Q-School entrants out to prove they belong

Aaron Goldberg and Olin Browne

Aaron Goldberg and Olin Browne

They are separated by 26 years and 445 PGA Tour events. But Olin Browne and Aaron Goldberg are joined by a dream that is tough to let go of.

OK, so the motivating factors are at different ends of the spectrum. Whereas Browne, 51, is looking simply to extend his PGA Tour career by a handful of weeks, Goldberg, 25, is hoping to get a chance at a PGA Tour career. Both will set out on their tasks at the second stage of the qualifying tournament – better known as Q-School – with Browne starting Nov. 16 in Humble, Texas, Goldberg the next day in Seaside, Calif.

That they offer contrasting storylines is further proof that Q-School provides endless flavor, especially if you like your competition gut-wrenching and minus obscene million-dollar payoffs. At least for this week, Browne, Goldberg and hundreds of others at six sites are merely trying to prove they belong.

Given that his PGA Tour resume dates to 1992 and includes more than 15 seasons in the big leagues, Browne knows the landscape well enough to appreciate the challenge he’s taking on. Suggest that he needn’t be taking it on – he did, after all, earn $723,888 to finish 25th on the Champions Tour money list – and Browne will laugh, then explain his thinking.

“There are still some (PGA Tour) tournaments I enjoy playing in,” Browne said, rattling off stops such as the Sony Open, the Hope, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Phoenix and Hartford. “But I’m not in a position to get sponsor’s exemptions – they rightfully should go to players coming up. So . . . ”

So, he’ll do it the old-fashioned way . . . and earn his way back, even if it’s to get into those January-to-May tournaments, when the PGA Tour schedule is beefy and the Champions Tour docket is thin.

“Last year I could have gotten in seven (PGA Tour) tournaments, but they were all opposite Champions Tour tournaments, and I was committed to the Champions Tour,” Browne said. “It would be nice to have some unencumbered chances.”

For Goldberg, who wasn’t even born when Browne turned pro (1984), the goal is a little more far-reaching than a handful of tournaments. The one-time standout at San Diego State University is still trying to find his way onto the big stage, and you would have to give him high marks for the way in which he’s proceeded.

A three-time winner on the Canadian PGA Tour this past season, Goldberg established a new high for earnings on that tour. Now it may have been a relatively modest figure ($156,118), but the greater point is that he proved he could win.

“It was a combination of everything,” Goldberg said. “I was comfortable out there, my putting was improved, and I played very consistently.”

Though he would eventually settle in north of the border, Goldberg began his 2010 season in Hawaii, a Monday qualifier for the Sony Open, where he finished T-72. He had two other chances in PGA Tour stops, missing the cut at the Canadian Open and Frys.com Open, but this week’s 72-hole test at Bayonet Golf Club involves a greater reward: the chance to advance to the final stage and earn a PGA Tour card.

“The game feels good, and I’ve been preparing the same way,” Goldberg said.

No doubt, that’s a sentiment that has been uttered by countless players through the years on the eve of Q-School, which might just be golf’s cruelest set of tournaments. Safe to bet, the heartaches have far outnumbered the tears of joy, though when it comes to perseverance, Browne has few rivals.

There was no national junior background for him; instead, he got into the game late and didn’t even turn pro until he was 25. It would be 11 years, however, before he’d finally make it as a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour, a graduate of the 1995 Q-School class.

Browne shot 70-68-65-68-70-70–411 to finish joint fourth at Bear Lakes CC in West Palm Beach, Fla., and a glance at his fellow graduates that year is a testament to just how tough this game is. A handful of them – Paul Stankowski, Frank Lickliter, Len Mattiace, Greg Kraft, Jay Williamson and Tim Herron – are still battling for their PGA Tour careers, but others have moved on to the Champions Tour (Russ Cochran, Andy Bean), and still others to various jobs in the media (Billy Ray Brown, John Maginnes). But only one (Kevin Sutherland) of those graduates can say with certainty that he has a PGA Tour card in 2011.

Browne wouldn’t mind making it two – even if he only wants to do so a handful of times.

• • • 

While there were success stories in the season’s final tournament, the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney, and much attention was showered on those who secured cards for 2011, a healthy list of players failed miserably. Unfortunately, they couldn’t pack up the clubs and get away; instead, they had to make a quick turnaround and get ready for the second stage of Q-School.

Mathew Goggin, for instance. He finished T-54 at Disney on Sunday, then raced to the Houston area where today he will tee it up at Redstone GC in Humble. James Driscoll and Mathias Gronberg also are in Humble, after having played at Disney.

Some of the other notables who played at Disney but failed to improve their money-list standing and thus are at second stage include former British Open champ Todd Hamilton, Brett Quigley, Will MacKenzie, Brett Wetterich, Ted Purdy, Nicholas Thompson, Rod Pampling and Skip Kendall.

• • • 

Some players are getting a taste of Q-School pressure on both sides of the pond. Aussies Stephen Allan and Scott Hend are both going to tee it up in Seaside, Calif., then turn around and head to Spain for the Nov. 26-29 second stage of European Q-School.

So, too, is former Duke star Michael Schachner. He’ll tee it up starting Wednesday in Panama City, Fla., then spend Thanksgiving in Spain to await Q-School over there.

• • • 

How do you warm up for Q-School? Well, if you’re Adam Bland, you nearly win the Australian Masters. Leading for much of the way, Bland finished a stroke behind the winner, Stuart Appleby, so it will be interesting to see if he brings that momentum with him when he tees it up at Bayonet.

Former champions of prestigious amateur titles Nick Flanagan (U.S.) and Jin Jeong (British) missed the cut in the Australian Masters, so they had a bit more time to get back for their Q-School assignments. Flanagan plays in McKinney, Texas, Jeong in Murrieta, Calif.

• • • 

Which of the six second-stage sites is the most eclectic? Here’s a vote for the one in Brooksville, Fla., where the roll call reads like an opposite-field event: Daniel Chopra, Robert Damron, Robert Gamez, Cliff Kresge, Marco Dawson, Eric Axley, David Berganio, Ted Tryba, Will MacKenzie and Frank Lickliter.

That’s a healthy dose of PGA Tour experience right there, and for the PGA Tour promise that has yet to materialize, Ty Tryon will tee it up.

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