it this time, then why (continue)?”
During the week he Monday-qualified into the 3M Championship outside of Minneapolis, Metzger says he racked up $6,500 in expenses, only to miss the cut.
“All of a sudden you’re riding high and you miss the cut,” Metzger says. “It’s like, was that even worth it?”
When he qualified into the Waste Management, Metzger says he was incorrectly told by a member of the Southwest PGA Section that as a conditional member of the Korn Ferry Tour, he would earn a $5,000 stipend.
Part of the PGA Tour’s restructuring last year included a plan to provide a $5,000 stipend to its conditional members for a missed cut. The limited information Metzger gathered about the stipend program was confusing, he says. After he missed the cut, a PGA Tour representative explained to him that the stipend was for specific categories of conditional PGA Tour members, not Korn Ferry Tour members. Metzger wouldn’t be receiving a stipend. That incensed Metzger.
“For the public, they have no clue about all these categories,” Metzger says. “He (the PGA Tour rep) was right in what he said, they didn’t misrepresent anything. They just tricked the words, in my opinion, to make it look like they’re trying to help everyone out. But I would argue they’re not. Obviously, I was pretty upset because $5,000 means a lot to me.”
It brings up a larger point: Why shouldn’t all successful Monday qualifiers earn some kind of stipend? Most players are paying an entry fee that ranges from $100 to $500 to qualify, and many have some status under the PGA Tour’s umbrella. These players spend the weekend before the event at the Monday qualifying site in preparation. Their travel plans are uncertain, making last-minute flight changes more expensive. A successful qualifier earns his spot and spends precious resources to do it.
“I wish the PGA Tour would start thinking a little bit about the overall scheme,” Metzger says. “They can still keep their top guys satisfied. I’m not trying to take away from them. They deserve a ton. But at the same time, guys who are supplementing the Q schools, the Monday qualifiers, all these things that we’re putting money into to help things go, we get zero love back.”
In the meantime, Metzger has put himself in position to earn some of those losses back this week.
“If I all of a sudden won, I know I’ll keep playing through the summer,” he says. “You never know what $20,000 can do for you. It keeps you going.”