A star amateur player, it took Kingston, Ontario’s Matt McQuillan nine years to finally reach his ultimate goal – playing on the PGA Tour. The 30 year-old ascended to the big show last winter through the PGA Tour Qualifying School. The former Canadian Tour winner got off to a slow start in his rookie season, making just one cut and then missing ten in a row until he caught fire in the second half of the year. Three top-ten finishes and a affinity for strong final rounds added up to $582,933 in earnings and 137th place on the PGA Tour Money List.
Although he did not maintain fully exempt status on the PGA Tour for 2012, McQuillan has non-exempt status that will allow him to play in approximately 15-18 events. He hopes to build on that on November 30th when he starts the final round of PGA Tour Q-School and attempts to move himself back up to full status on the tour for 2012. This week Flagstick caught up with McQuillan in Tampa, Florida where he is now based.
F: You’ve just completed your rookie season on the PGA Tour and finished 137th on the Money List; were you disappointed at all with that?
M: Looking back on it now; half-way through the season if I would have been offered that spot I probably would have taken it. All in all I think it was a pretty good year considering the start. I made it to the finals of Q-School and hopefully I can make some magic happen again this year.
F: It was really was a second-half year for you; do you consider the way you performed once you got your feet wet more of what you believe you are capable of as you look ahead to 2012?
M: The quick answer is yes. Basically I made all my money in the second half of the year so if I can get off to a decent start next year with the tournaments I am getting in hopefully I can maintain it throughout the whole year.
F: If you look back a year now and think about where you were at in the 2010 Q-School, starting at 1st stage and working your way to the PGA Tour, what comes to mind?
M: I had a great opportunity this year to play against the best players in the world and despite the start I definitely held my own the last half. It’s given me a lot of confidence heading into 2012.
F: Was there a moment from the year that really stood out as a highlight?
M: Obviously I would have to say it was the John Deere (Classic). Just to have that kind of golf come out of nowhere and to be able to roll with it when it happened. (McQuillan opened and closed with rounds of 64 to shoot -17 and finish tied for 3rd place). All the guys out here are capable of playing great golf and getting it going for a day or two but to be able to finish strong in that tournament despite how the previous tournaments had gone was very gratifying.
F: Speaking of finishing strong, you were number #2 on the PGA Tour in final round scoring average behind Luke Donald, the best player in the world. There are a lot of players that might do well in the first and second rounds but melt down on the weekend; you didn’t do that. Is that one of the bigger sources of confidence for you?
M: Yeah, it was definitely surprising to be able to put up low numbers time and time again on Sundays, mind you I didn’t play a lot of Sundays, (ed. Note: 7) but still to be able to get the most out of my rounds on Sundays was a huge confidence builder. I think a lot of it had to do with being more comfortable with the golf courses. You’re kind of behind the eight-ball your first year with having to learn courses in a couple of days, at least before the tournament starts. But playing the course six times or seven times before the final round when you make the cut, I just found myself being more comfortable with the golf course.
F: That said, as you look ahead to next year, whether you get through Q-School finals and move up in categories or stay where you are at, chances are you are going to be playing in a lot of the same tournaments, with the exception of those you get into from top-tens the previous week or through Monday qualifying. Does that make you more eager to go to them knowing that you have that course knowledge?
M: It’s definitely a higher level of comfort for me; going to a course I am familiar with and even more, to ones where I have had success at. Even courses that I didn’t have success at will be that much easier to go to and play and that’s for everything. That means getting to the tournament and knowing where everything is, just simple things like knowing where player dining is, the locker room, the driving range, the putting green; not having to ask somebody. It’s just such a circus; with a PGA Tour event there is just so much going on that it is pretty tough as a rookie to find your way around where you don’t know where you are going.
F: Did it make you feel sort of like a junior golfer again, heading out to play some tournaments away from home for the first time?
M: It’s that same feeling, just amplified to the biggest scale possible. Everything is going to be just a bit easier next year, from every end.
F: As we look ahead to finals of PGA Tour Q-School, you are heading out to California almost a week before the first round. You know the courses from staying in the area a bit but what’s your plan for preparing this year?
M: I’m heading out a bit early just to get familiar with the grass again, the courses, and the weather. I want to be well prepared and not have to rush anything.
F: Having been to finals last year, having success, and knowing you have some PGA Tour status for 2012, does that take the edge off in any way? Obviously it is hard to feel really comfortable but what’s your mindset?
M: I’m looking at it very similar to last year. Having made it to final stage last year I knew I had some kind of playing privileges on the Nationwide Tour so I took that attitude that I’m here, I have a place to play next year, I’ll just go out and play golf and see what happens. It worked out great last year so that’s kind of my attitude going into next week. I’ve just to play golf like it does not matter, which is much easier said than done, and if I can maintain that attitude throughout the week then I think I have the best chance of playing well.
F: If you don’t happen to make it into the top 25, although I know it is not your thought process right now, will your plan to be to play the PGA Tour events you can get in and then fill in your schedule on the Nationwide Tour?
M: Obviously any (PGA) Tour events I can get in I will definitely play whether the course fits my game or doesn’t. Any PGA Tour start is a privilege. On my off weeks if I don’t get in because of my number or not Monday qualifying, I’ll definitely fill in those weeks with Nationwide tournaments.
F: After a decent year on the PGA Tour where you earned almost triple of what you had made over the length of your entire pro golf career, how will that assist you in the year ahead, besides the obvious?
M: My financial position going into the year is definitely a load off my shoulders. You don’t have to worry as much about your expenses especially for those events where you are just going to wait around as an alternate to see if you get into the tournament. The same for going to Monday qualifiers, it’s definitely one less thing to worry about to know I am at least financially secure for this year.
F: Any changes on the landscape for you next year as far as endorsements? (Matt currently has deals with Titleist/FootJoy, RBC, Sapient, and Second Skin/Hollas)
M: We’re working on a few things but nothing I can say for certain yet.
F: I am not sure if you are aware but you will be one of nine Canadians at final stage of PGA Tour qualifying this year. It might be the biggest group ever at that stage. Do you think that is an indication of more talent coming from Canada or would you credit it to something else?
M: It’s great to have the Canadian presence as strong as it is, just on the verge of getting to the biggest stage in our sport. I think recently Graham DeLaet really paved the way for a lot of us to know we could make it by Q-School like he did in 2009. Mike Weir did it years back and nobody really seemed to follow in his footsteps. But seeing Graham play well on the Canadian Tour, then qualifying and playing well right away on the PGA Tour – I think it’s just a process for the Canadian players to see what is possible and then working their way through that process. We have a lot talented players who are capable of playing on the PGA Tour; it just really starting to show.
F: With that many Canadian players out at Q-School will there be a natural pull towards some of you guys getting together for practice rounds, with a little Team Canada spirit, or will it just be every man for themselves?
M: You definitely want to have that camaraderie and feel as comfortable as you can that week, even in practice rounds. But when it comes down to it, it is an individual sport and you want to beat other players – but you still want the best for all your fellow Canadians.
F: Do any of the guys in the group stand out as being particularly capable of making it to the Tour next week?
M: You know; they wouldn’t be there at Final Stage if they were not capable. It’s a very talented group and every one of them has the ability to earn a spot on Tour. I just wish them the best.