Mayfair excelling in Q-School return

Billy Mayfair during the third round of PGA Tour Q-School.

Billy Mayfair during the third round of PGA Tour Q-School.

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Billy Mayfair is at his second PGA Tour Q-School, and first since he got through in 1988. Twenty-two years later, the Tour landscape and Mayfair’s world are dramatically different. And that would be understating.

Let’s start with hair.

“Most of my friends following me then had dark hair,” said Mayfair, co-leader at 16 under par entering the sixth and final Q-School Finals round Monday at Orange County National. “Now they’re all gray.”

Total Tour prize money has gone up more than $238 million, from $36.9 million in 1988 to $275.1 million this year. The leading money winner in ’88 (Curtis Strange) made $1.147 million. Now many first prizes are worth more than that.

The 44-year-old Mayfair had a bit different outlook then versus now. Then, he was coming off a brilliant amateur career, in which he won the 1986 U.S. Public Links and ’87 U.S. Amateur and a college Player of the Year award.

This time, his collection includes five Tour victories, all in 1993-98, and career earnings of $18.68 million, 34th best all-time. He has finished in the top 125 in 19 years, including his first 15 seasons in a row, but tailed off the last two years. He’s back at qualifying after slipping to 157th in 2009 and 142nd this year.

So he came to improve his status. Relieving pressure was the idea that he’d get into about 20 tournaments off his top-150 status. He didn’t have that trampoline below last time. Nor was there a Nationwide Tour to fall back on.

“They gave 50 cards and if you didn’t get one, you’d go to Asia,” he says. “So, yeah, I’ve got a lot more security.”

Inconsistent play led him back here. He led the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte after 54 holes, but a closing 76 dropped him into a tie for 14th. And had he made a 15-footer at the Turning Stone Resort Championship, where he tied for third, he would’ve made the top 125.

“It’s a little calmer for me than it is for a lot of other guys,” Mayfair said after a fifth-round 67 at Panther Lake moved into a tie for the lead. “It makes it easier, having something to fall back on.”

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