Jeff Overton PGA Bound
Dec. 28, 2005
It has been the called the most grueling week in golf. It can bring PGA Tour veterans to their knees, not to mention what it can do to 22-year-old rookies. It is 108 holes in six days, with the ultimate prize waiting at the end - a PGA Tour card. It is Q-School, the PGA Tour's National Qualifying Tournament.
This year's qualifying event was held at Panther Lake and Crooked Cat Golf Courses in Winter Garden, Fla. (Nov. 30-Dec. 5). A talented pool of 166 players entered the tournament, including 22 who have won a total of 50 PGA Tour events - highlighted by former Masters champion Larry Mize and seven-time winner Bill Glasson. Blaine McCallister and Dan Forsman each have won five times on Tour, while Notah Begay III claimed four titles and Steve Stricker three, and all were fighting to get back to the big show.
Only the low 30 scores and ties at the end of the tournament would earn Tour cards, so it seemed a pipe dream for Jeff Overton, a 22-year-old former All-American who wrapped up his IU career earlier this year, to earn his card in his first attempt.
But he played like he had been there before, advancing through the first two stages of Q-School, no small feat in itself, to reach the final step between himself and membership to the most exclusive golf club in the world. It is no simple step either, just the six most challenging - mentally and physically - rounds of golf each calendar year.
Sure, Overton turned in perhaps the greatest career a golfer has ever seen in Bloomington. He was a two-time All-American, two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, Big Ten champion, Walker Cup hero and a member of the Palmer Cup winning United States team, but playing on the PGA months removed from college is another matter.
"It was a grind and a half," Overton later commented. "Six rounds is a lot of golf. You never get a break. It was pretty brutal."
Yet there he was, collecting three birdies and an eagle, quickly proving he belonged with the big boys en route to a 68 and a share of ninth place after the first day. Rounds of 71 and 69 followed, placing Overton 8-under-par and halfway to a PGA card in a tie for seventh.
However, a 74 on day four pushed him outside the top 30 for the first time during the week. Needing two low scores to give himself a shot, the Evansville, Ind., native once again showed the poise of a 10-year veteran with two of the best rounds of his life.
So how does one handle the pressure of knowing one sub-par round ends a life-long dream of playing on the PGA Tour? For Overton, it was just getting back on the links.
"I was more nervous off the course," Overton admitted. "I had more time to think about good and bad things off the course. When I was on the course, I was able to tune everything out. Once I got out there and started playing, it got much better."
He was not kidding. A near flawless fifth round, where he netted five birdies and only one bogey for a 4-under 68, moved Overton back into contention heading into the final day. He sat one shot behind the cutline, but he was headed back to Panther Lake, where he posted his poorest rounds of the tournament with a 71 and 74 on days two and four, respectively.
Nothing, not even Panther Lake, could slow Overton from fulfilling his dream. He opened the closing round on a strong note, netting an eagle at No. 2 and a birdie at No. 5 en route to making the turn at 2-under.
Overton then birdied three of his first five holes on the backside to reach 4-under, but bogeys at the 15th and 17th dropped him back to 2-under on the day and 12-under for the tournament. However, Overton wasn't about to let a Tour card slip through his hands. He hit his approach to within 15 feet on the par-5 18th and two-putted from there to close out his round with a birdie for 69.
"When I made that last putt, I thought my score was good enough," Overton explained. "I was hoping I did not miss by one shot. As the guys kept coming in, I knew I made it. I was as happy as anyone could ever get."
Overton, who finished 13-under and in a 13th-place tie, was among 10 players who made it through all three stages of qualifying and one of three 2005 All-Americans to capture a spot on the 2006 PGA Tour.
"It feels pretty sweet," Overton beamed. "This is a good little gig. Hopefully I just continue to play well, improve my game and go out there and do my best. There is no reason why I cannot succeed."
The man who recruited and guided Overton's career at IU could not have been any happier. Indiana head coach Mike Mayer watched proudly as his former standout joined Hoosier and 2003 PGA champion Shaun Micheel on the PGA Tour.
"What an awesome accomplishment," Mayer said. "To go out there in his first year out of school and earn his card is unbelievable. Going through all three stages of Q-School is a testament to all the hard work and preparation Jeff puts into his game. The golf family at IU could not be happier for Jeff Overton, and he has an outstanding future ahead of him on the PGA Tour."
When Overton hits the links in 2006, he will not be playing his first PGA event. He received an invitation to the 2005 Buick Championship (Aug. 25-28), and although he missed the cut at the event, the experience has Overton ready to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other top golfers in the world.
"I really feel like I can play on the Tour," Overton said after the event. "It's just a matter of feeling comfortable out there. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to play in a couple more tournaments soon."
He now has that opportunity.
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