Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Here We Go Again!

I'm sorry for the extended absence. I've been thoroughly enjoying the holidays, and I hope all of my readers had a nice break and are excited for the new year.

The PGA TOUR season is just one day away, and I'm expecting some fireworks. Tiger's long-awaited return will keep everyone on the edge of their seats, and I'm predicting the guy comes back stronger than ever in 2009. I leave in a couple of weeks for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs, and I'm anxious to get back out into the TOUR mix.

Adding closure to my Webb Simpson "Watch"...the first-year pro from Wake Forest played six straight rounds under par at Q-School Finals, easily finished in the top 25, and captured a coveted TOUR card for this year. I knew that kid could do it! The medalist at Q-School was my friend Harrison Frazar, who was so down on his game a couple of years ago that he considered a new line of work. Hopefully this small victory will catapault him to great things in 2009 (Comeback Player of the Year?). If you love the game golf, you never throw in the towel...way to hang in there, Harrison.

Everyone should keep an eye on two other long shots who made it through Q-School, solely because these guys are living proof of "never in my wildest dreams"! Brian Vranesh, a 31-year old from Arizona who was waiting tables just a year ago, shot a final round 65 to make it right on the number. Matthew Borchert, also 31, was washing golf carts at a club in Orlando in early 2008 just to make ends meet. He also shot 65 on the last day. I'm going to be rooting hard for these "underdogs" this year, in hopes that they can improve their TOUR status and enjoy their new tax bracket.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Q-School second stage is no picnic

I spent last week on the scoreboard at Callaway Gardens, one of the second stage locations for the PGA TOUR's Q-School. Seventy-eight players were vying for the top twenty spots (plus ties) to advance to next month's grueling six-day final stage at PGA West in California. It's surprising how many well-known pros have to endure the second stage after they have fallen on hard times. At Callaway Gardens alone, the group included past TOUR winners Chris Riley (on the U.S. Ryder Cup team just four years ago), Olin Browne, Billy Andrade, Chris Smith, Tom Scherrer, Carlos Franco, Robert Damron, Jim Gallagher Jr., Mike Heinen, Ian Leggatt, Jim McGovern, Michael Clark II and Len Mattiace...and there were three other second stage sites around the country with similar fields!

A local official was taken aback by the surly mood of one of these pros before the first round. I reminded him that Q-School is much different than any other tournament these guys play in. Some participants, the youthful TOUR wannabes who have graduated here through first stage, are all excited and hopeful of realizing their dream. This week is full of nothing but promise for them.

But for the seasoned veterans who have spent years (some decades) out on TOUR, this week symbolizes something of a failure. Their V.I.P. Pass to the Big Show has been revoked, and now they finally face the daunting task of clawing their way back into the party. Surviving the final stage of Q-School is strenuous enough, but having to also grind your way through second stage, for these guys, is downright annoying. It's enough to make anyone surly.

You needed to play inspired golf to advance (9-under for four rounds was the number at Callaway Gardens), and only five of the thirteen pros above will be teeing it up at final stage. I wish them the best, and for the eight who didn't make it, I hope they can rebound quickly from the disappointment.

Concerning young Webb Simpson, who I mentioned in my last post...he did not earn enough money at the end of the Nationwide Tour's season to secure his 2009 TOUR card. Webb also played at Callaway Gardens, however, and made it through at 10-under par. So now he's off to California to try and lock up his card the hard way: posting six solid rounds to finish in the top 25 out of 150+ scrappy pros. Webb, you should heed the advice of Q-School survivor Ron Whittaker...stock up on Pepto-Bismol and Ambien!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Monday qualifiers...Keep hope alive!

Last week I was handling the calligraphy scoreboard at the Nationwide Tour's Chattanooga Classic presented by Black Creek. Arjun Atwal from India took home the winner's check after he birdied the first playoff hole (setting the new course record with a 60 on Friday also helped). The runner-up was Webb Simpson, an All-American from Wake Forest who turned pro back in June. Keep an eye on this kid.

Simpson had a stellar collegiate career, earning All-ACC honors for four consecutive years. This summer he Monday-qualified for the Nationwide Tour event in Missouri, and finished second. Last week in Chattanooga, he Monday-qualified again, and captured another second place. Webb went from having zero status on any professional tour just a few months having his PGA TOUR card within reach.

He is currently 45th on the Nationwide Tour money list (the top 25 at the end of the season get their cards). If he can finish strong with two good tournaments, in Miami this week and at the Tour Championship finale in Texas, Webb can accomplish every aspiring pro golfer's dream: Making the giant leap from no-man's land to the bright lights and huge purses of the Big Show...without having to deal with the dreaded Q-School. Good luck to Webb in the next few weeks. I hope he gets it done!

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