Stage II of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament has replaced the Stage III finals for sheer pressure.
Make no mistake, the finals remain the last chance for players trying to earn a place on the PGA Tour. Nothing can top the six-round test of nerves with your future on the line.
But Stage II, held at six venues throughout the country (four are completed), owns the trophy for causing the most white knuckles and forehead sweat.
If you survive Stage II, you're virtually assured of a job somewhere in 2009, most likely the PGA or Nationwide tours. Modesto's Matt Bettencourt, 33, kept his career going over the years by sidestepping the Stage II trap and, today, he's the Nationwide Tour champion heading for golf's biggest stage.
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But if you miss advancing past Stage II, even by a single stroke, you have no status. Your bags are packed and you prepare for next year's Q-School.
For the record, this year's Stage II victims included Len Mattiace, Tom Byrum and Billy Andrade. Those who advanced to the finals were Robert Gamez, Mark Brooks, Carlos Franco, John Huston, Chris Riley and other former Tour winners.
Four local contestants, all hoping to copy Bettencourt's sudden rise, begin Stage II competition today at Oak Valley GC in Beaumont:
Lawless, 30, missed at Stage II at Oak Valley by only two strokes last year. His game was revived last month, however, after a lesson from instructor Charlie King at Reynolds Plantation, Ga. Armed with new clubs and renewed confidence, Lawless lit it up for 22 under par over four rounds at Dayton Valley.
He calls Stage II a "life-changing kind of tournament," but he's not unlike hundreds of other wannabe's climbing golf's steep ladder, all waiting for a Bettencourt-like turn of fortune.
"There is no reason why I can't do the same thing," Lawless said. "He's obviously a great player whose dedication was incredible and something clicked for him. But he's beaten me and I've beaten him. In that sense, it inspires me not to give up."
THE SHAG BAG -- Marina Martinez of Modesto missed a berth on the Duramed Futures Tour for the second straight year. She took part in the Futures qualifier earlier this month in Lakeland, Fla. ... Enochs High junior Kurt Ramont represented The First Tee of Modesto at the second annual Future Leaders Forum last month at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. ... Del Rio CC teaching pro Mitch Lowe tied for second during an NCPGA Pro Series 1 tournament at Stockton's Brookside CC. ... Stevinson Ranch has partnered with Cal State Stanislaus for A Day of Hope to help needy families for Thanksgiving. Bring three or more items of non-perishable canned food to Stevinson Ranch through Friday, and you'll receive 25 percent off green gees for golf on Thanksgiving Day. Last year, A Day of Hope aided 146 families.
HOLES-IN-ONE -- Prem Chand, Modesto, 206-yard 12th at Creekside, 2-iron. ... Bill Koski, Modesto, 12th at Creekside, 4-iron. ... Eddie Panales, Modesto, 111-yard ninth at River Oaks, Ceres, 9-iron. ... Barbara Whatcott, Modesto, 103-yard seventh at River Oaks, 9-wood. ... Dan Corral, Turlock, 135-yard 11th at River Oaks, 8-iron. ... Kevin Carr, Mariposa, 142-yard 11th at Saddle Creek, Copperopolis, 9-iron. ... Mike Hollander, Oakdale, 149-yard 16th at Oakdale CC, 8-iron. ... Joe Compartore, Manteca, 163-yard 14th at Manteca Park, utility wood.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at www.modbee.com or 578-2302.