2002: Green light

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La Quinta, Calif.

In spite of some very lean, frustrating and tension-filled years, the thought of ending his golf career never occurred to Ken Green.

“I love golf. I love to play golf,” said the 23-year professional. “I never made giving it up an option.”

Green finished fourth on the PGA Tour earnings list in 1988, has five career victories and has earned more than $3.6 million. In 1989, he played on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Then, in 1997, his game went south. He finished out of the top 125 on the money list for only the third time since his rookie season of 1982.

The next three years he never came close to the top 125. He made no Tour money in 2001 and this year made just one cut in four starts and earned $10,995. The past two years, he has played the Buy.com Tour, traveling around the country in his RV.

“The past four or five years have been a struggle,” said Green, 44. “But I knew I couldn’t give up. I had to keep trying.”

Sometimes his struggles became frightening if not downright painful.

“I got to a point where I was filled with fear. I was scared to take the club back,” Green said. “It was hard when you know how fearless you used to be and then to be full of fear. It’s nasty. Scary.

“I lost all the confidence I ever had in myself. I was like a little puppy lost on the side of the road. For three years, I couldn’t pull the trigger. I went into a state of depression and when I finally got out, I still couldn’t break away from that demon.”

This year, Green began seeing progress. Concentrating on the Buy.com Tour, he played in 17 events, making 12 cuts and posting four top 10s.

His progress reached fruition Dec. 4-9 at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament final stage at the TPC Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses at PGA West.

No, Green did not finish first.

That distinction went to Jeff Brehaut of Sunnyvale, Calif., who posted a six-round total of 16-under-par 416 and earned the $50,000 first-place prize.

Green, in fact, tied for 26th. But in this tournament, where the top 35 and ties earn PGA Tour exempt status for the following year, it was as good as a victory. For Green, it might have been better.

“This (trying to get a Tour card) is much harder than trying to win a tournament,” Green said. “There, if you lose, you still get a nice check and move on to the next week.

“Here, it’s the whole next year that’s at stake.”

So next year, Green will return to the setting in which he once was one of the premier competitors. And, no, he is not afraid.

“I can’t express how I feel right now,” said Green after shooting a final-round 68, same as the day before. “It’s been a long struggle, but I hung in there. Now I’m ready to go back out there (PGA Tour) and see what the old man can do.

“The one thing I know is there is still a lot of talent in this body.”

Green will have plenty of company among the Category 25 players on the PGA Tour in 2003. Thirty-eight players shot 8 under or better over the 108 holes to earn exempt status. The group included young and old, rookies and veterans.

Tying for second, one shot behind Brehaut at 15 under, were James McLean, the Australian who won the 1998 NCAA Championship while at Minnesota, Germany’s Alex Cejka and Chris Anderson of Covina, Calif.

In addition to the 38 gaining PGA Tour status, the next number closest to 50 landed fully exempt status on the 2003 Nationwide Tour (formerly Buy.com). There were 48 players finishing from 7 under to 2 under and earning this status.

Ten players missed earning a PGA Tour card by a single shot, including Ted Purdy, who the day before turned a 66 into a 68 when he double bogeyed the final hole.

As usual, there were highs and lows and final-day drama. In addition to Green, playing their way onto the big show in the final round were Richard S. Johnson (66, tied for 11th); Jeff Klein (69, T-21); Carl Pettersson (66, T-21); and Cameron Yancey (69, T-34).

Among those going the opposite way were Casey Martin, who double bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14 en route to a 5-over 77 to finish at 5 under.

Others in this group included Ben Bates, who shot 75 and went from 9 under to 6 under; Kent Jones, 78 (11 under to 5 under); Jeev Singh, 77 (8 under to 3 under); Greg Kraft, 79 (8 under to 1 under); and Barry Cheesman, 82 (12 under to 2 under).

Among the veterans regaining exempt status were Donnie Hammond and John Maginnes (T-5),

Paul Goydos (T-17), Dave Stockton Jr. and Bart Bryant (T-21), Woody Austin and Brett Quigley (T-26), and Brian Watts and Mike Heinen (T-34).

For Austin, it was an incredible finish. Standing at 6 under and facing the brutal final three holes at the Stadium course, it didn’t look promising. But Austin, who in 2001 finished 125th on the money list, went birdie-birdie-birdie.

“I knew I had to make at least two birdies coming in,” said Austin, who was making his first trip to Q-School since 1997. “I’m proud of the way I hung in there and the way I finished. The last six years have been very frustrating. I know it’s still going to be tough getting into some tournaments, but it’s even tougher if I would have had to rely on sponsor exemptions. I think I would get only a handful of those.”

Among some of the new faces the PGA Tour will see in 2003 will be Joel Kribel, John Morgan, Scott Laycock, Tom Gillis, Pettersson, Andy Miller, Ben Curtis and Cameron Yancy.

Gillis is by far the veteran of the new breed. The 34-year-old from Lake Orion, Mich., has played the last five years on the PGA European Tour. He’s entered PGA Tour qualifying 10 times, but this was a first for reaching the final stage.

He made the most of it, tying for 21st at 10-under 422.

“I set out to achieve a goal and I did it,” said Gillis, who had no plans to return to Europe in 2003.

“I’m looking forward to next year. I’ve played in some PGA Tour events and made about six cuts. I feel comfortable out there. I don’t feel I’ll be out of my element.”

Kribel said he felt major relief after finishing at 12-under 420.

“This week seemed like it was never going to end,” he said. “I just hope I never have to do this again.”

He’s not alone. No one wants to do Q-School more than once. But many have and many will. It’s the nature of the beast.

“The thing about it is it never gets any easier,” said Hammond, a former PGA Tour winner and past Q-School medalist. “I fact, I think it gets harder every time.”

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