Dec
3
2012
PGA Tour Q-School Monday: the agony and the ecstasy
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

The Dong earns medalist honors

Today was the last round of the last ever Q-school under the system that was in place since 1965. Longtime readers know I’m a Q-school romantic and I love the incredible stories and range of emotions, along with the drama, and I’m not alone. I’ve done my best over the past few weeks to describe the atmosphere.

To be honest, second stage was much more excruciating — probably because there wasn’t any live-scoring but in general the vibe was much more intense. Getting through second is usually the hardest part for the guys who have never made it to finals, along with the mini-tour journeymen, not to mention the veterans who had a terrible season.

 

Once you make it to finals, you’re guaranteed some kind of status, whether that is a PGA Tour card or conditional status on the Web.com Tour. For the players who started with nothing besides the mini tours, it’s a massive deal, along with the guys who have tried upwards of eight or more times and never gotten through second stage.

Things have changed in the last five years and now if you don’t place in the top 100, your playing opportunities are very limited. For example at 2011 Q-School, Adam Hadwin finished 100th and had 25 starts on the Web.com Tour. Which is quality. However, you go down to Benoit Beisser at T125 and he only got 5. Even further down the list, Jimmy Brandt finished 146th and recorded 4 starts. So, EVERY STROKE COUNTS.

But I digress. Back to the stories of the day.

Similar to the previous two I covered (2010 and 2011), once the last five or six groups start rolling in, the chaos ensues. It pretty much goes from zero to 100 real quick. The players who qualified are obviously elated — that goes for guys who earn their cards for the first time as well as the ones who have fulfilled their journeys. Again, I saw grown men cry (tears of joy).

Then, there are the players who became victim to the daunting 17th, a par-3 with an island green dubbed Alcatraz, and the 18th, a par-4 with water running along the entire left side of the hole.

The most inspiring story of the week

27-year-old Eric Meierdierks, who played the mini tours, lost his father five days before the first stage of Q-school. His good friend Bill Bohr, who looped for Eric in all three stages, said he’d never forget the date: October 10th. “He texted me and said ‑‑ he’s like, ‘My dad just died. We’re playing for him.’ And here we are.”

Incredible.

Meierdierks walked out of the scoring trailer with a big smile on his face, but he also fought back emotions when he spoke with the press. Understandably so. I think this story deserves its own separate post, so stay tuned.

Oh, the mental mistakes and mishaps

*Ed Loar started the day T3, 21-under. He was inside the number until he reached the 17th, where he dunked his tee shot into the water and posted a double-bogey. He found the hazard again on the 18th and made bogey, and ended up posting a six-over 78, 15-under total, to miss by two shots.

*Mark Anderson stuffed his tee shot on the par-3 17th and rolled in his birdie putt from inside 15 feet to get in the number. Unfortunately, he knocked his drive in the water off the tee on 18 and ended up making double-bogey to post 15-under, two shots from re-earning his PGA Tour card.

*After making eagle on the 16th, Bhavik Patel pulled to one shot outside the number at the time (-15). He dunked his tee shot and made double-bogey. I guess it’s a moot point since he would have needed to eagle the 18th.

*’09 Barclays champ Heath Slocum dunked his tee shot into the water on the 18th and ended with a bogey. However, he finished two outside the number, so he would have needed to birdie the 108th hole to re-earn his card.

*I think there were a few other water balls on Alcatraz from the guys who started on No. 10 at Stadium, but nothing else notable. I mean, there was no wind and guys probably had either an 8- or 9-iron.

The seven Web.com Tour grads who played Q-school because they enjoy it so much

Just kidding.

I’m not going to go through again and explain a player’s “number” or “eligibility standing” and reshuffles, etc. But I did earlier this week--it’s actually a big deal, especially in the upcoming shortened 2013 season, which is why seven guys–Lee Williams, Brad Fritsch, Morgan Hoffman, Brian Stuard, Andrew Svoboda, Nicholas Thompson and Jim Herman– endured six rounds of Q-school. Short version: the higher you finish in Q-school and on the Web.com Tour money list, your number determines your priority to get into tournaments.

These players did not count toward the top 25 and ties that secured their PGA Tour card through Q-school, or against the next number nearest 50 to determine the fully-exempt Web.com Tour membership.

Fritsch was the only one who improved his number. He finished T7th at Q-school, so his number went from No. 36 (finished 18th on the Web.com Tour money list) to probably 14 or 15. Basically, he is now 21 spots better off than he was for the West Coast swing before the first reshuffle. Huge.

“It was definitely worth it,” said Fritsch, a 35-year-old Canadian who will be a PGA Tour rookie in 2013.

It’s been a long journey for Fritsch, who has tried his hand at Q-school a dozen times, which makes it more gratifying.

He’s among the majority of players who are sad the current system is being replaced.

“No, this is so cool,” said Fritsch when asked if he was happy it was the last Q-school, “especially those finishing holes.

“They’re so visually intimidating. I  wanted to hit a hybrid off the last tee and I looked at my caddie and said, ‘Can’t I just be a man for once and sack up and hit a 3-wood.’ So I did and I ripped it. That’s’ the kind of stuff you don’t think of in regular tournaments, but you do out here.”

Darn it, Nicholas Thompson!

Thompson, one of the seven Web.com Tour grads, started the day inside the top 25 at T15. He shot two-over 74, which included a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 5th hole. He finished 15-under, two shots outside 17-under, the cut-off score.

Why does this matter?

Well, it kind of doesn’t, but it really does to the five players–Danny Lee, Vince Covello, Matthew Goggin, Kevin Kisner and Oliver Fisher–who shot 16-under. Boo.

(Kisner stuffed his approach on 18 to about 12 feet. His putt looked good until the last moment when it just veered to the side. He thought it was going in. So did I. That was a gut-wrenching and heartbreaker. /sad face)

All heart

Erik Compton, who is on his third heart, shot a second consecutive five-under 67 to re-earn his card and finish T7th.

“Four years after what I went through (his second heart transplant), you can’t even dream a story like that,” said Compton. “Next year, I know the golf courses and I don’t have to grind as hard on that, and I can play like I have the last two rounds of Tour school, it should be fun.”

Compton tossed and turned the last two nights and only got about two hours of sleep.

“There’s a sense of urgency for me,” he said. “I don’t know what my health is, and I know if one year goes by and I have to go back to the Web.com Tour I would probably really beat myself up, so now I don’t have to do that.”

Wise decision

Ross Fisher, who is ranked no. 99 in the world, had to play in second stage and then decided to skip the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Championship in Dubai to focus his efforts on Q-school finals.

It paid off.

Despite hitting it in the water on 18, Fisher dropped a 12-footer to save bogey and posted a five-under 66, -24, to tie for runner-up honors. Fisher, a four-time European Tour winner and member of the victorious 2010 European Ryder Cup team, will be considered a PGA Tour rookie, though he’s made 37 career starts in the U.S.

Fisher described the six-round grueling week as “Groundhog Day.”

“It’s like we’ve been here for almost a month,” he said. “We got here last Friday, so we’ve been here a long time.  I wanted to give it my all, that’s why I opted out of not playing Dubai.  I wanted to focus on this, come out, feel fresh when the gun went on Wednesday.”

He clearly made the right choice, which he said earlier in the week was difficult because he hadn’t played in an event with a purse for about two months. However, he did earn $25,000 for securing his card, so that’s something.

“I felt like I played pretty solid all week, one disappointing round of level par, but having said that, I missed one green that day.  Just didn’t have it.  But it come out the last two days, 5‑under yesterday, gave me a bit of breathing space to come out today and play as well as I did obviously with a little mishap on the last, but 6‑under, I feel really, really proud of myself for what I’ve achieved.”

As he should.

Meanwhile, Alex Noren, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castana, and Marcus Fraser, who are ranked in the top 60 in the world, along with Romain Wattel, played in Dubai. They didn’t fare so well this week.

Credit Noren and Wattel, who both had to endure second stage, the week before the DP World Championship. It’s been a long three weeks for those two. Noren finished T73 and Wattel placed T118. Of the six players who were in Dubai, Noren and Wattel were the only two to play all 108 holes.

They could have withdrawn and no one would have blamed them, but they stuck it out. Well played.

Cabrera-Bello withdrew on Monday after one hole.

The Dong

Okay, there are so many storylines and Dong Hwan Lee, who birdied the last three holes to earn medalist honors (and $50,000), deserves his own separate post. The 26-year-old played on the Japan Tour, but had a two-year respite from golf starting in December 2008 to January 2011, because of South Korea’s compulsory military service.

Lee is the first international player to win Q-School since England’s Brian Davis in 2004.

The four rookies who qualified via all four stages

Donald Constable, Derek Ernst, Henrik Norlander and 17-year-old Si Woo Kim (which also will get his own post because of his complicated situation…and I watched him play 8 holes today–takeaway: WOW!) earned their PGA Tour cards by starting their journeys at pre-qualifying and getting through the next three stages. Which means they succeeded in their first try at Q-school.

That’s impressive.

The most clutch player in qualifiers

See, told you that the Tour should have printed a card with Patrick Reed’s name on it before the week even started. He Monday qualified for 6 PGA Tour events in 2012, which is unheard of. To say he plays well in qualifiers is an understatement. What’s more, Reed managed to recover from a second-round 75!

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Here is a list of the 26 players who collected PGA TOUR cards this week. The list contains the total career starts on the PGA TOUR for each of the players with the 2012 rookies (11 total) listed in bold:

Player                          Career Starts   

Dong Hwan Lee            1                                             

Ross Fisher                  37

Steve LeBrun               3                                             

Richard H. Lee              24

Billy Horschel                49

Kris Blanks                   102

Erik Compton                56

Brad Fritsch                 5                                                         

Jin Park                        39

Fabian Gomez               26

Michael Letzig               97

Jeff Gove                     163

Steven Bowditch           75

Matt Jones                    120

Robert Karlsson                        103

Eric Meierdierks           1                                                         

Scott Langley               5                                                                     

Aaron Watkins               21

Derek Ernst                  1                                                         

Si Woo Kim                  0                                                                     

Tag Ridings                  182

Donald Constable         0                     

Bobby Gates                61

Patrick Reed                 15                                                                    

Henrik Norlander          0                                 

Chez Reavie                  131

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Consolation prize

The next nearest-number-to-50 earned fully exempt Web.com Tour cards for the first 10 events in 2013 before a reshuffle are the 46 players who shot 16-under to 10-under.

The rest of the field receives conditional status, which I discussed in one of the opening paragraphs.

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Big names who missed? Oh, where do I start? Well, Camilo Villegas. See the full leaderboard here.

OK, stay tuned for more to come. There are just too many great stories!

RIP Q-School. You will be missed.

(Getty Images/Stuart Franklin)