This is how the dream works, Mr. Young Aspiring Golfer.
Hone your amateur skills at home – or abroad, if necessary. Put together a good college career, then plunk down $450 and try to launch that professional career in a Monday qualifier on a developmental tour.
Once you’ve successfully scaled that hurdle, hit the ground running and make birdies. Lots of them.
Voila! Now you’re in Sebastian Cappelen’s shoes.
After firing his second consecutive 5-under-par 65 on Saturday, Cappelen, a 24-year-old from Denmark, owns a two-shot lead after three rounds of the 25th Air Capital Classic at Crestview Country Club.
Cappelen, a four-time All-American at Arkansas, is thriving in his pro debut. Starting the day tied for second behind former Kansas State golfer Aaron Watkins, Cappelen moved to the top with three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back nine of the 6,926-yard North course.
“It’s all new for me and I’m just trying to do what I know best,” said Cappelen, who snagged the last of six qualifying spots Monday evening at Auburn Hills. “That’s just play golf. It’s taken me this far and now, hopefully, it can keep going.”
Fourteen years ago, Ben Crane was 24 and not far removed from his college days at Oregon when he came to Wichita and advanced through open qualifying at Tallgrass. He then shot a tournament-record 25-under par to win in the Web.com Tour’s final run at Willowbend.
Crane, who earned his fifth PGA Tour victory two weeks ago in Memphis, is one of 20 Monday qualifying champions in the Web.com’s 25-year history. He is the only one to do it in Wichita.
To match that feat, Cappelen will have to hold off his closest pursuer, 31-year-old Andres Gonzales, and a diverse group of golfers that includes nine within four shots of the lead. Gonzales, who shot a 66 Saturday, completed 54 holes at 12 under to earn a spot in the final pairing with Cappelen.
“I’ve played pretty solid this year,” said Gonzales, who has made seven previous cuts and finished in the top 25 in all of them. “I’ve given myself a lot of opportunities. It’s just a matter of capitalizing on them.”
Gonzales was the hard-luck story of last year’s inaugural Web.com Tour Finals. He missed earning a 2013-14 PGA Tour card by one spot after Lee Williams – Gonzales’ playing partner in the last round of the Web.com Tour Championship’s final round – rolled in a 45-foot putt to secure enough earnings in the four-event Finals that left Gonzales as the first man out.
“Lee Williams is a good friend of mine and we were both out there trying to do the same thing,” Gonzales said. “I was very happy for him. It was disappointing that it knocked me out, but if I belonged out there this year, I’d be out there.”
Instead, Gonzales has one man to pass and others that would like to track him down, too. South Georgia Classic champion Blayne Barber (67), Matt Weibring (66), Rob Oppenheim (67) and Sung Joon Park are tied for third at 11 under. Park’s 64 was the low round of the day.
Four others trail Cappelen by four shots, including Watkins, the first- and second-round leader. Watkins made no birdies and three bogeys in his first 10 holes and salvaged a 1-over 71 by holing out from 30 yards for eagle at the par-5 14th.
“I was like, ‘Oh, maybe that’ll open the floodgates,’ not even thinking that we’d already played 14 holes,” Watkins said. “It was just one of those days. Call it golf, because all of the other four-letter words were taken.”
Watkins played in the final pairing with Tom Gillis, whose critical Twitter postings earlier in the week put him at odds with many local fans. Gillis shot a 71 while a sheriff’s deputy accompanied him around the course and through a chorus of boos at the festive par-3 17th.
With many of the fans following Gillis up No. 18, he chipped in for par, signed his scorecard, then posed for a couple pictures and departed with the deputy.
“We expected it to probably be a little bit more than it was,” said Watkins, a friend of Gillis’. “We were ready for it. There wasn’t anything until the last two holes. … It was all in good fun.”
There’s little doubt the week has been fun so far for Cappelen. Qualifying for the Air Capital Classic gave him the chance to compete against former Southeastern Conference rivals like Cory Whitsett and Justin Thomas (Alabama), and Barber (Auburn). In the evenings, he’s put golf on the back burner by spending time with his girlfriend and caddie.
On Sunday afternoon, a victory would remove a little of the unknown that existed when he teed it up at Auburn Hills on Monday.
“It’s a dream, and sometimes dreams come true,” Cappelen said. “For me it’s just happening right now.
“I know it’s not going to be like this every week, but you’ve got to take it when it’s there, and take it as far as you can.”