Monday Q Review: Valspar Championship
A Barn Rat sighting, a three-for-one playoff won by a familiar name and other stories from the Valspar qualifier, as reported by our guy on the ground
By Ryan French
BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — The Monday Q feature is back! We have made a few tweaks to it, but you’ll continue to get the same must-read information: stories about the grind to get through the Monday Q that week. I will do these recaps when on-site, because I have access to talk with players, caddies and others and can follow the action. So without further ado, let’s get going.
Patrick Flavin has a career-changing opportunity at his fingertips. He has Monday qualified twice already this season. After the first, he finished T17 at the Bermuda Championship. Then he had another solid week at the Puerto Rico Open, finishing T22. As a result, he has about 73 FedEx Cup points. Because he isn’t a PGA Tour member, he’s not on the FedEx Cup list, but if by season’s end he has earned at least as many FedEx points as the 200th-place player, he will get into the Korn Ferry Finals. (Chris Baker finished 200th last season, with 94 points.) At worst, he would earn his KFT card for next season, and if he finishes in the top 25 he would lock up his PGA Tour card.
That is a long-winded way of saying that Monday Qs have become vital for Flavin. And on Monday at Southern Hills Plantation Club, he was in a three-for-one playoff for the last spot in the Valspar Championship. He hit a perfect drive on the opening playoff hole, but after a poor wedge from the center of the fairway, he faced a difficult chip. He got that to about five feet, but his putt never touched the hole. He let out a yell as the putt rolled by. That miss will sting for a while.
Mark Baldwin woke up with a bad back a couple of days before the Monday Q. This is something most pro golfers encounter during the season; it’s part of the deal. On Sunday I caddied for him in a pro-am, and he was playing at about three-quarters speed. His game was not sharp. But a Monday afternoon tee time gave him some time to stretch and use his massage gun to get as comfortable as possible. He felt around 75 percent when we got to the course. And the range session looked promising.
We started on 10, a difficult driving hole that was playing into a stiff wind. Baldwin hit his drive up the left side, and the volunteer marshall gave us the safe sign. When we walked up to the ball, we found it had settled in the base of a group of small trees, completely dead. Safe? The ball was in such a bad spot that we didn’t really have a place to drop. Mark positioned his club between two of the trunks and advanced the ball maybe 10 feet. We were still in the woods. From there another half swing got us to the edge of the rough. He then hit a 7-iron over the green, and after a great chip he tapped in for a double bogey. Typically, a double at your first hole means you’ve got no chance at a Monday Q. Throw in a bad back and the fact you’re missing your son’s birthday back home in Arizona, and many players would struggle to stay motivated. Baldwin turned at 3 under.
On a difficult course with the wind blowing, we knew we were in a great position. Then at a short par-5, Baldwin missed a short birdie putt. He went to tap the ball in but didn’t take his time, and it lipped out. There is nothing a caddie can say in that situation. It was devastating. On the next tee, I said, “All right man. We are still in this. Let’s buckle down.” Mark nodded. A bogey on our 17th left us at 2 under, and needing an eagle on the last to get into the playoff, he had about a 30-yard chip for eagle. His shoulders slumped as the ball ran by.
Baldwin and I usually talk about the round, but this time there wasn’t much to say. After a few glasses of wine on Tuesday night, he finally said, “This one stings. I beat myself up pretty good last night.” There wasn’t much to add. On to the next one: San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open on March 28.
Kiradech Aphibarnrate has struggled with injuries over the last few years, so he’s on the Monday Q grind. The Barn Rat finally broke through this week. According to a player who was in his group, Aphibarnrate one-putted the first 11 greens. With an impressive short game and an amazing 23 putts, he has an opportunity to make some noise at the Valspar. As he waited for scores to come in, he was sucking on his Juul. I love him.
After a great college career at Illinois, Luke Guthrie won twice in his first eight starts on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2012. It was a promising start to what many thought would lead to wins on the PGA Tour. Although he kept his Tour card for three consecutive years, the struggles started in 2016. He lost his Tour status, and things got worse on the KFT. Last year he missed 23 consecutive cuts. As I followed the Monday playoff I noticed Guthrie was carrying his bag from his college days. It must have brought him some good luck as he made a 5-foot par putt on the second playoff hole to make it through to the Valspar.
The Monday Q grind isn’t just about players. As Baldwin came out of scoring, he noticed multiple caddies were hanging around. They were making their pitch to carry a bag at the Valspar. It worked for at least one this week.
Blake Kennedy turned pro six years ago; in his first year as a pro he Monday’d into the 2017 Wells Fargo. He missed the cut, and since then he has played exactly zero events on any of the PGA Tour sanctioned circuits. He finally made another breakthrough on Monday, tying for medalist honors.
A tough Monday Q course and some wind pushed tee times way behind. Baldwin had the 12:52 p.m. time. We headed to the tee around 12:35 only to find the last group from the morning wave hadn’t made the turn. We teed off more than a half-hour late. #MondayQlyfe.
Andrew McCain, a 27-year-old pro who played collegiately at Maryland, spent a year living out of his truck. He built a bed in the back and would overnight in hotel parking lots. On Monday he qualified for the Valspar. He’ll make his second Tour start; the first came at the 2020 Honda.
Some Tour events have multiple pro-ams, and the Tour is always looking for players to fill them. As a result, a lot of players use the pro-ams to help finance their chase of the Monday dream. Baldwin, for example, is playing in four pro-ams this week. Although he would much rather be playing in the Valspar, it’s a nice consolation to be able to make some money.
Life as an alternate: As Baldwin and I pulled into the lot for the Monday Q, we saw Dylan Wu, who at the time was the fourth alternate for the Valspar. With the Players running into Monday, he thought he would get in on his number. He considered not playing the qualifier but decided he would, just in case. He fell three shots short, but by the end of the day had moved up to first alternate. Then he received a sponsor’s exemption.