Monday Q Review: AT&T Byron Nelson
Witnessing the cruelty of falling just short, a major champ helps get his guy through and the ‘dark places’ one qualifier has been
By Ryan French
ANNA, Texas — He stared at the hole, his hands on his head. There wasn’t much to say; we waited uncomfortably to shake his hand.
Spencer Levin made the FedExCup playoffs five times in a seven-year stretch, has played in eight majors and has been ranked as high 60th in the world. He will turn 38 next month. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve, always been a little quirky, and the people love him. He is a cult hero in the golf world. Every time I see him at a Monday Q, I post a picture. So I was beyond excited when I discovered Mark Baldwin, who I was caddying for in the Monday Q for the AT&T Byron Nelson, was paired with none other than … Spencer Levin.
In the few times I have talked with Spence, as he is known, he has always been nice, but he is also eccentric. Case in point: In what would become a theme for the day, he chipped it close after hitting his approach over the 1st green at Hurricane Creek Country Club. His caddie was putting down the bag, so I walked over with my towel to clean Spence’s ball after he had marked. This is standard caddie etiquette. I held out the towel, but Spence said politely, “I know it’s weird, man, but I only let my guy touch my ball.” I smiled.
Spence isn’t long relative to other tour players, but he more than makes up for it with an exceptional short game. I think he got up and down five or six times for par or birdie. It was impressive to watch. In fact, in the middle of the back nine, after Spence had hit yet another chip to tap-in range, Baldwin turned to me and said, “it’s like he’s putting it.”
Spence turned in 4 under and eagled the par-5 15th to get to 6 under. With the wind blowing steadily above 20 mph, we assumed 5 or 6 would be the number to qualify. After he made eagle, you could sense he felt the pressure. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, not when you consider his last full season on the PGA Tour was in 2016-17. He has played in one PGA Tour event this season, missing the cut last fall in Las Vegas. Before that were a couple of starts in 2017-18. He stopped chatting as much; he walked ahead of us. On the par-4 18th he hit a good drive, but as his approach was headed toward the green, a huge gust knocked the ball out of the sky. It landed well short of the green. Then Spence did what he had been doing all day — he hit a great chip to about four feet.
He had to wait a long time to hit the par putt. Our other playing partner had a long birdie putt and knocked it well past the hole. As the round wound down, Spence had gotten a little tentative with his stroke. The putt wiggled left and missed for his only bogey of the day. He stared at the hole for a while, then walked to the other side and looked back at the line. It was probably 30 seconds or so, but it felt like 10 minutes. There was nothing to say. He tapped in and shook our hands without saying a word. Mondays, man.
In his last seven Monday Qs, Baldwin has missed by two strokes three times and by one another time. That sucks. It’s a microcosm of Monday Qs: You need to play almost perfect golf. On Monday, he had a 9-iron into a par-5 and made par. Other than that mistake, he played really well. It just wasn’t enough. On to the next one.
This is full golf nerd stuff, but I always love to see the bags at Monday Qs. Everyone sees the Tour bags on TV, but in a Monday Q, guys often don’t take their regular caddie. (They aren’t going to have him fly in for a Monday). Players usually find a friend or a local caddie. Some carry their own clubs. That means a lot of players break out older, nimbler carry bags. This week was no different. Wesley Bryan, the medalist after an 8-under 64, had a South Carolina Gamecocks bag, and Smylie Kaufman sported a plain white carry bag. Greg Chalmers had the fanciest push cart I’ve ever seen. Ben Crane rolled out a neon yellow push cart, and Robert Garrigus put a giant tour bag on a rented push cart. Tour winners with push carts and random bags they find in their garages is one of the many reasons I love Mondays.
A major champion caddied his guy to a spot. Todd Hamilton, who won the 2004 Open Championship, has played so much golf with Conrad Schindler that he said, “I probably can club him better than I club myself, because I think I can still hit it like I did when I was 40.”
Schindler, who helped Texas A&M to the 2009 national championship, lost full status on the Korn Ferry Tour a few years ago, but he has continued to grind at Monday Qs and in mini-tour events. After I talked with him and the 56-year-old Hamilton (video below), Schindler texted me. “I forgot to mention my wife,” he said of his bride, Theresa, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. She never once has asked me to back down from playing.”
Andrew Loupe hasn’t had full status on the PGA Tour since the 2016-17 season. Yet he still grinds away on Mondays and goes to Q school each year. It has been without much success. But he got through on Monday in a four-for-three playoff. When I asked Loupe, 33, what this successful Monday means, he talked about “the dark places I’ve been in this game.” Give it a listen; it’s worth your time.
The other qualifier: Kyle Wilshire, a 29-year-old from Kentucky who will be making his third PGA Tour start this week. All have come by way of Monday Qs this season.