Prepping for Q-School: 11 players to watch

Danny Lee and Joseph Bramlett

Danny Lee and Joseph Bramlett

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Q-School’s make-or-break nature guarantees plenty of intrigue. A single stroke over 108 holes can be the difference between golfing rags and riches. One good week can vault an unknown to the PGA Tour, while former major champions can find themselves without full-time employment.

Q-School is a reality show actually based in real life, not some manufactured existence. This year’s event, which begins Wednesday at Orange County National outside Orlando, should be even more interesting than most editions. Among the entrants are former teen phenom Ty Tryon, two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton and Billy Hurley, a former Walker Cup team member who’s restarting his career after serving in the Navy.

These players already have interesting back stories that’ve been told countless times. But many players come to Q-School as relative unknowns, either fresh off the amateur circuit, or after years of toiling away from TV cameras on the mini-tours.

Here are 11 Q-School first-timers to watch this week:

• • •

Joseph Bramlett: Bramlett was the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Amateur when he made the ’02 event as a 14-year-old. Five years later, he was a second-team All-American as a Stanford freshman, helping the Cardinal to the national title. The remainder of his college career was marred by wrist injuries, but he’s back in form. 

He won the prestigious Northeast Amateur this year, qualified for the U.S. Open, made the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur and made the Q-School finals in his first attempt. He’d be the first black golfer since Adrian Stills in 1986 to earn a PGA Tour card at Q-School.

• • •

Roberto Castro: Castro, a former Georgia Tech All-American, finished 62nd on the Nationwide Tour money list despite starting the season with no status. He Monday-qualified for the Cox Classic, then tied for 19th to earn a spot in the next week’s Wichita Open, where he finished runner-up. He had six top 25s in 12 Nationwide Tour starts, and finished seventh on the eGolf Professional Tour money list in just eight starts, thanks to a victory and runner-up.

• • •

Dustin Garza: Garza was a first-team All-American at Wichita State this past season after winning seven times. (He claimed 12 titles over his final two seasons.) Despite that success, his pro career didn’t get off to a sterling start – an 86 in his PGA Tour debut at the Travelers Championship – but he’s in good shape now. Garza is in the mold of recent Kodak Challenge winner Troy Merritt – a player who won a ton at a mid-major, then made the Q-School finals in his first attempt.

• • •

Aaron Goldberg: Goldberg will be trying to follow in the footsteps of Graham DeLaet, who used the Canadian Tour as a springboard for Q-School success. DeLaet won the ’09 Canadian Tour Order of Merit, then earned his PGA Tour card at Q-School. (He finished 100th on this season’s PGA Tour money list.) 

Goldberg dominated the Canadian Tour this season. He won three times, and finished outside the top 10 only once in nine starts. He set the tour’s single-season earnings mark, with $156,118, and was the only player to earn six figures this season. Goldberg also Monday-qualified and made the cut at the PGA Tour’s Sony Open.

• • •

Jason Kokrak: Kokrak, the medalist at the 2007 U.S. Amateur, was the leading money winner on the eGolf Professional Tour. The long-hitting Xavier product won twice and had six other top 10s in 11 starts. He also tied for 13th in the Nationwide Tour’s South Georgia Classic.

• • •

Danny Lee: Remember him? Lee was supposed to join Rory, Rickie and Ryo as one of golf’s next big things. He won the 2008 U.S. Amateur, then became the youngest winner in European Tour history (a record since eclipsed by Matteo Manassero) when he claimed last year’s Johnnie Walker Classic as an amateur. 

Lee struggled in Europe this season, earning just 88,257 euros in 22 starts, with just one top 25. He finished 159th in the Race to Dubai, and dropped to 455th in the Official World Golf Ranking. On the plus side, he finished seventh in his last start before Q-School, the Kolon Korea Open in October. It was his first top 10 in more than a year.

• • •

Richard Lee: How’s this for a back story: Lee, who grew up in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, dropped out of high school and moved in with a family friend in The Philippines to focus full-time on his golf career. He eventually returned to the U.S. and enrolled at Bellevue Community College before transferring to Washington, where he was an All-American in both seasons as a Husky. Lee turned pro earlier this year, and advanced out of pre-qualifying and two stages of Q-School to earn his spot at Orange County National. He’s playing for more than himself: Lee’s fan club includes his wife, Christine, and daughter, Israella.

• • •

Ben Martin: Not many players get to participate in three major championships before they even turn pro, but Martin did. You may have seen him if you tuned in to the early coverage of the 2009 U.S. Open. Martin was 2 under par for his first 11 holes at Bethpage Black to take the lead before eventually missing the cut. That didn’t turn out to be the highlight of Martin’s year, though. He was runner-up at the U.S. Amateur later that year. He stayed amateur to play this year’s Masters and U.S. Open, missing the cut in both. He finished ninth at this year’s NCAA Championship. It took Martin, a Clemson product, just two starts to earn his first pro win on the eGolf Professional Tour. He made the Q-School finals in his first attempt.

• • •

Pablo Martin: With all the hoopla about European stars not taking up PGA Tour membership, here’s one European Tour winner willing to go through Q-School’s rigors for a U.S. card. Martin won this season’s Alfred Dunhill Championship and the ’07 Portugal Open as an amateur. Martin was the 2006 Golfweek College Player of the Year while at Oklahoma State, but the Spaniard has spent his entire pro career on the other side of the pond. Martin is coming off a 16th-place finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions. He also made the cut at this year’s U.S. Open.

• • •

Michael Thompson: Thompson was one of the country’s top amateurs when he turned pro in 2008: He was runner-up at the ’07 U.S. Am, first alternate for that year’s Walker Cup team, then low amateur at the ’08 U.S. Open (T-29). Thompson struggled shortly after turning pro in ’08, after an agent advised him to change his swing to hit the ball higher. 

Thompson returned to his old swing late last year and found success. He won the money list on both the 2009-10 Hooters Tour Winter Series and ’10 Hooters Tour, and was this year’s Hooters Tour player of the year.

• • •

Dan Woltman: Woltman was one of the top amateurs in the U.S. in 2009, winning the Northeast Amateur and making the quarterfinals at the Western Amateur and the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur, but was a controversial omission from that year’s Walker Cup team. He spent this past season on the eGolf Professional Tour, finishing 29th on the money list.

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