BY ROBERT GAUTNEY Contributing golf columnist firstname.lastname@example.org
Bhavik Patel is just six rounds of golf away from his dream. But those 108 holes of golf will be the toughest that the 21-year-old local professional has ever encountered.
The grueling test of the PGA Tour's final qualifying stage begins today (Nov. 28) in La Quinta, where Patel will be one of 172 players competing for PGA Tour playing membership for 2013. Competitors will play both the TPC Stadium and the Nicklaus Tournament Courses at PGA West over the next six days.
Patel begins his quest at 9:30 a.m. on the first tee at the Nicklaus Tournament Course where he will play along with Nick Rousey from Pensacola, Fla., and Meen Whee Kim from South Korea.
The top 25 and ties after the completion of Monday's final round secure PGA Tour status for next year while the next number closest to 50 earn playing rights to the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour's version of minor league baseball. All others will have limited playing rights to the Web.com Tour.
"This is it," said Patel from La Quinta on Sunday after a practice round on the Stadium Course. "It's what I have been preparing for since I was in high school."
Patel, the 2011 California State Amateur Champion and 2009 U.S. Amateur semi-finalist, played his way to the final stage through Pre Qualification, First Qualifying and then Second Qualifying stages. And each time the former Bakersfield High and Fresno State star got better. He finished equal ninth at Pre Qualifying, third in the First Stage then was the runner-up two weeks ago in Second Stage Qualifying at Bear Creek GC in Murrieta where he was 18-under-par for 72 holes.
"Everything was solid at the second stage," said Patel, a 5-foot-8, 160-pounder. "I was hitting fairways and greens, making good reads and hitting solid putts and I didn't make many bogeys. I will need to do that again this week as this will be the best field I have ever played against."
Since this is the last year of direct qualifying for the PGA Tour, Patel says that there are a lot of foreign players who are in the field. And there are players who have won on the PGA Tour and many players that have played on the PGA Tour for years, but lost their exemptions or did not finish in the top 125 on the money list this year.
Last year on the same courses it took a score of 8-under to crack the top 25 but Patel notes that there were a couple of rounds of nasty weather. In 2010 in Florida, it took 9-under, but Patel thinks it will take a little lower score this year.
"I'm not into trying for a number, but I would think if you could shoot 2-under each day then you would make the top 25," says Patel. A quick math check makes that 12-under-par for the tournament; something Patel thinks is well within his reach.
"If I play my game I think I can be right there," said Patel. "It's a long six days and you just have to be mentally tough. Everyone out there wants the same thing."
Patel said that until this past Saturday, he had never played either course. He had a practice round at the Nicklaus course on Saturday and planned on playing both again Monday and Tuesday.
"They are both very tough courses with length, but I think the Stadium course is just a little bit tougher than the Nicklaus just because you see everything in front of you at the Nicklaus course while there are some hidden areas you can't see from the tee at the Stadium."
Should Patel crack the top 25, he says that bonus money and equipment contracts wait which would be sufficient for him to travel and play next year. But even if that doesn't pan out, Patel knows that the Web.com Tour awaits and he is prepared to compete on that tour.
"Right now, I'm focusing on playing as well as I can on every shot," Patel said. "At the end of the tournament I will see where I am and figure out what's next."
Hopefully for Patel, his family and friends and the city of Bakersfield, what's next for Patel will be a PGA Tour spot in 2013.
-- The Golf Channel will air daily activity from the PGA Tour Final Stage Qualifying and will have a 2 hour re-cap special on Monday night after the completion of the tournament. You can follow Patel online on the PGA Tour website.
-- The 14th World Challenge is this Thursday through Sunday Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. The elite, 18-player field has 13 Ryder Cup members including defending champion and host Tiger Woods. Tickets can be purchased at the gate. The Golf Channel will air the first two rounds with NBC the final two.
-- Updated information (stats, etc.) on local players now competing in college golf (men and women) is always encouraged by Tee to Green as are golf related stories and information you believe readers would want to know about. Send the info to the e-mail address listed below. Thanks!