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Red Deer golfer Mitch Evanecz faces biggest challenge

He’s chilling in Palm Springs, Calif., awaiting the biggest golf challenge of his life.

Red Deer’s Mitch Evanecz wouldn’t have it any other way.

Following an impressive amateur career in which he won the provincial title once, was low amateur in the Alberta Open on three occasions, won the Calgary Glencoe Invitational in 2009 and 2010 and was a member of Team Canada, Evanecz turned pro last year and played on the Canadian Tour.

The 26-year-old turned it up another notch in the recent first two stages of the PGA qualifying school and will be competing for a spot on professional golf’s most prestigious tour in 2013 during the six-round conclusion — the third and final stage of qualifying — in LaQuinta, Calif., from Nov. 28 to Dec. 3.

“I’ve never played a six-round tournament before,” he said this week. “I have heard stories that it can be quite the grind, but I’m playing to get my PGA Tour card and that’s always been my dream. It’s going to be a great experience . . . it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Evanecz finished second in the first stage of Q-School at Hollister, Calif., carding scores of 72-70-65-63, good for a 72-hole total of 18-under 270. The second stage proved more difficult, but he again rose to the occasion and turned in rounds of 66-72-69-73 at Bear Creek Golf Club downstate in Murrieta, which resulted in an 8-under total of 280 and a tie for sixth place.

And now he’s facing a marathon test — a 108-hole grind from which the top 25 and ties among the 172 final Q-School competitors will advance to the major league of golf. The result will determine whether he plays on the PGA Tour next year or the second-level Tour, from which the next 50 and ties will gain full status and the rest of the field will get partial status.

Brett Bingham, another Red Deer golfer who reached the final stage of the 2006 PGA Q-School and earned full-time Nationwide Tour (now and partial PGA Tour status, is pulling for Evanecz and feels he has already cleared the most difficult hurdle.

“The majority of guys who have gone through qualifying find that the second stage is by far the most nerve-wracking,” said Bingham, who now works with Mooney Insurance of Red Deer.

“The reason being if you don’t get past the second stage you have no status, you’re back on the Canadian Tour or any other tour you’re playing. At least now, the worst-case scenario for Mitch is he has his conditional Tour status.

“But that’s a double-edged sword, too, because you don’t want to go into the final stage with that attitude — that you’re guaranteed of a place to play, that you’re playing with — for a lack of a better term — house money, so you can just go freewheel for six rounds. Still, it’s a pretty good position to be in.”

Not that Bingham feels that Evanecz will let up in the final stage, especially after putting up some impressive scores at Bear Creek, where Bingham was once an honourary member.

“That’s my old course and he wheeled around there, made it look pretty easy,” said Bingham, who sent Evanecz a text of encouragement last Saturday. “Good for him. I’m excited for him and it’s a cool experience no matter what happens. He’s halfway there, so to speak. He just has to keep his foot on the gas and not back off yet.

“You’re still gunning when you’re there (final stage). Ten thousand guys started this journey and now you’re among the last couple of hundred. Now you’re going to be playing several practice rounds and staying in the same hotel room for 11 or 12 nights in a row. I think he just has to go out there and keep the hammer down and shoot a few under par every day.”

Evanecz turned pro last year and played on the Canadian Tour, finishing the season with over $1,000 in earnings in the final two events.

“I felt more comfortable, more relaxed on the golf course late in the season,” he said. “My scores were better and I was just enjoying it a little more.”

While he didn’t experience a banner year on the Canadian Tour, Evanecz insisted that just playing at the professional level was an eye-opener and a major step in his development.

“Without a doubt, playing at the pro level last year helped me a lot,” he said. “The more golf you can play under pressure against players of that calibre, the more you’re going to improve.

“It was definitely a grind, but you’re out there learning from the guys who have been there before. Just learning how to travel and how to handle yourself . . . it’s mostly everything that’s off the golf course that’s the difficult part. Once you get past that, the golfing is the easiest thing to do.”

Evanecz feels he is now playing the best golf of his career, considering the position he is in.

“Under the circumstances, yes. I’m swinging it really well. I’ve got the putter rolling and have a pretty clear head,” he said.

And now he’s approaching the final stage of PGA qualifying with the big prize in sight. He’s never been closer to his dream.

“That’s definitely the way I look at it,” said Evanecz. “Just getting to this stage makes it all worthwhile. It makes all the hard work, the time on the golf course and the people who support you and are there for you . . . it kind of makes everything worthwhile.”



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