This time of year can elicit a variety of emotions from golfers whose status among the professional ranks is in limbo.
Numbers are at the root of anxiety -- place on the money list, place in the field and qualifying stages are among them. For instance, Beaufort resident and Nationwide Tour rookie Mark Anderson dropped four spots on the tour's money list, from 52 to 56 this week, despite finishing tied for 35th on Sunday at the Miccosukee Championship in Miami, Fla. The top 60 money leaders earn a spot in the Nationwide Tour Championship, which starts Oct. 28 at Daniel Island Club in Charleston.
With one more tournament to play before then, this week's Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open, Anderson is aware of the implications. But the former University of South Carolina golfer was reminded recently the importance of having fun on the golf course. And he's applying his more laid-back attitude to what could otherwise be a difficult time of year mentally.
"It's hard not to think about the Tour Championship and what not," Anderson said. "I'm trying my best not to think about it at all. I'm just focused on how to play the golf course and how to play it well and let things take care of themselves on the golf course and not worry about it too much off the golf course."
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There is certainly incentive for Anderson to play well the next two weeks. He's already guaranteed a spot in the second stage of the PGA Tour National Qualifying Tournament -- or Q-school -- which begins Nov. 15. But he could go straight to Q-school's final stage by finishing 26th to 40th on the Nationwide Tour money list. Finishing among the top 25 Nationwide money leaders would mean a PGA Tour card.
But the prospect of Q-school, often paired with words like "agony" and "stress," no longer intimidates Anderson. In fact, he showed few first-time jitters in 2009 en route to a T34 finish and missed a PGA Tour exemption by only two shots.
"I played really well last year and had a great time during that whole stretch of tour school," Anderson said. "I think I'm just going to try to continue that attitude and apply some of the experience I've learned to it and do a little bit better."
Anderson said his game has righted itself after a stretch during the middle of the season when inconsistencies in his driving and putting led to missed cuts. He has made three of his past four cuts, with the exception being a week he suffered from the flu.
The turning point came during the Boise Open, when Anderson finished tied for 15th. He is hoping the resurgence carries him into the Tour Championship field at Daniel Island, where Anderson has never played despite its proximity to his hometown.
"To play there would be awesome," he said. "That was one of the goals starting the year. I've just got to let my game take care of business and hopefully we'll be there next week."
Anderson isn't the only local player fighting for position the next few weeks. Berkeley Hall Club touring professional Kyle Stanley is No. 32 on the Nationwide money list and in position to earn his PGA Tour card with a strong finish to the season.
Former Bluffton resident Kris Blanks, who earned his PGA Tour card with a T12 finish at the 2009 Q-school, has earned more than $1 million on tour this season and, at No. 76 on the money list, is well within the top-125 finish needed to secure his tour card for 2011. Former Hilton Head High student D.J. Trahan has earned $1.6 million in 2010 and is 47th on the PGA Tour money list.
Among those from the area attempting Q-school is Hilton Head Island's Martin Catalioto, who starting today will play the first stage at The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis, N.C. Hilton Head Island's Chris Epperson will attempt to qualify starting Oct. 26 in Pinehurst, N.C. Bluffton's Kenny Coakley will attempt to qualify starting Oct. 26 in Lantanta, Texas.