WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – What was supposed to be an examination of skill has evolved into a test of commitment. For Brett Waldman, the overarching conundrum is this: Should he continue to caddy for Camilo Villegas, one of the game’s rising stars and a $3 million earner in 2010; or should he grab his own sticks, and, improbably, start anew on the PGA Tour?
One round into this PGA Tour Q-School final, Waldman doesn’t want to answer that inevitable question. Yet after an opening-round 68 Wednesday on the Panther Lake course at Orange County National, which left him four shots off the pace, the topic is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid.
“I entered Q-School at the last hour,” he said, “and here I am in the finals. It’s pretty amazing.”
Eight years ago, ironically at Orange County National, Waldman flunked out of the second stage of Q-School and shelved the idea of playing professionally. He needed a steady income, a way to pay the bills. Becoming a caddie seemed a logical solution, so he looped for his cousin, Tom Pernice Jr., then for Ben Crane and now Villegas.
“I came to grips that I wasn’t going to play,” Waldman said. “I have a family, a wife and two kids. They’re everything to me.”
Waldman played infrequently during the PGA Tour season, but when he teed it up with his longtime buddies in Dallas, he played well. “I’d tell them that I haven’t played in 2 1/2 months, and it’s not as easy as you think on the PGA Tour,” he said.
“One guy said to me, ‘Look, I think you can do it. Give it one last shot. It’s always been a dream of yours to play on Tour.’ ”
So, at the behest of friends and family, Waldman was a last-minute enrollee at Q-School, plopping down the $5,000 entry fee. He tied for eighth in pre-qualifying in San Antonio – a step primarily to weed out the players who can’t break 90 – and then made the cut on the number during the first stage.
Then, his full-time job intervened.
A day after advancing to the second stage, Waldman boarded a plane to Shanghai, where his man, Villegas, was to compete in the WGC-HSBC Champions (they tied for 51st). From there it was off to Melbourne, for the Australian Masters, where, after a week-and-a-half-long break, Waldman snuck in four practice sessions at the Capital Club.
“I had to do what I normally do,” Waldman said. “I’m trying to get (Camilo) back in the top 10 (in the world ranking) where he belongs.”
Even if it meant endangering his own bid for the PGA Tour. Two days after an 18-hour flight from Melbourne, Waldman completed a jet-lagged second stage at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, where he tied for 14th to advance to the finals. He was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from PGA Tour caddies and players – including his boss, Villegas.
“I have a great peace about what I’m doing and what’s going on,” Waldman said.
That all could change Monday if he finishes inside the top 25 at Orange County National.
Waldman couldn’t have scripted a more auspicious start. He holed a bunker shot for eagle-3 on his first hole, eagled another par 5 before the turn, then hung on during a sun-drenched, wind-swept day to begin the second round four shots behind Kyle Stanley.
And therein lies the intrigue: Waldman eventually will have to decide whether to try his luck on the PGA or Nationwide tours (thereby surrendering his caddie bib) or continue what has been a lucrative second career on the bag for Villegas.
“That’s the question everybody asks, and that’s the million-dollar question,” Waldman said. “But I don’t have an answer for it. Not yet, at least.”