For the vast majority of his 20-plus seasons in professional golf, Michael Allen has been stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Such pressure might affect a lot of golfers in a negative way, but the easygoing pro from Scottsdale seems to flourish in it like a cactus in the desert.
“Just another week where it was all on the line — my job, my family’s future, really, everything,’’ said the 49-year-old Allen, whose clutch ninth-place finish on Sunday at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic (Disney) — the final tournament of the season — vaulted him from No. 123 on the money list all the way to No. 106 and kept his PGA Tour playing privileges for 2009.
“If I miss the cut, I drop out of the top 125 (money winners) and I’m probably going to senior tour qualifying school in two weeks. So I guess you could say that those first two rounds of the Disney last week were like a regular tour Q-school for me. Luckily, those have been the situations throughout my career that I seem to thrive in.’’
Allen, who is affectionately known by his peers as the “King of Q-school,’’ has been to the grueling 108-hole PGA Tour Qualifying School 15 times and graduated with honors on a record nine occasions.
But for the second straight year, the fledgling Fall Series has been Allen’s saving grace.
Out of the top 125 for most of those two seasons, Allen has made all of his money late.
This time, he was no better than No. 134 on the money list with four tournaments to go and then poured it on with a third-place finish in Las Vegas, a tie for 32nd in Tampa, and last week’s top 10. Those three finishes netted him more than $375,000 of the $981,263 he earned this season.
“I made ... almost a million bucks, and I came within one bad round of losing my job,’’ said Allen, shaking his head in disbelief at the fact that there were a record 104 players who made more than $1 million in 2008.
“It’s so tough out there these days, with all these great young players, you just can’t imagine how dog-eat-dog, how cutthroat it really is.’’
Actually, I can. Take the case of former Arizona State All-American Matt Jones, another guy who lives in Scottsdale and rode the 125-bubble for most of the Fall Series. As it turned out, 2008 was a roller coaster for Jones, who almost won at the Honda in May and again at the Buick Open in June, and then missed 14 cuts from the midpoint on to end up No. 135 on the money list with $775,899.
Or big-hitting Robert Garrigus of Gilbert, who was No. 2 in driving distance (311.0 yards per drive) but 179th in accuracy. Garrigus, a former Scottsdale Community College All-American, had two outstanding finishes in the Fall Series to collect more than $425,000, but the final gasp couldn’t save him from ending up No. 138.
The good news for both Jones and Garrigus is regardless of whether they go back to the final stage of Q-school in early December or not, they will get some type of conditional status (behind the 25 Nationwide Tour graduates and the top 25 from Q-school) for finishing among the top 150 money winners.
And fans of local favorites Mark Calcavecchia and Tom Lehman don’t need to fret even if their heroes did finish No. 133 and No. 142 on the money tree, respectively, after both suffered injuries. That’s because Calcavecchia ranks No. 14 on the all-time money list with more than $23 million in career earnings, and Lehman ranks No. 18 with more than $20 million, and both can take a one-time exemption by being members of that elite group.
Other Valley pros were not as fortunate, as players like Kevin Stadler (No. 145), Mark Hensby (No. 156), Doug LaBelle II (175), Ted Purdy (No. 191), Jin Park (No. 196), Todd Demsey (No. 197), Andrew Buckle (No. 202), Alejandro Canizares (No. 206), Jason Allred (No. 221), Jonathan Kaye (No. 235) and Kirk Triplett (No. 240) are heading back to school, or in some cases skipping school and leaving their fate in the hands of sponsors who dole out exemptions.
“Oh, man, I can’t ever imagine having to go back to regular Q-school again,’’ Allen said, shuddering at the thought.
“In fact, the real reason I was going to senior tour Q-school in the first place was because I just couldn’t face ever having to go back there again. Seriously, I’ve had enough regular tour Q-school to last me for a lifetime.’’
Speaking of Q-school, one Valley resident who also will get to avoid it this time around is Ricky Barnes, the former University of Arizona All-American who surprisingly has failed to get through it five times since turning pro in 2003.
But this time, the Scottsdale resident took the easy way to his PGA Tour card by ending up No. 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list, which gets him a full exemption in 2009.
OK, so it wasn’t easy, as Barnes got in when Hunter Haas blew up on the final day.
But the somewhat brash Barnes, a former U.S. Amateur champ, will take it any way he can get it at this point.
“I’ve been to the PGA Tour when I first came out,’’ said Barnes, 27, who got a $10 million equipment contract right out of college and a number of sponsor’s exemptions but could never break through. “I’m excited to be heading back to where I think I should be. I want to get out there and make a name for myself.’’
Chances are Allen, who has now played in 322 PGA Tour events without a win, could give Barnes some sage advice on his first trip around the big leagues — like, “Hey, Ricky,’ concentrate on keeping your PGA Tour card first.’’