The final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School is the most grueling golf tournament in the world.
It lasts six days. The prize for winning is not a green jacket or a claret jug. Actually, winning is not that important.
Getting into the top 25 delivers a dream -- playing on the PGA Tour next year. Harris English, who prepped at Baylor School, accomplished the dream last year and earned more than $1 million on the Tour this season.
Two of his Chattanooga-area friends are still chasing it. Former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfers Jonathan Hodge and Stephan Jaeger will begin the final stage of Q-School on the two courses at PGA West in LaQuinta, Calif., on Wednesday.
"I've hung out with Harris quite a bit the last couple months in south Georgia," said Jaeger, who played with English at Baylor. "He told me that he had nothing to risk. When you get to final stage, you have nothing to lose -- especially as a guy in my shoes."
The Q-School dream is getting dialed back after this tournament. The 2012 edition is the last time a golfer can advance from a mini-tour straight to prime time by finishing in the top 25.
The PGA Tour announced earlier this year a new process for earning cards that allow participation in the association's events. Next fall, Q-school will grant participation to the Web.com Tour (formerly known at the Nationwide Tour) instead of a direct pipeline to the big show.
The ultimate dream stories like 21-year-old John Huh advancing from Q-School and then winning the Mayakoba Classic will be rendered to history. The PGA Tour skewed its rules to funnel almost all of its future participants through the Web.com Tour.
"It's changing a lot, but I don't know what it's going to be like in the future," Hodge said. "Some people said it's going to be harder; some say it's going to be easier to get your card. I have a hard time believing it will be unfair."
This year, in the final format as we know it, 174 golfers will be fighting to finish in the top 25. Their goal of playing on the PGA Tour -- or returning to it as Shaun Micheel, D.J. Trahan and Camilo Villegas are trying to do -- is six rounds away.
"To be able to go to the PGA Tour this year would be an awesome thing, because next year the only thing you can get is the Web.com Tour," Hodge said. "It's still cool that we have the avenue to make it this year."
Those who finish outside the top 25 but within the top 60 will have full status on the Web.com Tour next year. Those outside the top 60 receive conditional status based on their result.
"I want to finish in the top 25," Hodge said from his hotel in California. "If you're not here to do that, you've got something wrong with you."
Yet, as Jaeger said, there's nothing wrong with spending a year on the developmental tour. Reigning FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker played it. So have hundreds of other PGA Tour winners.
"A year there is not the end of the world," Jaeger said. "Over the course of a whole year, if you're good enough, you'll get to the PGA Tour."
That is happening for another Baylor alum, Luke List. He's heading to the big tour after finishing fourth on the Web.com this year.
English, who won a state championship with Jaeger, tied for 13th place last year at Q-School. In an interview earlier this fall, English said he thought each of the eight Chattanooga golfers who attempted the various stages of Q-School could get through until the end.
"It becomes a mental contest," he said in late October. "I had no expectations. I went in very prepared but didn't put a lot of pressure on myself. I'd tell them, 'Everybody is going to make mistakes. Be mentally tough.'"
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...