Heroics, heartbreak at KFT Q-School as Zack Fischer medals, Michael Visacki falls short

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SAVANNAH, Ga. – The final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School predictably lived up to the hype. After three long rounds over four days, mired by heavy rains, frigid temperatures and blustery conditions, the weather warmed nicely Monday at The Landings Club – and so, too, did the drama.

There were heroics aplenty, with putts to win and, arguably more importantly, putts to avoid conditional status. Guys went low, and one went super low, breaking a course record. But on the flip side – and consistent with the vagaries of Q-School – there were moments of heartbreak.

While Zack Fischer, a final-stage medalist at the very first KFT Q-School in 2013, sunk a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole at the Marshwood Course to win fully exempt status for the second time, the biggest story entering the week, Michael Visacki, saw his hopes for guaranteed starts dashed on his penultimate hole.

Visacki captured hearts last March after PGA Tour cameras filmed his tear-jerking phone call to his parents after Monday-qualifying for the Valspar Championship.

Inspired by his story, many people, including PGA Tour star Justin Thomas, reached out to help fund Visacki’s journey, which continued this week. Visacki began Monday’s final round on the number for the top 40 and ties, which would secure players eight guaranteed starts, and he remained there with two holes to play as live-stream cameras followed his chase.

Full-field scores from the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament

With guaranteed starts seemingly within reach, though, Visacki fanned his tee ball way right on the par-3 17th hole and found the hazard.

“I picked out a good target and I just didn’t commit to it for some reason, thought I had too much club when I really didn’t,” said Visacki, who later missed a lengthy bogey putt and double-bogeyed the hole. He eventually missed a top-40 finish by two shots.

“But what can you do?” Visacki added. “My life has been a lot different from prior to Valspar. People kind of knew me before and now, when I go out to the local golf course, everyone is like, ‘Oh, hey, what’s up, it’s Big Mike.’ It’s pretty cool, and then I see some kids, they’re asking me what I did, I just want to tell them to keep on pushing and don’t lose your dream.”

Visacki certainly won’t. Though he came up just short, he – and every other player who finished outside the top 40 at final stage – will have conditional status next year on the KFT. That group includes names such as Akshay Bhatia, Daniel Summerhays, Tom Lovelady and Jason Scrivener.

For others, their dreams were amplified – none more so than Fischer, the 32-year-old who beat young guns Jonathan Brightwell, Andrew Kozan and Vincent Norrman by a shot thanks to his final-hole heroics.

“That may be the first time ever that I’ve made a putt to actually win,” said Fischer, who shot four rounds in the 60s, including a final-round 69, to finish at 14 under. “All day, I wasn’t making the putts I’d been making, I didn’t have good numbers, I had a lot more adversity today than the first three days, and making birdie on 18 just made this trip so good.”

Fischer’s story has been well documented this week: beating guys like Justin Thomas and Tony Finau in 2013 but losing his card in 2017 and, until now, failing to get it back; his wife, Kaitlin, working four jobs, going to school and becoming a mother earlier this year; overcoming a cracked driver and a sinus infection last month at second stage to advance by two shots.

Now, he’s ready to make good on his second chance. The closest Fischer came to getting to the PGA Tour was in 2015. He was in contention through 36 holes of the second of two Korn Ferry Tour Finals events before closing in 77-78. The next week he was third entering the final round, only to close in another 78.

Fischer’s goal entering 2022: “Just not being so uptight.”

Justin Suh was feeling loose as he approached the finish line Monday on Magnolia. He had little idea he was right in the thick of things when he holed short putts on Nos. 15 (for birdie), 16 (for par) and 17 (for birdie). He then delivered a clutch two-putt par on the last, navigating the severe ridge with a lag to 5 feet and then calmly holing the putt to finish among 10 other players at 1 under, which was good for T-39.

“The putts just started falling toward the end, and that last one, just because I made a few coming in, that 5-footer didn’t look as long as most 5-footer would,” Suh said. “I’m really glad now knowing that I had to make that.”

Air Force prepared Westmoreland for career in golf

Suh, who was part of that vaunted 2019 graduating class with Collin Morikawa, Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland but was knocked down by a wrist injury that first summer as a pro, was joined on the number by former college peers Davis Thompson, Clay Feagler, John Pak and John Augenstein. Pak and Augenstein each bogeyed their final holes, and then had to sweat things out before finding out they earned eight guaranteed starts.

That top-40 group also included Air Force veteran Kyle Westmoreland, former Tour pros Blayne Barber and Scott Harrington, Brett White (who nearly died in 2018 because of encephalitis), Ben Griffin (who retired this spring to become a mortgage loan officer before unretiring), and Thomas Rosenmuller, the 24-year-old German who fired a course-record, 8-under 63 to close his week on Marshwood.

“Having those eight starts, it’s comforting,” Suh said. “It’s going to be a nice offseason.”

Even better: The top 10 and ties earned 12 guaranteed starts, a bunch that also included Michael Feagles, Andrew Yun, Grant Hirschman and Tain Lee, a D-III national champ more than a decade ago who didn’t make a Tour start until this year (and then almost won at Congaree this summer). Lee drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the last to finish solo 10th at 6 under.

As the excitement of the day wound down, and most of the players had headed out of town, Fischer ventured back into the clubhouse. He was carrying his glass trophy, filled with fake peaches, and already thinking about next season.

The KFT opens with back-to-back events in the Bahamas. The second one overlaps his wife’s 30th birthday.

“If you start thinking about cuts and how many, it can get in your head big time,” Fischer said. “Just being able to set my own schedule … maybe my daughter will be able to make some events, as well. That would be really cool.”