Demystifying Q-School: The Ones That Got Away
By Stephanie Wei under General

It’s a nerve-racking time for a number of players trying to keep their spot on the PGA Tour. Otherwise, it’s back to the spirit-crushing rigors of Q-school. Even some of the best players, ones that have won in past years, might have to return to Q-school. And this year there are a few on the cusp of top 125 on the money list, who are in danger of losing their cards — like ‘02 PGA Champion Rich Beem, David Duval (Mr. I-almost-made-the greatest-comeback-ever-at-the-US-Open), ‘03 British Open Champion Ben Curtis, and veterans Stuart Appleby and Rocco Mediate.

With all the competition and talent out there, not to mention the pressure, it’s not easy. Take Danny Lee: Touted as one of tomorrow’s stars, the 19-year-old former U.S. Amateur champion was cruelly ousted in the first stage already. (Some can gain exempt status through the first one or two stages, but most face three grueling stages against formidable fields.)

An elite few have dodged Q-school. Playing on sponsors’ exemptions, it only took Tiger five starts to win his first tournament as a professional at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s only one player since Tiger to earn his Tour card by making enough money to put him in the top-125, and that is Ryan Moore in 2005.

He turned pro after graduating from UNLV in June. After missing two cuts in four starts, he took some time away to work on his swing. When he returned from a two-month hiatus in September, he placed T2 at the Bell Canadian Open. Then, with his T13 finish at the FUNAI Classic at the WALT DISNEY WORLD Resort, he moved to 113th on the final money list.

Interestingly enough, Moore has received some flak for his nontraditional path to the Tour:

It’s funny because everyone says, ‘you had it easy and took the easy out.’ Obviously Q-school is hard, but I definitely didn’t have the easy out because every week I played, it was like Q-school for me. And if I didn’t make [the top 125 on the money list], then I would have gone to [Q-school] right after. Every week, every shot I hit could have made the difference whether I got my card. That’s why not as many people do it that way. The people I was playing against were already on the PGA Tour. In Q-school, they aren’t — not to say they’re not good players — they all are, especially in the final stages. But I earned my card against people that proved they belong there already.

Moore recently played with 20-year-old standout Rickie Fowler at the tournament in Las Vegas. There’s been a ton of chatter about whether Fowler will be the next player to go this route. But if he doesn’t, Moore seems to imply Rickie won’t have a problem getting his Tour card either way:

Rickie has serious game and a great attitude. He was really positive, not slamming clubs or cursing. He was happy the whole way around even when things weren’t going perfectly, and that in my mind gives him a very good chance to get through Q-school.

After only two starts, Fowler is T-135 on the money list and a solid showing at this week’s Viking Classic could easily move him within the cut line. And, yes, it would be just as back-breaking and impressive, if not more.

[Photos by (from L to R) Harry How, Streeter Lecka & Robert Labarge/Getty Images]