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Kresge qualifies for Champions Tour

Joe Avento • Dec 2, 2018 at 2:09 AM

Cliff Kresge’s golf schedule just got a whole lot busier for 2019.

Kresge qualified for the Champions Tour, finishing tied for second in the final stage of the tour’s qualifying tournament, otherwise known as Q-school, Friday at TPC Tampa.

“It was a pretty intense day,” said Kresge, a Kingsport resident who is the pro emeritus at the Club at Ridgefields. “It was stressful, but we got it done. It’s like a dream and we haven’t woken up from it yet.”

Kresge used a solid, if not spectacular, final round to earn his playing privileges on the 50-and-over circuit. He made 16 pars to go along with a birdie and a bogey.

It all added up to a round of even-par 70. Kresge, who turned 50 in October, started the tournament with rounds of 71, 68 and 73 and finished the 54 holes three under par.

He wound up one shot behind medalist Gibby Gilbert III, who made a 70-foot birdie putt on the final hole to cap a 65.

Seventy-eight players qualified for the final stage and five fully exempt spots were up for grabs. There was a playoff for the final two spots, and Kresge avoided that by one stroke, knowing any bogey down the stretch could cost him dearly.

“We knew how important every shot was,” he said.

Kresge’s final hole was just a routine par on a day where routine pars were tough to find. Kresge hit a driver, an 8-iron and two putts.

“That last hole was pretty routine,” he said. “But there were a lot of pars that weren’t.”

Kresge’s swing began to feel uncomfortable on the back nine. Knowing he was on the verge of writing his ticket to big-time golf for an entire year, the pressure began to build.

“I wasn’t feeling confident with my swing,” he said. “It was hard to be relaxed. My iron game wasn’t as good as I was used to. Maybe that was the pressure.”

Four up-and-down pars on the back nine, including one where he made a 20-foot putt, were the difference between a season on tour and a year of “what-ifs.”

Kresge had finished tied for 10th in the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields near Chicago, but he said there was more pressure on Friday.

“I never really had a chance to win and I was actually in more control of my game at the U.S. Open,” he said. “Pars came a lot easier. I think this was much more pressure.”

Kresge last played on the Web.com Tour full time in 2014. He’s won three tournaments on that circuit.

His 2019 schedule will start at Boca Raton Championship in Florida, Feb. 7-10. His status will get him into about 80 percent of the tour’s tournaments.

“I’ll still have to play my way into some of the majors,” he said. “I can still get in by moving up the money list.”

Seventeen players made at least $1 million on the Champions Tour last year. Being in the top 50 earned $394,000.

“I’m really excited,” Kresge said. “My wife and I were talking and we said we know everybody on the Champions Tour. We hardly know anybody on the PGA Tour anymore. It’ll be like a reunion with a lot of old friends, emphasizing the word ‘old.’ ”