By Anthony Spaulding, New Jersey Herald

New Jersey native Ryan Snouffer has taken a huge step in his pro golf career.

The 23-year-old Jefferson native and former standout amateur has qualified to play on the PGA Tour Canada after passing the tour's Q-School.

Snouffer, who turned pro last August, tied for 12th at the Q-School's four-round tournament that was held last Tuesday through Friday at the PGA Golf Club's Wanamaker Course in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He shot an even-par total score of 288 to place in the top 16, which is the cutoff to be guaranteed a spot on the tour -- also known as the Mackenzie Tour.

With his finish, Snouffer will be guaranteed to play in the tour's first four events. When reached on Saturday, Snouffer couldn't help but feel excited about becoming an actual tour player.

"This is a great start," Snouffer said in a telephone interview from Palm City, Fla., where he resides. "I wasn't expecting to make it the first time around. I knew I was in a good place with my golf game, but I didn't play too well coming into it. I grinded it out over the four days, worked my butt off and earned status."

Snouffer turned pro after having a stellar amateur career as a representative for both Panther Valley Golf & Country Club and Essex County Country Club. He also played golf at Seton Hall University. He recorded four first-place finishes and 11 top-10 finishes, made the finals of the Metropolitan Amateur Championship, qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championship and qualified for the U.S. Open sectional qualifier.

When he moved to Palm City on Oct. 30 and became a member of Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach to get started on his career, Snouffer found out pretty quickly that he had to make a number of changes to his golf game. That's because he only made $300 in his first month down there after competing in a couple of events on the Minor League Golf Tour, a tour filled with aspiring golfers looking to play on the PGA, and Champions tours, and he saw how extremely tough the competition was.

Over the next four months, Snouffer found a new golf coach in Matt Messer, a PGA teaching professional who works at Bear Lakes. With Messer's help, Snouffer was able to "understand the golf swing" better than he had at any point of his career.

These changes ultimately led him to the most important finish of his pro career so far.

Snouffer opened Q-School by shooting a 1-over-par 73 after making three birdies, 11 pars and four bogeys during his round. In the second round, Snouffer climbed up the leaderboard to finish in a tie for 18th by firing a 1-under 71 after carding four birdies, 11 pars and three bogeys.

Then in the third round, Snouffer made his biggest jump of the tournament by moving into a tie for 11th heading into the final after posting another 71 in which he made four birdies, 11 pars and three bogeys. And with only 18 holes to go, Snouffer could see the possibility of him making the tour, but he knew he had to conquer one aspect of his game if he wanted to earn a spot on the tour.

"I always had gotten nervous in these situations in the past," Snouffer said. "But I kept telling myself, ‘You belong here. You work this hard. You can do it.'?"

In the final round, Snouffer's nerves looked as if they were going to get the best of him, as he had shot a 2-over 38 in his first nine holes. At the time, Snouffer was in danger of dropping out of the top 16.

But, Snouffer got back into good standing by making a birdie on his 10th hole, which was the 548-yard, par-5 first hole on the Wanamaker Course, and made five straight pars. Then on his 16th hole, Snouffer converted a huge birdie on the 535-yard, par-5 seventh hole to get back to even for the round and 1-under for the tournament.

"That hole, I hit a really good drive and hit a really good iron to about 15 feet, where I just lipped out on a putt for eagle," Snouffer said. "That hole gave me a little cushion going into the last two holes and it felt good."

On the next hole, Snouffer made a bogey to drop back to 1-over for the round and even for the tourney, making his 18th hole the most important hole of his career at that point. But, unlike the times where he unraveled and wound up falling short of a win or higher finish, Snouffer made a huge par on the 449-yard, par 4 ninth hole after just lipping out on a birdie putt to card another 73 and seal his spot on PGA Tour Canada.

"It was nerve-wracking every second of it," Snouffer said. "But, to finish pretty strong was great. I had no double bogeys all week, which was great. I was proud of myself for not letting it get out of hand."

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