PPCC’s traditional layout with narrow, lush fairways, and dormant rough, felt distant from the desert surrounding the course. The greens were alarmingly fast and the chipping areas around them were tightly mown. Nearly 700 players started in the pre-qualifier, and by the end of the Monday qualifier, only three would remain.
The qualifier was played in two dissimilar tee time waves producing an equal number of the lowest scores. Four players shot 7-under par – two players from the morning wave and two from the afternoon. The morning was blustery and cold, and the afternoon was warm with a gentle breeze.
Smooth-swinging Patton Kizzire fought through the morning’s chilling wind, making two birdies and a bogey on his front nine, before heating up and playing the next six holes 6-under. A closing par on the par-5 18th meant Kizzire would have to wait until all the scores came in to learn if his 7-under was good enough.
With only a few groups left to finish from the morning wave, the second 7-under was posted by DP World Tour member, ASU grad and Phoenix resident, Nicolo Galletti. Galletti managed to navigate the difficult morning conditions without a bogey, lifted by a dedicated group of his supporters who came out to cheer him on.
34-year-old Ryan Sullivan, who played in two U.S. Opens, posted 5-under, and despite the challenging conditions, knew it probably wasn’t enough. Whatever quiet hope he harbored towards the end of the morning wave was defeated when Galletti’s 7-under was posted.
Pinnacle Peak’s own Jake Chanen, who works outside services at the club, walked with a dedicated crowd in tow. Dozens of people cheered for him at the end of his round despite Chanen being a few-over par. A yellow homemade sign from a club employee read “Let's Go Jake” and a local news camera was nearby. Chanen finished his round at 4-over but was satisfied with his performance.
“I knew I was going to be nervous this morning but just tried to embrace it the best I could,” Chanen says. “I loved every minute of it. It was everything I thought it would be.”
Korn Ferry Tour member, Michael “Fury” Feuerstein, finished his round at 1-under. Fury is a player you’d bet on to make a six-footer in a pinch, but said he could never get comfortable on the glassy greens. Between the wind, cold and greenspeed, Fury was left with too many nervous comeback putts. With the temperature going up and the wind dying down, he guessed the scores would be lower in the afternoon and 7-under would require a cutthroat playoff.
An afternoon crowd gathered for the opening tee shot of four-time PGA Tour winner, Ryan Palmer, and Champions Tour member, Steve Allan. Dozens of people watched from behind the ropes and quieted as Palmer made his practice swings. With the spectators, ropes, stacked leaderboard, and perfectly manicured course, the Monday Q took on a feeling of greater importance.
I followed the pairing of PGA Tour winner, Wesley Bryan, and KFT member, Noah Hofman. Hofman is the 9th alternate for the KFT event in Bogota, Colombia this week, an event that typically has many withdrawals prior to the start of the tournament. Hofman was debating whether to make the trip to Colombia, but hoped a low score in the WMO qualifier would make the decision easier. He turned in 3-under and birdied the 10th before stringing together five pars.
On 16, Hofman’s approach shot caught the flag and he added another birdie. As the Bryan Bros were filming their newest video on the side of the tee, Hofman flared a tee shot on 17 making his task more difficult. He salvaged a par, and closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th. Hofman was happy as he hugged a few people who followed him. The feeling was short-lived. 20 minutes later, PGA Tour member Jacob Bridgeman added the third 7-under of the day to the leaderboard, sending Hofman packing – the pain of Mondays.
Jim Knous earned $822,515 in 43 events on the PGA Tour but after an unsuccessful bid at Q-school this fall, has no tour status this year. He’s bounced between the PGA Tour and KFT in the past few years and battled injuries. His updated LinkedIn bio reads “I am currently seeking a new profession in the golf industry.” On the final hole in the Monday qualifier, a 170-yard par-3 with a pin tucked dangerously close to a penalty area, Knous hit a pure shot – a high cut starting at the middle of the green and working towards the pin. The ball stopped 25 feet or so past the flag. A tap-in par gave him the forth 7-under of the day, guaranteeing a playoff at sunset.
The four players who shot 7-under assembled quickly on the 1st tee for a 4-for-3 playoff. First man to make a mistake is out. Survive and advance.
All four players had wedges in after their tee shots, with Bridgeman 12 yards ahead of everyone in the fairway. Kizzire, who had a difficult angle, played the best approach of the group to 10 feet short of the hole. Bridgeman was the next closest, inside of 15 feet. The first three players missed their putts, setting the stage for Kizzire to advance. The birdie putt was a straightforward uphill 10-footer; the kind of putt you dream of. It was too dark for spectators to see the hole as Kizzire stroked the putt, but no one saw the ball disappear. The playoff continued.
Kizzire teed off first on the next playoff hole and asked, “did anyone see that?” The ball took off down the right-center of the fairway, but it was too dark to see the landing. Galletti hit one on a tightrope down the middle. Bridgeman hit a quick hook into the left rough, though no one could discern how bad the shot was. Knous picked up his tee quickly after he hit; another ball in perfect position.
Bridgeman was 60 yards behind his opponents in the rough. He had trees and a penalty area between his ball and the green, and when his second shot hit a tree directly in front of him, it was practically over. A heavy third shot left Bridgeman 50 yards short of the green and the other three players knew a par would likely be good enough.
Galletti hit first into the darkness. When the spectators up at the green offered a few claps, he knew it was good. Knous and Kizzire played safe shots deep into the green, though no one could tell how far from the hole they were. If they could two-putt from about 25 feet in the dusk, they’d have a spot in the Waste Management Open. Bridgeman pitched up to a short distance for bogey and the crowd stormed the fairway on the heels of the four competitors, sensing the end was near.
Knous was first to play on the green and understandably misread the putt, but his speed was perfect. His ball stopped two feet away. With a nearly identical line, Kizzire adjusted his read and missed by 3 feet on the opposite side of the hole. Galletti however, did not miss. His glowing white orb rolled for a few seconds before disappearing – Galletti would get to play his first PGA Tour event in front of a hometown crowd.
Kizzire seemed unbothered by the lack of illumination. His 3-footer disappeared quickly, leaving only Knous. Knous didn’t take his putt for granted and studied the line from all angles, adding drama to what would normally be a forgone conclusion. The stroke came and Knous’ ball disappeared into the hole, ending the day. Knous looked weightless as he shook hands, received congratulations, and walked back to his bag.
“I’m feeling joy. A lot of joy,” says Knous. “A lot of feelings right now. Going through a lot in the past couple years but hey, we’re going to have a good week this week.”
Knous acknowledged having his college coach caddying for him in the qualifier eased the pressure of the day. The two will try to keep the momentum going at TPC Scottsdale this week.
“This career path is a grind,” Knous says. “I may be going a different way, but this week is going to be amazing. We’re going to soak it all in and make a lot of birdies.”
Whether Knous will change his LinkedIn bio again may depend on just how many birdies he makes. From one career path to another in a single round – you’ve got to love Mondays.