BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City's Randy Hutchison is preparing for what could be his toughest test yet as a professional golfer — the final qualifying stage in the PGA Tour's Q school.
Hutchison earned a berth in the finals — six-rounds to be played at PGA West in California starting later this month — by tying for 12th in the second stage that ended last Friday. The former Traverse City Central standout shot a four-round 8-under 280 at the Redstone Golf Club in Humble Texas.
The top 25 finishers in the final stage earn their PGA Tour card. The next 50 earn a Web.Com Tour card.
Hutchison had failed to advance past the second stage the past two years. He missed last year by four shots.
"I'm already a step ahead of where I was last year," he said. "I look at it now like the pressure's off. I can just go out there, play golf and see what happens.
"Even if you finish outside the top 75, you'll have conditional status on Web.Com no matter what."
Hutchison said he expects to face a field that includes PGA Tour players — like Todd Hamilton, a British Open champ in 2004; and Shaun Micheel, a PGA champ in 2003 — and Web.Com Tour players.
"It will be good competition," he said. "But they're not any better than I am. You just have to go out and play good golf, obviously."
That's what he did at Redstone, carding rounds of 70, 68, 72 and 70.
"It was a good week," he said. "I kept my mistakes to bogeys rather than doubles or triples. If you make a couple of those (doubles or triples) it can put you out of it quickly. That was my goal last week and I executed it really well. I'll need a similar game out in California."
Hutchison, who is arriving home today for Thanksgiving, departs for California on Saturday. There will be three practice rounds before six days of what promises to be intense competition.
"It will be a grind, that's for sure," he said.
When Hutchison finished his final round at Redstone on Friday, there were other golfers still on the course. But he felt confident he would make the cut anyway. The cut turned out to be 7-under.
"It wasn't that nerve-wracking (of a finish) because when I finished I was tied for 10th and most of the other players out there were already ahead of me," he said. "I knew when I finished I was pretty much good."
Hutchison's former teammate at Michigan State, Ryan Brehm, just missed the cut. He finished at 6-under 282.