|Matt McQuillan is in a tie for fourth after the first round of the Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, Calif. (AFP/Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)
KINGSTON -- With one phone call on Wednesday morning, Matt McQuillan's plans for the week changed dramatically.
The PGA Tour was calling to let the Kingston golfer know one final spot was available in the Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, Calif., after Donnie Hammond withdrew because of a groin injury.
“I found out about two hours before (Hammond's scheduled) tee-off time,” said McQuillan, a tour rookie after graduating from qualifying school last month. “I was told to come to the golf course before the first tee time just in case something would happen. It turned out the guy with (the last) tee time (withdrew). It was exciting.”
The excitement sure didn't end there. Taking advantage of the last-minute invitation as the third and final alternate to gain entry, McQuillan caught fire on the back nine and finished at seven-under-par 65 on the PGA West Palmer Course.
That puts McQuillan, 29, in a tie for fourth, just two strokes back of Derek Lamely of Belleville, Ill., entering the second of five rounds.
Not bad for a guy who had no idea he'd be playing until the first round already had started — Hammond was in one of the final groups of the day.
“You never really know,” McQuillan said when asked if he expected to get in. “We (him and caddie David Linquist) were excited for the week and just looking forward to getting going. We went through the normal preparation (like they) would for any other tournament just in case. If I didn't get in, I was still sticking around here and practising.”
McQuillan, who was working at a pizza restaurant in Kingston just three years ago while taking a break from pro golf, had four birdies and his first PGA Tour eagle on his back nine (he started on No. 10). The eagle came on his 15th hole, a par-5, when McQuillan hit the green with his second shot and then drained a 13-foot putt.
“It was great,” said McQuillan. “I hit two perfect shots to get it in the centre of the green. I had a simple putt and I dropped it.”
It's been a whirlwind five-day stretch for McQuillan, who made his PGA Tour debut on Friday at the Sony Open in Honolulu, Hawaii.
There, he shot two-under-par in his first round and made the cut by draining consecutive birdie putts on his final two holes of the second round.
After finishing in a tie for 54th, McQuillan spent Monday travelling back to California and didn't get into bed until 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Later that morning, he headed to PGA West to play the 36 holes on the two courses he hadn't played at the four-course site.
“It's been a grind, a long couple of days,” said McQuillan, who is staying in Palm Springs (about a half-hour away) in a residence owned by fellow Kingston native Graham Sly.
McQuillan played the Palmer course before heading to Hawaii. He made Palm Springs his home base after Christmas.
McQuillan said the long practice day Tuesday paid off in the first round at the Hope.
“I've been working on something the last few days,” McQuillan said. “It's kind of hard to trust something new out on the course, but I've been talking to my caddie about it and just trying to trust it.
“It's just about staying relaxed.”
McQuillan is the top Canadian. Stephen Ames of Calgary and Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C. are at three-under and former Masters champion Mike Weir shot even-par in his first round of the year on the tour.
The cut (low 70 and ties) is not made at the Hope until after the fourth round on Saturday.
If McQuillan needs inspiration, he can do some research on John Daly. Back in 1991, the then-little known Daly grabbed the last spot in the PGA Championship in Carmel, Ind. when Nick Price withdrew to be with his expectant wife.
All Daly did was win the thing.
“I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing,” McQuillan said. “Hopefully, the putts keep dropping and I stay relaxed and have fun.