Popeck takes his swing at Web.com Tour
There is one player from Washington on golf’s Web.com Tour. John Popeck hopes to double that total before year’s end.
Popeck, a Washington native and 2008 Chartiers-Houston High School graduate, begins play Tuesday in the first stage of the Web.com Tour’s Qualifying School. The 23-year-old Popeck will be playing at Grasslands Country Club in Palm Beach, Fla., and attempting to advance to the second of three stages in qualifying school. The top 45 players at the final qualifying tournament in December will earn tour cards for 2014.
Steve Wheatcroft, a Washington native, played this year on the Web.com Tour and has one career victory on the circuit. Wheatcroft has been playing professionally, either on the PGA Tour or Web.com Tour, since 2006.
Popeck earned a spot in Q-school by placing fourth among a field of 78 golfers at a pre-qualifying tournament last month at Bear Lakes Country Club in Palm Beach, Fla. Popeck shot 4-under par for three rounds and was only three strokes behind the top finisher. Popeck’s 54 holes included 11 birdies and an eagle.
This week, approximately 25 players will advance to the second round of Q-school. The actual number will be announced later this week and it will be based on the number of entrants at each of the 12 first-stage sites.
“I’d like to win,” Popeck is quick to say. “You have to have the attitude that you expect to win. In reality, though, I just want to qualify for the next round. The whole thing is just to play well and get through to the next round.”
A former standout player at the University of Maryland, Popeck now resides in Winter Haven, Fla., and calls the Grand Cyprus Resort his home course. He has sponsorship that allows him to play professionally on the Florida Players Tour and the National Golf Association Tour.
“Golf down here is as competitive as it gets,” Popeck said. “The tours here attract the top kids just out of college, players from Europe. Golfers from all over come here, and everyone is trying to do the same thing – get to the Web.com Tour and the PGA Tour.”
Popeck has been playing exceptionally well this year, as his performance in Palm Beach suggests. This summer, he finished second in the Pennsylvania Open at Commonwealth National outside of Philadelphia.
After moving to Florida three years ago, Popeck began working with former PGA Tour player Larry Ziegler, who has seven professional tournament wins, and his son, Tony Ziegler.
“When I came down here, my swing was out of whack,” Popeck said. “It has taken some time to get it to where it is. Tony has spent a lot of time with me on the range. It has taken a couple of years to get the hang of what he’s been teaching me.
“One thing I’ve learned from working with Tony and Larry is that professional golf is all about hitting fairways and greens. That sounds so easy, but that’s what it comes down to. And it’s not just hitting them, it’s hitting certain spots. It’s shaping the shot five yards left or right.
“When I came out of college, I was like a lot of kids and wanted to hit everything 300 yards,” he continued. “That’s not a good idea in Florida, because you have days with winds of 35 mph. Throwing the ball up in the air is not the best idea. So I’ve learned how to hit logically and strategically, and not hit every drive 300 yards and every 7-iron 200 yards.”
If Popeck hits enough quality shots in this week’s 72-hole event, he’ll advance to the second stage of Q-school in November.
“At the qualifying tournament, with them taking the top 40 finishers, there was no doubt in my mind that I would advance,” Popeck said. “The further you get in Q-school, the numbers dwindle in terms of people advancing. You have less leeway. You have to shoot 10- or 12-under for four rounds to get through.”