A gutsy Justin Warren has advanced to the US Korn Ferry Tour Q School Finals after a thrilling final-round performance this morning AEDST in Murietta, California.
The 26-year-old from Picton on the outskirts of Sydney, needed nerves of steel and an ounce of luck over the closing holes to get the job done, eventually carding a closing one-under-par 71 at Bear Creek Golf Club to finish at ten under par 278, and in a tie for 8th place, one shot inside the top-20 mark
“I can’t describe the feeling when I walked off 18 and pulled out my phone to check the leaderboard and saw that -10 was safe,” A relieved Warren said.
“I don’t think there are words to describe the roller coaster of emotions that Q School provides especially when you’re around the number.”
Earlier, The Australian Golf Club member had begun his final round inside the mark, and despite a birdie, bogey, birdie, bogey run to close out his outward nine, he seemed in control of his destiny.
Warren looked to be safe for all intents when he birdied the 11th to get to ten under for the day. But even the best have their moments, and all too often, the slightest case of back-nine nerves adds a dose of drama.
A poor tee shot on the 12th led to a bogey, then a lousy lie greenside on the 13th led to a second dropped shot in as many holes and Warren, suddenly, found himself back in the danger zone.
“I did my absolute best to stay as calm and composed as possible, and I think that’s all I could do.
“There’s going to be lots of nerves and pressure because the stakes are so high.
“I still thought eight under was going to be the number, so I knew that if I played solidly over the last five holes, and give myself some looks, I could get the job done.”
And didn’t he give himself some looks.
A spectacular bunker shot to set up a tap in birdie on the 14th soon settled the nerves, and when he rifled a seven iron to 12ft on the 16th and converted the putt, Warren was back on track.
“The birdie on 16 was probably the shot of the week,”
“It set me up for the last two holes, and I hit both fairways and greens in regulation to finish with two solid pars.”
“Nine-under ended up being the number.
“It’s inevitable to feel pressure on the back nine of a Q School when you’re around the number, but all I can say is I did a great job of managing myself and my game the last five holes.
“This is probably the proudest moment of my career so far,” Warren grinned.
Although familiar with US golf after graduating from the University of Arkansas two years ago, 2021 is Warren’s first attempt at Korn Ferry Tour School. He breezed through Australian Q-School at his first attempt in early 2019, but with the COVID pandemic, has had few opportunities since.
“It’s my first attempt at Korn Ferry Q School. I did Australasian Q-School a couple of years ago, and had success at the final stage there.
“I did European Q School before the pandemic, got through first (stage) but missed at second by one shot.
Despite getting the job done comfortably this week, Warren quickly acknowledged that the Korn Ferry Finals, set down for November 4-7 in Savannah, Georgia, will be a different level.
“I think the final stage (of Korn ferry) is going to be a different beast altogether, but I’m going to do my best to try and treat it like any other week.
“I’ll arrive a few days before like I normally would and go through the practice days as I normally do.
“I’ll be taking the next couple days off to rest up as it’s been a brutal week, but this coming week I’ll be in Scottsdale working on my game.”
Sadly for New South Wales the other two participants in the field, their quest for Korn Ferry Status has ended.
A heartbreaking three over par 39 back nine saw Scottsdale-based Grant Booth finish at eight under, a shot outside the all-important top 20 and ties, while Shellharbour’s Travis Smyth carded a final round 74 to finish at four-under in a tie for 35th.