Skip Kendall has played in more than 700 PGA Tour-sanctioned tournaments and has experienced just about everything imaginable, good and bad, on the golf course.
He has taken few roller-coaster rides, however, like the one he took in the final stage of PGA Tour Champions qualifying this week.
“You think?” Kendall said with a laugh Friday. “It was not quite the final you hope for, but it all worked out in the end.”
The 54-year-old Kendall, a Fox Point native and Glendale Nicolet High School graduate, survived a gauntlet of ups and downs in the 72-hole final stage at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz, Florida, to secure his PGA Tour Champions card for 2019.
He shot a final-round 69 and finished at 3-under-par 281, good for a tie for second place with Cliff Kresge, one shot behind winner Gibby Gilbert III, who rolled in a 70-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
Only the top five finishers earned fully exempt status. Greg Kraft and Stephen Leaney of Australia earned the final two spots in a four-for-two playoff.
“It’s a grind,” Kendall said in an interview with Wisconsin.Golf as he made the two-hour drive back to his home in Windermere, Florida. “You know every shot is significant. It’s pretty brutal out there, unlike any other event. There’s not next week. You’re playing for next year. There’s four rounds, and that’s it.”
Kendall opened with a 70 but then shot a 78 in the second round, playing the last five holes in 6-over par.
“I hit every fairway coming in, too,” he said. “It’s just, stuff happened. It’s golf. Stuff happens. I couldn’t get off the course fast enough.”
He bounced back to shoot a 64 in the third round and moved into the top five.
“Again, I’ve been at this long enough to know that tomorrow’s another day,” Kendall said. “I didn’t do anything differently, just got off to a decent start and kept it rolling. Nothing really changed. I hit some good shots, made some putts and all of a sudden it adds up to 7-under.”
The final round was a microcosm of his week. Kendall birdied Nos. 1 and 6, bogeyed Nos. 8 and 9 and birdied Nos. 10 and 11. Then he made another bogey on the short par-4 13th with a sand wedge from 105 yards. He was on the bubble with five holes to go.
“I was one down to the guys in my group (Leaney and Kraft) after making bogey,” Kendall said. “There’s no scoreboards so you don’t know where you stand, but I’m in the second-to-last group and the two guys in my group are beating me, so you know that’s not good.”
After hitting a good drive on the par-5 14th, Kendall had 240 yards left to a narrow green, with water all the way down the left side and bunkers down the right.
“Normally, I wouldn’t have gone for that green in any other situation,” he said. “It was one of those times it was almost like my Tin Cup: ‘We gotta go.’ I hit a great 3-wood in there, just striped it to 12 feet and made the putt. It was nice to see that one go in.”
The eagle gave him some breathing room, and a final bogey on the 17th hole wasn’t as costly as it otherwise would have been.
Kendall was not exempt on the PGA Tour Champions this year and played in just six events. He didn’t post a top-25 finish and earned just $33,538.
In June, at the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, he talked about possibly pursuing a college coaching job, and he has been mentoring several prominent junior players in Florida and working with a few professionals including Web.com Tour player Rob Oppenheim.
Kendall said he didn’t have a plan for 2019 if he failed to secure exempt status on the Champions tour.
“It was all up in the air,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to chase it like I have been doing. I might have gone to the (Monday qualifiers) in Florida, but I wasn’t going to go all over the country trying to qualify. I did start coaching and mentoring some competitive juniors and some professionals. I’m going to keep that going. When they played well, it almost felt like I was doing it.”
Now, however, he’ll be able to pick and choose his schedule and he said he planned to play a lot. He was exempt in 2017 but had only four top-25 finishes in 17 starts and lost his status. He has played in 41 Champions tour events since turning 50 in September 2014 and has three top-10s.
“The goal is to do a lot better than I did in 2017,” Kendall said. “I just did not play well and hopefully I can change that.”