Ask anybody who competes in them — Monday qualifiers are one of the most high-stress environments in golf.
While many think of Majors or the Ryder Cup as fear-inducing situations, there is something else about standing over a short putt with one of only two Thursday tee-times on the line in a one-round shoot-out on a Monday.
Why it matters so much is the profile of the players taking part. It’s not your Rory McIlroys or Leona Maguires competing, most who tee it up early in the week are either hard-working pros who just haven’t found the luck to forge a full-time career in the sport or up-and-coming stars who are yet to earn status on the Tour.
For many, getting into the main draw and then performing well can be make-or-break.
Having only turned professional earlier this year, Tandragee’s Olivia Mehaffey is in the up-and-coming star bracket and this week she had her stroke of Monday fortune, making it into this week’s LPGA Tour event, the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey, through the qualifier.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. The 23-year-old had entered Monday qualifying on a couple of occasions prior and come up agonisingly short. Having had that experience, she admits it is a grind to go through the process.
“You have 40 girls playing for two spots, so you need to have a good day to get in. I’d been in a play-off in one, I was third last week. It’s quite tough mentally,” conceded Mehaffey.
“But this week I came into it and I wasn’t expecting much because I had a flight booked back to Arizona if I didn’t make it and it’s my birthday this weekend, so I thought it would be fine if I didn’t make it. So I went out there and I was quite relaxed and it turned out quite well!”
A two-under 69 at Mountain Ridge Country Club — where this week’s event will be played too — had the former Arizona State star in a play-off alongside Daniela Holmqvist and Wenyung Keh on Monday, and it doesn’t take a maths whiz to know that three into two just doesn’t go.
But Mehaffey secured her spot and gave herself an early birthday present with a chip-in birdie on the first hole, with Holmqvist winning the second to join her — a nice boost even though it didn’t actually matter.
“The nice thing was there were only two spots for the qualifier but they had kind of mentioned to us that they were going to give a sponsor’s invite to whichever one of us was knocked out. So we knew we were all making it, which was quite nice standing on the tee,” she adds.
“On the first play-off hole, one of the others had 20-feet for birdie, the other was in tap-in range for par and it had just started to rain a bit, so I decided I didn’t want to play another hole and chipped in!”
Teeing it up on Thursday will mark Mehaffey’s fourth LPGA Tour event — her third this year having made her professional debut at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational at Galgorm and Massereene — and while she’s keen to make the most of her spot, she’s still looking long term.
Already qualified for the Second Stage of Q-School later this month where a full-time place on the LPGA Tour next season is on the line, the Co Down woman is putting all her focus on that, and she hopes gaining more experience on the flagship Tour will stand her in good stead.
“Q-School is still my priority, I’ve said that since the start of the year and that hasn’t changed,” maintains Mehaffey, who will have agent Rob Browne as her caddy for the week ahead.
“I got an invite into Portland last month and playing in that tournament was amazing, and playing in qualifiers was perfect because it kept me competitive heading into Q-School. Four more tournament rounds would keep me really sharp.
“Any time you’re teeing it up in an LPGA event is amazing, especially when I don’t have any status. I love playing with the best in the world so I’m really excited for this week.”