Nov
28
2012
2013 PGA Tour Q-school preview: glory’s real last shot
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Charlie Beljan's Cinderella story started when he earned his card at Q-school finals in 2011

As longtime WUP readers know, Q-school is my favorite tournament to cover all season. (Heck, I even went to second stage this year!–talk about the nerve-wracking atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.) Rather than going to Tiger Woods’ member-guest 22-man invite-only World Challenge in the L.A. area, I drove about three hours east to the desert, more specifically PGA West in La Quinta, for what I consider the most intriguing event of the year. Especially since 2012 is the LAST Q-SCHOOL EVER (as we know it — there will no longer be a direct pathway to the PGA Tour).

Let’s take a moment of silence to celebrate and remember 45 years of the only professional sporting event where you can start at Q-school pre-qualifying with no status and then play up to four different stages (full tournaments with strong fields) in the grueling process, which ends with the six-round finals, to earn full status on the PGA Tour for the following season. Ain’t that great?

Everybody loves a “Rudy” and Cinderella story.

This year’s field is especially strong — mostly because a lot of international players from the European and Asian Tours decided to give it a shot since it was their last chance to go through Q-school. To put it in perspective, there was only one top-60 players at the Fall Series finale, the Childrens Miracle Network Classic, and only two top-100 players at the Puerto Rico Open (exaggeration but at quick glance, it seems like half the field of this year’s event is also [back] at finals), an “opposite field” event that is contested the same week as the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. I didn’t check, but I’m betting there were less than five guys ranked in the top 100 of the world rankings in the field at the Mexico tourney, the Viking Classic and Reno Open.

At Q-school finals, contested at two courses at PGA West, the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course, there are four players in the top 60. From the latest edition of the Official World Golf Ranking, the field includes: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (No. 33), Alex Noren (51), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (53) and Marcus Fraser (58). Add Ross Fisher (99), a four-time winner on the European Tour and member of the victorious 2010 European Ryder Cup team, and you have five players ranked in the top 100.

Noren, Fernandez-Castano, Cabrera-Bello and 21-year-old Romain Wattel of France (keep your eye on this kid–he’s a stick) played at the DP World Championship in Dubai last week. Wattel and Noren (who dropped from no. 49 to 51 this week) weren’t ranked in the top 50 at the deadline, so they weren’t exempt to the final stage, like Fernandez Castno and Cabrera-Bello. So, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Wattel and Noren.

Both played in second stage the week before Thanksgiving, then flew to the Middle East for the European Tour season-closer, and back again to the States for finals. Noren and Wattel both arrived in the desert on Monday afternoon, whereas most players have been here since at least Saturday.

I spoke to Noren, who was like the Walking Dead on Tuesday afternoon, while he was on his way to walk the back nine at Nicklaus Tournament. He played 18 at the Stadium Course in the morning and walked the front nine of Nicklaus on Monday afternoon after his 16-hour trip from Dubai.

Meanwhile, Fisher decided to skip the DP World Championship and focus his efforts on finals.

“I qualified (for finals) obviously through second stage,” said Fisher on Tuesday afternoon, “and it would have meant going straight to Dubai, playing Dubai and then leaving there Sunday, getting here late (on Monday).

“So I figured if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it properly.  Yes, it would have been nice to have played in it.  It might have been different if I was maybe around 20th going into it, but I was just outside top 30, so it was still decent, but I just thought, I’m going to concentrate on doing this properly.”

Aside: Morgan Hoffman (Rickie Fowler’s roommate and former teammate at Oklahoma State) was filling out his “Media Guide Questionnaire” and I had just come in from a productive day on the course and the practice areas. I mentioned Noren’s ranking and journey, and Hoffman looked bewildered that the No. 51 ranked player in the world had to play not only Q-school finals, but went through second stage. “Why?” he asked. Ah, kids! (It’s incredibly refreshing.) Oh, in case you were wondering, Hoffman’s dream foursome is: Will Ferrell, Jessica Alba and Charles Barkley.

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Q-school by the numbers: breaking down the number of applicants to the 25 or so guys who will walk away with PGA Tour cards on Monday.

*A total of 1,588 players sent in applications to compete in the 2012 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.

*Eight pre-qualifiers, 14 first stage sites and six second-stage events were held to reduce the field. 49 players were exempt into the final stage. There are 172 guys competing for the last-ever Q-School (under the current and traditional system) at PGA West. The top 25 (plus ties) will walk away with their 2013 PGA Tour cards.

*Worth mentioning that due to the compressed 2013 season, it’s especially important to have a high finish this year because it determines your priority status, also known as “your number.”

*The top 25 money list finishers on the Web.com Tour “graduated” and secured their PGA Tour cards. There are quite a few guys who are playing Q-school to improve their priority number so they can get as many starts as possible early in the season.

The Web.com Tour money list winner is No. 1 and then the Q-school medalist is No. 2 and then it alternates back-and-forth from there depending on where you finished on the money list and Q-school finals. For example, several guys, like Morgan Hoffman (19 on Web.com Tour money list), Andrew Svoboda (21) and Nicholas Thompson (22), have their Tour cards locked, but they’re competing for a better number, which will be important to help lock the maximum number of starts on the West Coast at the start of the season.

*After the top 25, the next nearest-number-to-50 will earn fully exempt Web.com Tour cards for the first 10 events in 2013, and the remainder of the field will receive conditional status (which won’t be very good with the condensed schedule and the fact that 5 of the first 7 events are in Central or South America, and for many guys, they don’t find out they’re in an event until a day or two before and it’s not cheap to buy a last-minute ticket…anywhere, but it’s even more costly for international travel).

*Twelve players qualified by making it through all three stages (pre-qualifier, first stage, and second stage): Lee Bedford, Donald Constable, Derek Ernst, Dusty Fielding, Vince Hatfield, Stephen Jaeger, Si Woo Kim, Joakim Mikkelsen, Henrik Norlander, Bhavik Patel, Ryan Sullivan and James White. /round of applause–that’s impressive and not an easy feat…plenty of “big” names didn’t get through second stage.

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I’ve joined a media pool where we pick 25 players who we think will earn cards. Because I’m extremely superstition, I’m not going to publicly post those names, but my colleagues will vouch for me.

The conditions are perfect this week and completely different than last year. There’s been hardly any wind and warm temperatures, unlike several uber-gusty days in 2011 (where it was like 55 degrees with 30mph winds). It’s supposed to stay as it has been during the practice rounds.

As the most-cliched Q-school saying goes, DOME GOLF! If you look at the results of previous years, the qualifying score  ranges from like 20-under to 8-under. I’m guessing this year the medalist will shoot at least 25-under, maybe even 28 — in fact, someone might beat Harrison Fraser’s 32-under record (which included a 59).

With the relatively easy conditions, it becomes more of a putting contest, so keep your eye on the guys who stroke the flatstick best, or actually I should say, the guys who happen to have a hot hand this week.

However, I will name a few guys to look out for: Meen Whee Kim (who I wrote about at 2nd stage); Stephen Jaeger, Morgan Hoffman (who already has his card via finishing top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list), Michael Putnam, Peter Tomasulo, H.S. Kim, to name a few. Oh, might as well print out a card for Patrick Reed since he’s so good at qualifying (Monday Qualified for 6 PGA Tour events in 2012, which is incredibly rare). Of course, look out for all the top-ranked Euros, but a little concerned how they’ll handle six, long rounds of Q-school with the jetlag, etc. — more so for Noren and Wattel since they played second stage.

Wow, every time I look at the field I notice another *name* or recent Tour winner. It’s unreal how many really good players are here, but that’s just the way it works (not for long–new system is good for veterans and guys already in the system…in other words, I think it is a cushion for good yet mediocre guys just scraping by to re-earn their cards instead of giving fresh blood a chance…)

Some recent PGA Tour winners: Heath Slocum won the ’09 Barclays. Todd Hamilton won the ’04 Open Championship, Arjun Atwal won the ’10 Wyndham Championship, four-time PGA Tour winner Steve Flesch, five-time PGA Tour winner Billy Mayfair, three-time PGA Tour winner Camilo Villegas won the ’10 Honda Classic (also, he’s making his Q-school finals debut because he got his card via the Nationwide Tour), and that’s just off the top of my head! — the list goes on…

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Oh, wow, this post got pretty long. Might come up with a separate piece on the five or six different types of players you run into at Q-school…this isn’t finished yet, but I have examples of each category and spoke with a bunch of guys to give a variety of perspectives.

*The PGA Tour winner/veteran/journeyman

*The International (the European Tour/Asian Tour players)

*The young gun

*The Finals virgin

*The mini-tour grinder

*The Q-school/Web.com Tour journeyman

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Good luck to all.

See you soon for the much-anticipated USGA/R&A announcement re: anchoring ban. Can you feel the excitement?!

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*Ed. note, Tuesday 11:27pm PST: This is far from complete and I’m going to update this post tomorrow (Wednesday), but it’s been a crazed day with this big announcement on anchoring from the USGA/R&A in the morning, so I haven’t been able to finish transcribing all my interviews — it’s great and refreshing here at Q-school because guys are so much friendlier and willing to stop and chat for 10 minutes or more (on the PGA Tour, everyone is rushing to get from one place to the next…). I had a very productive Tuesday (almost too productive), but I think the big-time golf fans will find the info intriguing.

(Photo via)