Tim O’Neal making headway on PGA Champions Tour

Former Jackson State golfer proving he belongs playing among the best golfers in the world.

Former Jackson State golfer Tim O’Neal posted his second top ten finish of the year last week on the PGA TOUR Champions. The tour was formerly known as the Senior PGA Tour.

He closed with an eagle on the par-5 18th hole after a shaky closing stretch to tie T9 at the Boeing Classic in Snoqualmie, Washington. It was his best finish of the year.

Through 15 events, O’Neal sits at 44th in the Charles Schwab Cup standings with nine events left before the Tour championship on Nov. 9-12 in Phoenix, Arizona. The top 36 automatically earn their cards for next season.

He is teeing it up this week at the Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. It will be played at the Canyon Meadows Golf & Country Club Friday thru Sunday. Two-hour first round TV coverage begins on Friday (Aug. 18) at 3 p.m. on Peacock TV. The Golf Channel will carry Saturday and Sunday’s coverage from 4-7 p.m.

Shaky, but fine finish for Tim O’Neal

O’Neal shot 70-66 on the par 72 course of The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge near Seattle. He entered Sunday’s final round at 8 under par. After 13 holes Sunday, he was 2-under for the round and 10-under for the tournament. He was in position to claim a top-five finish behind eventual winner Stephen Ames, who won at 19-under.

But O’Neal bogeyed the 14th and 16th holes, before putting two balls in the water on the par 3 17th for a quadruple bogey 7. He’d gone 6 over in a four-hole stretch and dropped from T3 to outside the top 10 with only the par-5 18th to play.

“I was not happy,” O’Neal said in a story by Bob McClellan, featured on the Champions Tour website Wednesday. “I was seeing red. But I hit a good drive in the fairway (on 18). Had 203 (yards) to the front, 224 to the hole, wind hurting a little bit. Hit a 4-iron just right at it. I didn’t realize it was that close till I got up to the green.”

The ball landed within 2 feet of the hole. He tapped it in for an eagle, salvaging his round and the tournament.

His final round 2-over 74 allowed him to finish at -6, tied with three other golfers for ninth.

Where Tim O’Neal stands

Always known for his driving prowess off the tee, O’Neal currently leads the PGA TOUR Champions in Driving Distance with an average of 306.2 yards. If he maintains this length, he will rank second all-time in the category. He ranks 47th in stroke average at 71.98. He is competing with the likes of Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, David Toms and others with sterling PGA resumes.

What has hurt him, he says is his wedge game.

“They get it inside 120 yards, they don’t miss,” O’Neal told McClellan of senior players like Steve Stricker and Bernhard Langer, who are 1-2 in money winnings on the tour. “Any time those guys have wedge in their hands, it’s on. And it’s not just sometimes. It’s consistently.

“That’s where I need to get.” Stricker has amassed over $3 million in earnings this season, Langer and Ames are over $1.6 million.

After his $55,000 payday Sunday, O’Neal has made $295.121 so far this season with five top 25 finishes. His previous bests were a T10 at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic and a T11 at the Regions Tradition, both in May.

The Tim O’Neal story

O’Neal helped Jackson State under then head coach Eddie Payton to its first NCAA Div. I Golf Tournament berth in 1995. He was also on the team that won the first of 23 straight men’s SWAC golf titles. O’Neal celebrated his 51st birthday on Aug. 3.

At JSU, he won 16 college golf tournaments and was a star. In his final season (1997), he led the nation with a 71.83 stroke average and also won the Georgia Amateur Championship. Tiger Woods, then of Stanford, had led the nation in 1996 with a average of 70.61. Professional stardom as the next great African-American in professional golf appeared on the horizon for O’Neal.

Twice, in 2000 and 2004, he missed out by a single stroke at qualifying school on gaining his PGA Tour card. He has played on every iteration of the PGA’s secondary tours including the Buy.com, Nationwide, Web.com and Korn Ferry Tours. He has also competed on the APGA Tour. Internationally, he has competed on the Asian Tour, the EGolf Professional Tour, the EPD Tour and at the Morocco-based Atlas Pro Tour.

In 2013, he won two events on the PGA Tour Latimamerica that allowed him to regain his card on the Web.com Tour. Seven times he failed to make the cut while playing in PGA Tour events.

Making the grade, burying demons

Despite the crushing setbacks at PGA Q-school early in his career, O’Neal was just one of five players to earn their PGA TOUR Champions card at Q-school last December. He had one of the most clutch finishes ever, birdieing four of his last six holes to shoot a second straight six-under-par 65 and tie for third to earn his full card for the 2023 season.

ALL SMILES: O’Neal smiles after completing his final round of Champions Tour Q-School and earning his card.

“Q-School has never been fun for me,” O’Neal said at the time. “This is a new beginning for me finally having status on the PGA Tour. I’m looking forward to 2023.”

He’s proving he belongs.

Tim O’Neal making headway on PGA Champions Tour
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