School’s Out

They call it the toughest week in all of golf, which is actually an understatement – It actually runs about a week and a half end to end.

After two preliminary stages, six final stage rounds and a total of 252 holes, 25 players earned their PGA Tour playing rights for 2010 on Monday at Bear’s Best golf course in Orlando, Fl.  As always there are some big losers and big winners before the final putt had dropped.

The big winner turned out to be former Boise St. University standout and current Nationwide Tour player Troy Merritt. Merritt, who has never played a PGA Tour event in his professional career, made a double bogey on his final hole of the tournament to finish at -22, good for a one shot victory over PGA Tour vet Jeff Maggert and the $50,000 first place check.

But even more important than the check is the opportunity Merritt and his fellow graduates have earned through the seemingly endless grind that is the Qualifying School.

“The trophy is to get to play with the big boys next year,” Merritt insisted after the win.

Among the 25 graduates were several young guns and a number of seasoned veterans, of whom the most well known was Maggert. A three-time winner on tour, Maggert has twice came close to winning the U.S Open in his career.  Maggert has amassed over $16 million in his career, despite only making $651, 348 last season. But thanks to his 2nd place finish at final stage he will be able to add to that total in 2010 as a full member.

While Maggert was probably the most well known player to earn (back) his tour card at final stage, the player that came in with the most amount of hype surrounding him also did not disappoint.

In only three tournaments at the tail end of the 2009 season former Oklahoma St. All-American Rickie Fowler made over $500,000 and went within a playoff win from entering a select group of players to have earned their PGA Tour cards without entering Q School. As it turned out, Fowler had an up and down week, flirting with a 59 and the tournament lead during the third round, then falling behind the qualifying number late in the fifth round before closing with a two under par 70 to finish T15 and earn his rookie card on the PGA Tour.

Several other promising young stars graduated to the Big Show on Monday.  Recent college grads Billy Horschel and Cameron Tringale both earned their cards while mini tour standouts Chris Wilson and Martin Flores also made the cut comfortably.

Well-known tour stalwarts Chris Riley, Joe Ogilvy, Jay Williamson, J.P Hayes, Omar Uresti earned back their playing privilages for 2010 while former major winners David Duval, Shaun Macheel and Todd Hamilton all missed out.

Sticking to the dramatic script there were a couple of charges made during the final round, the lowest of which came from Aussie David Lutterus who fired a clutch 64 to climb all the way to -15 and into a T8 to earn back the PGA Tour card that he held in 2008. While Lutterus’ effort was outstanding, the biggest move in the final round came from PGA and Nationwide Tour vet Shane Bertsch. Bertsch shot a final round 65 to shoot from 50th to 15th at -11.

“It’s not a real comfortable week,” Bertsch said following his final round. “But I just kept plugging.”

On the flip side there were some tragic mishaps that are more than typical of a final round at Q School. The most notable of these came from James Hahn, a player who less than a year ago was considering quitting the game. He came into the final round T50th, but five birdies and no blemishes later and Hahn was in position to grab one of the final PGA Tour cards. After a solid drive an indifferent second shot into the 18th hole from 165 yards left Hahn with a two-putt from 60 feet to move to the promised land. For the first time all day Hahn flinched, leaving his first putt ten feet short. He missed the par save and with it went his PGA Tour dream. To rub salt into the very recent wound he missed the comeback, finishing with a double bogey to eventually miss his card by two shots. For a player who was selling shoes last year between tournaments, a full Nationwide Tour card was his consolation. He was remarkably composed coming off the 18th hole.

“I’m not going to beat myself over the head about it,” Hahn said. “That’s golf.”

One player seen to be emotionally standing by the giant scoreboard at the end of day’s play was Brian Stuard. A year ago Stuard was hovering around the PGA Tour number on the final day of Q School before a couple of late bogeys meant he would miss his card by one shot. After a solid year on the Nationwide Tour, Stuard was again achingly close to earning a trip to the PGA Tour at the Nationwide Tour championship. When he missed an eight-foot putt on the 72 hole there he wound up in 26th place on the final money list, again missing his card by one shot. In 12 months of golf one shot had separated Stuard from playing on the PGA Tour-twice.

Halfway through the final round at Bear Lakes it looked like Stuard was going to be the man on the outside yet again. But this time Stuard took destiny in his own hands. Standing one shot out from the number he stumped his second shot into the 17th hole and the ensuing tap-in birdie moved him to the Tour cut line. Ten minutes later Stuard stood in the middle of the 18th fairway with all the pressure in the world on him yet again.  All he did from there was rifle a 6 iron to four-feet, brush the birdie putt in and grab is card with both hands.

“I’ve been close a couple times, so it was nice to finally finish strong.” Stuard said following the final round.

Rarely have understatements sounded so sweet.

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