ALTON — The Web.com Tour is the highest level of professional golf under the PGA Tour, so when it chose Spencer T. Olin Golf Course in Alton and Sunset Hills Country Club in Edwardsville as qualifying venues it was quite prestigious.
Elite golfers from all over the United States and beyond converged on Spencer T. and Sunset Hills on Monday, scrambling for a total of 12 spots in the Lincoln Land Charity Championship on July 14-17 at Panther Creek Country Club in Springfield. The top six spots from each qualifier advanced.
Edwardsville High grad Chris Brant was one of those lucky 12 to advance to Springfield. Brant shot 4-under 68 and found himself in an eight-way tie for the final spot at Sunset Hills, but pulled it out after a three-hole playoff.
“I was a little nervous, but not too bad, because the other Web.com events I've gotten into have been through similar playoffs, so that gives me a good background of what to expect,” Brant said. “The first hole (No. 17) a couple guys made bogeys, a couple made pars and three of us made birdies to move on. We all parred the next hole (No. 18) and we played one more hole (No. 17 again) and I was fortunate enough to birdie and the other guys made par.
“It was nice. I've been working hard on my game and it's a nice opportunity to showcase it on the Web.com Tour. I've played a few events on there before, but it's been a couple years so it will be nice to get back out there and compete against those guys.”
It's a great event for the area because of the quality of golfers involved. Local fans of the sport can come out and witness some pretty high quality golf.
“The Web.com Tour, if we're going to compare it to baseball, it's the Triple A version, so it's right below the big leagues,” Brant said. “There are a lot of young stars and a lot of guys that have played many years on the PGA Tour but maybe aren't playing great right now so they're back on the Web.com Tour. I'm basically playing at the Double A level right now, right below the Web.com Tour so to gain access I have to go through these Monday qualifiers, or Q-School.”
Spencer T. Olin's director of golf Craig Bollman threw his hat in the ring in Alton. Unfortunately Bollman didn't qualify on the day, shooting a 10-over 82, but for him it was the thrill of seeing his course utilized by such upper-echelon talent, something he'd like to see more often.
“With the new ownership group we're making the effort to bring in some higher profile amateur events and this is the first professional event that we've had of this nature since I've been here,” Bollman said. “This is really cool for us.”
Bollman thought the Spencer T. staff did a good job of getting the course in pristine shape for its visitors, too.
“Tim Johnson, our superintendent did a great job getting the greens ready for today,” Bollman said. “You come out here and you have some faster greens. I thought that would play a little defense for us, but 63, 65, these guys came out to play.”
Bollman realized quickly the type of talent he was up against out on the course, as did his caddy, Alton High grad Shane Callahan. The winner on Monday at Spencer T., Chris Thompson of Lawrence, Kan., fired a 9-under 63. Bollman said Thompson birdied his first six holes.
The second place finisher at Spencer T., Brad Adamonis, carded a 7-under 65. Adamonis has played on the PGA Tour in the past.
“I knew I was in trouble today when one of the guys I was playing with hit his 3-iron by my driver,” Bollman said with a chuckle. “It really shows the difference in length. The only reason I did it is it was on my home course and I thought it would be fun to do. Getting to watch these guys, they come out and do this every week. They travel around and try to qualify every week to be on the Web.com Tour events. It was really a great experience.”
Web.com rules official Tom Hern was pleased with the venues of Spencer T. and Sunset Hills. He'd like to see the qualifying tournaments for Springfield back at the two courses next season.
The courses aren't new to major events. The NGA Hooters Tour called Sunset Hills home for a couple of events a few years back and Spencer T. played host to the 1996 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Link Championship and the ESPN televised 1999 U.S. Men’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
“The quality of play here is very close to the quality of play that's going to be (in Springfield),” Hern said. “A lot of it is up to the PGA Section and where they want to have the qualifier, but I couldn't see why they wouldn't want to come back here. They are both very quality golf courses. I can certainly see how (Spencer T.) hosted the Pub Links back in the day, it's really good and Sunset is a fun layout. Both golf courses were very cooperative and fun to work with.”
There were other local guys participating in Monday's fun, too. East Alton-Wood River grad John Stimac played in the field at Spencer T., shooting 6-over 78 and Edwardsville's Mike Suhre shot 3-over 75 at Sunset Hills.
Mitchell Gregson of Waterloo advanced out of a playoff at Spencer T., carding a 5-under 64.
Brant hopes to keep making local linksters proud. His plans are to try and stick on the Web.com Tour and keep climbing.
“The goal is to build some status on the Web.com Tour playing there and eventually move on to the PGA Tour,” Brant said.