Storylines aplenty on eve of Q-School

Erik Compton

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WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – If any players at the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School are looking for ways to occupy their time off the course this week, Chris Tidland probably could offer some ideas. He’s been through the drill a few times.

Tidland is making his 12th appearance at Q-School’s grueling, 108-hole final stage this week at Orange County National. While Tidland says he has not been the main character in any Q-School horror stories during that stretch, there still has been plenty to take away.

“I’ve played the finals here (Orange County National) a few times, so I know where the pins are going to be, where to eat at night, where to go get my dry cleaning done,” Tidland said. “Little things like that seem like they are no big deal, but if you’re running around and don’t know where you’re going, you’re wasting time and energy, and this week is all about keeping your energy up.”

One thing that keeps a smile on the face of Tidland and other perennial Q-Schoolers is the fact that their playing options (or back-up options) have greatly improved since they first started enduring the six-round Q-School marathon.

“It’s not as ‘life and death’ as it used to be, where if you fail to make it through, you have to go get a job,” said Tidland, who finished No. 148 on the PGA Tour money list this year. “The Nationwide Tour has gotten better, and I know I can improve my game out there if things don’t work out this week.”

Other final-stage veterans include John Riegger, Omar Uresti, Dicky Pride and Craig Bowden, all of whom are competing in the final stage for the 11th time.

Apart from the veterans, below is a list of a few other groups looking to add 2011 PGA Tour cards to their wallets this week:

THE NEWCOMERS: Consisting mainly of recent college standouts, there are a number of first-timers teeing it up at Orange County National this week. Among those making their debut at Q-School’s final stage is former Wichita State All-American Dustin Garza, winner of 12 college events over his final two seasons with the Shockers.

“I know it’s going to test a lot of patience, but I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while,” Garza said. “It’s been a tough transition from success of college golf to professional golf, but I’ve put in the work and hopefully I’ll have something to celebrate at the end of the week.”

Garza got a taste of the pro ranks this year, earning starts at the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship, the Nationwide Tour’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Open and the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

“I didn’t play the best golf, but there were a lot of things I learned from those events that helped me get through these last two months of Q-School,” Garza said.

Other first-timers playing this week include: Kyle Stanley, a former Clemson All-American and 2009 Ben Hogan Award winner; Ben Martin, another Clemson product and 2009 U.S. Amateur runner-up; Zachary Sucher, a former UAB All-American; Dan Woltman, Wisconsin All-American and former Northeast Amateur winner; and Matt Giles, a former USC All-American.

THE STORYLINES: Erik Compton is a story no matter where he goes. But with his first crack at Q-School’s final stage since 2001, the two-time heart-transplant recipient is hoping to become a permanent fixture on the PGA Tour, rather than an occasional feel-good story.

Through qualifiers and sponsor exemptions, Compton earned seven starts on the PGA Tour in 2010, with his best finish (T-30) coming at Bay Hill. Compton made headlines on Tour this year after an opening 63 at The Greenbrier Classic gave him a share of the first-round lead.

“I take a lot of comfort in the fact that I have played a lot this year on Tour,” Compton said. “I’ll use a lot of that as confidence, plus I’m older and more mature than I was last time I was here. But I think everyone knows that with me, it’s going to be a matter of fatigue.”

Although his focus is on his next six rounds of golf, Compton has no trouble keeping things in perspective.

“Regardless of how I achieve on the golf course, it’s a miracle to have all of these doctors and medications that keep me alive and allow me to be able to be out on the course,” he said. “It’s a miracle even if I can’t be on the course. That’s the more important story.”

Other storylines that would make a media splash by earning a Tour card this week are Billy Hurley III, a former Walker Cupper who served as a naval officer; Ty Tryon, the former teen sensation who advanced out of Q-School’s final stage in 2001 at age 17; Brett Waldman, the caddie of PGA Tour pro Camilo Villegas; and Joseph Bramlett, the former Stanford player who is aiming to become the first black player to advance out of Q-School since Adrian Stills in 1986.

BURSTING BUBBLES: It’s been an up-and-down month for Johnson Wagner. 

Entering the final event of the PGA Tour season, the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, Johnson, a PGA Tour winner in 2008, was prepared to hang his head and report to the second stage of Q-School. But after a second-round 65, a top-2 finish – which would have bumped him into the safety of the top 125 on the money list – seemed within reach. His hopes were dashed, however, in the final round after a double bogey on the 16th hole. Wagner finished T-3 at Disney, and No. 126 on the money list, allowing him to skip second stage but forcing him to head to Orlando this week to try to improve his status.

“I don’t want to be here, but I have nothing to lose,” Wagner said. “Nobody here is in a better position on Tour next year than I am. I have a great chance to better my position by 49 spots, theoretically, which could mean the difference in six or seven tournaments.”

Scott Gardiner and Nate Smith, Nos. 26 and 27, respectively, on the Nationwide Tour money list this year, also will be vying for a PGA Tour card this week after narrowly missing out on earning a spot in the Nationwide Tour’s top 25.

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