On Monday, with two days until the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying begins Brad Fritsch was in a great mood. He’d had a full day of practice and completed some swing maintenance work with his coach, Patrick Kelly. There was Monday Night football to watch and better yet, he was doing so from the confines of a hotel room in the California Desert, right where he hoped to be come this time of year.
“You know if you are here that you have played well and you have the opportunity to determine where you will be playing next year,” says the Manotick, Ontario raised pro who celebrated his 34th birthday just three weeks ago.
Fritsch did not follow the standard path for reaching the top echelons of his sport. His is not a story of elite Canadian amateur success and play at a top collegiate program leading to a comfortable position in pro golf. A two-time academic All-American (Criminal Justice) at tiny Campbell University, he blossomed from a talented amateur into a solid professional through a lot of perseverance. Without the glare of a spotlight on him he was able to do the work he needed to become a better player, never assuming he was one because of any of his achievements (including the Most Improved Canadian Player on the 2004 Canadian Tour) , choosing instead not to settle but to keep pushing ahead.
This is Fritsch’s third trip to the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying and he plans to lean on his past experience, something valuable when you face six rounds and 108 holes of golf with the top 25 players and ties earning full PGA Tour status. That is his ultimate goal this week but he knows to get there you can’t be focused in the end result. He explains this and more in a Q&A with Flagstick.com/Flagstick Golf Magazine.
FGM: You had another solid year on the 2011 Canadian Tour and the eGolf Tour; anything you can attribute that to?
BF: No, not really. I kind of had the same year I did last year (on the Canadian Tour). I think I made pretty much around the same amount of money, similar position on the money list. I had a couple events where I came from pretty far back to finish in a good position and then I had a couple times where I was in position to win and just didn’t close it out. I played solid. I played better golf, I thought, in the limited events I played on the eGolf Tour. I had a couple seconds and a fourth; I felt like I played better in the final rounds of those events. I have no reason why; it just happened to be that way. (Brad was 12th on the Canadian Tour Order of Merit with $34,573,35 earned (12 events) and was 24th on the eGolf Tour money list with $40,391. (6 events))
FGM: You were able to carry that through the first couple of stages of Q-School; did you do something better or was it just more of the same?
BF: No, there weren’t really a lot of changes. I think I started driving the ball a little bit better probably starting at first stage and that carried over to second stage. I drove it like a damn champ there. That’s probably the part of my game that has improved the most. I’ve always driven the ball pretty good but lately it’s been better than normal.
FGM:. At 34 is there a sense of urgency for you to get back to the Nationwide Tour, or better, or has the drive always remained the same?
BF: No, I think it’s about the same. It’s more exciting for me because I think I have a better understanding now of what I’m trying to do. I mean golf swing wise, and a little with the mental side of the game. I feel like I am in a better place than three or four years ago when I was playing Nationwide Tour. I feel like I handle things better now than before.
FGM: Have you been looking at the process any differently than in the past?
BF: I think it’s pretty much the same. The first time I got to finals I pretty much had the worst possible start I could. Shooting 81 in the first round taught me really fast to be patient and let it come because you are so far behind at that point. That’s probably the best thing you can learn; there are six rounds which is so much golf, you just can’t panic over one or two holes.
FGM: You spent three seasons with some status on the Nationwide Tour; what does it mean to you to know you will back up to the level again, or higher?
BF: It’s part relief. I had a good year last year but missed at first stage. Q-School is an all or nothing thing, like Darren (his caddy, long-time Canadian Tour player Darren Griff) says, “It’s pass/fail.” If you finish 23rd in a Canadian Tour event you think, okay, I played alright, and you go to the next event. If you finish 23rd in first stage of Q-School it’s over for you. When you get to final stage you feel a bit of relief and then I see it as opportunity. I don’t like to think that getting to final stage is validation of your work but it’s nice to be able to do it when it’s a pass/fail thing. You know second stage determines your next year so when you get through it feels pretty good.
FGM: Do you any particular game plan for how you play the six rounds? Aggressive, conservative?
BF: These two courses, I think it is all about from the tee. If you set yourself off the tee by driving it in the fairway I think you can go at most of the pins. Being six rounds they don’t tend to stick them in too many tough spots, they kind of give you some room. I think as long as I am driving it well I’ll be going at pins. The last time the Q-School was here the scoring was really low so you have to make some birdies.
FGM: What do you think of the courses and how do they fit your game?
BF: The greens are starting to firm up but the fairways are soft which should help me because I hit it a little farther than most guys. That should give me a little shorter shot into the firm greens so that helps me a little bit. Like I said, if you drive it well you can really set yourself up for your approaches. The par threes are really good on both courses. I am definitely comfortable on them (the courses). There are a couple holes on the Stadium where it is okay to be conservative and if you wedge it close on a par five that is great, but if you make five, that’s fine, other guys might be making six or seven. I think you have to pick your spots on the Stadium but you’ll have to shoot pretty low on the Nicklaus Course.
FGM: What about 17th hole at The Stadium, known as “Alcatraz”, the par three with the Island green? ”
BF: They don’t play the back tee so yesterday I think it was an eight iron from the tees where we will play from. It’s not as small as the Sawgrass green (the famed 17th). It’s not as intimidating as that. As long as there is no wind then it’s not too bad.
FGM: How do you go about keeping the 6th round off your mind, the thought of earning one of those 25 PGA Tour cards and maybe facing that 17th at Stadium coming down the stretch?
BF: If it matters then it’s exciting because you’re in a good spot. That’s how I’m going to think about it. It would suck to play the Nicklaus course in my 6th round because that means I’d be on the other side, the bottom half of the draw. If that’s my 17th hole on my 6th day then I’ll try to look at it as I am excited because I am two holes away from getting a Tour Card.
FGM: Will you be content if you end up with Nationwide Tour status?
BF: Yeah, I think so but that’s not the goal. I think I am actually done with the goal-setting thing in terms of my golf. I’m more interested to see how I hold up under the biggest pressure. That’s what you work for, you practice for, is to hold up under the biggest pressure – to hit the shots when you need them. It’s more of “can I do it, let’s see if I can do it.” I can play great and finish 26th. It’s kind of too fickle; where you finish depends on too many other people. I just want to play my absolute best from the first day to the sixth day and see where that leaves me.
FGM: Does that mean you are taking a little more “open” approach to your play than previous Q-School finals where you might have had some hard goals in mind?
BF: For sure. I can remember my last time at Finals at Orange County (near Orlando, Florida) and I needed to shoot four under on my back nine holes to get my card. I was struggling and I think I finished bogey, bogey and shot four over. I was literally thinking of so many different things while I was playing, especially of what kind of status I was going to earn. There is too much anxiety around that so this time I’ll just take each shot, do my best, and see if I can hold up for all the holes.
FGM: Is having Darren there with you, who understands what your process is, a huge benefit in addition to your own experiences?
BF: Yeah, he knows what it’s all about. He’s probably played in more Q-Schools than I have all around the world. He knows what the deal is, and the comedic relief is always good too.
FGM: Any thoughts on the fact that you are one of nine Canadians of varying backgrounds in the field at Q-School finals this week?
BF: I think it serves to demonstrate that there is nothing any organization tasked with helping Canadian golfers can do to get you to finals. It’s all about the person. You look at a guy like Mitch Gillis who openly says he had a terrible year yet he got it together for the two stages and he’s here. It shows you how individual the sport is.
If you had your choice before second stage you might have thought it was going to be different Canadian guys that would have got through. It shows how many good players there are and the different ways that they can get here. You can’t say that some guy is going to get here because he’s played great in the past. It doesn’t work that way.