There’s been a lot of talk about whether Webb Simpson or Luke Donald will win the money title when the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., concludes the PGA Tour season on Sunday.
But the more important story isn’t about who will win the most, but who will win just enough to finish in the top 125 and be fully exempt for 2012.
Golfers finishing Nos. 126 to 150 also retain some status – enough to get them into about 15 tournaments – but they often don’t get into events until officials know whether golfers ahead of them on the priority list of exemptions have entered.
Of the golfers currently on the bubble, perhaps the most interesting story is that of James Driscoll.
Starting the Children’s tournament, the 34-year-old had won $645,835 (U.S.) in 2011. He shot six-under-par 66 last Thursday and a 70 on Friday. He’s tied for eighth heading into the weekend, and is projected to finish 115th on the money list should he maintain that spot in Florida come Sunday.
Driscoll, who lives in Jupiter, Fla., has lived on the bubble in recent years. He finished 137th on the money list in 2008, and got into 17 tournaments the next year, when he finished 112th to gain fully exempt status for the 2010 season. But he finished 133rd last year, and had to go to the gruelling qualifying school tournament.
His position got him into the second stage of the three-stage marathon, where he tied for first. Driscoll made it through the final six-round tournament to regain his fully exempt status. Now, he’s feeling the pressure again of trying to retain that status.
Canadian Richard Zokol, a two-time PGA Tour winner, has always maintained it’s one thing to win fully exempt status, and another to keep it. Brantford, Ont., native David Hearn, for one, won that status for 2005, lost it, and didn’t get it back until this year.
Hearn has come on recently with two top-10 finishes to move up from No. 129 to No. 102. He’s shot 71-67 this week, and is tied for 20th, six shots behind leaders Justin Leonard, Henrik Stenson and South Korean rookie Kim Bio, who recently had heart surgery to correct a problem he’s had since he was 11.
Kim, 21, needs to finish first or second to jump from 168th to inside the top 125.
Hearn has guaranteed his fully-exempt status for 2012.
Meanwhile, Driscoll can’t slip over the weekend. Here’s a golfer who was the No. 2-ranked junior in the United States in 1996. In the 2000 U.S. Amateur, he beat Donald, now ranked first in the world, 2-and-1 in their semi-final match. (Jeff Quinney defeated Driscoll to win the championship.)
Driscoll turned pro in 2001. He’s lost PGA Tour playoffs in 2005 and 2009. He’s loaded with talent, but is an underachiever.
He started to work last spring with Canadian swing coach Sean Foley, who also works with Tiger Woods. Driscoll, like Woods, belongs to the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla.
The last thing Driscoll wants is to return to Q-school.
“It’s not a fun position to be in,” Driscoll said this week. “Anywhere from 120 to 160, it’s just not where you plan on being at the beginning of the year.”
Driscoll at least has a chance of avoiding qualifying school. That’s not the case with Matt McQuillan, 132nd on the money list starting this week’s tournament. The Kingston native shot 73-73 to miss the cut Friday by five shots.
“It’s a tough road, for sure,” Driscoll said, speaking from experience, and for all the bubble boys. “The talent is so deep and there is a crop of five or 10 young guys coming out every year that think they’re the next Tiger Woods. And they might be. It’s just hard to play against them.”
Driscoll will have that chance if he plays well this weekend. But if he falls out of the top 125, his bubble will burst.
That’s what this weekend is about: bubbles bursting, or, better, not.
ALSO FROM LORNE RUBENSTEIN:
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 11 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); and his latest, This Round’s on Me (2009). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein