Joseph Bramlett brushed the face of his putter with his left hand before he settled into his putting stance. When he slips into his pre-shot routine, it’s as if he has entered a trance. It’s an intense concentration – remarkably similar to Tiger Woods.
“That’s been my routine my whole life,” Bramlett said. “Every shot means a lot to me. I’m not going to hit a shot if I’m not 100 percent into it. I love this game, so I’m going to put everything into it.”
With one round left in the 2010 PGA Tour Qualifying School finals, Bramlett, 22, is 7 under after five rounds. A 72 on Sunday at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Fla., dropped him to T-33. The top 25 finishers Monday, plus ties, earn full status on the PGA Tour for 2011.
Comparisons to Woods have followed Bramlett for as long as he can remember because of the color of his skin. Bramlett’s parents are of mixed race, like Woods. But the comparisons are more than skin deep. Bramlett was recognized for his prodigious talent even before he became the youngest at the time to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, at age 14. Like Woods, he attended Stanford, and he plays the same model of Nike clubs as his idol (though Bramlett is not a paid endorser).
“Tiger has inspired me,” Bramlett said
Bramlett’s road to golf success took a detour in college after he helped Stanford win the NCAA men’s team championship in 2007. Hobbled by a pair of wrist injuries, he was sidelined for the better part of two years. With a clean bill of health, he resumed playing again in February. Bramlett graduated from Stanford and then drove down the California coast to Pebble Beach in preparation for his first U.S. Open. There, he played practice rounds with Woods.
Bramlett turned professional after an impressive amateur swansong, winning the Northeast Amateur and advancing to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur.
Bramlett didn’t tiptoe around the topic of becoming the first black golfer since Adrian Stills in 1985 to make it through Q-School. He’s acutely aware of the long drought and knows something deeper is at stake.
“I’d love to do it,” he said, a half-smile on his face.
No wonder the European Tour does pretty good business out of the European Tour Qualifying School. Considering the money on offer in Europe, it’s no question there are plenty willing to take a shot at jumping onto the Euro Tour gravy train.
One hundred and fifty-six players teed it up Dec. 4 at PGA Golf Catalunya Resort in Girona, Spain, hoping for one of the 30 cards on offer for the 2011 Tour. All it takes is six good rounds and you can be in position to make a fortune.
England’s Simon Khan is proof of that. He had to return to Q-School last year after a dismal 2009 season.
Khan emerged at the top of the class. Six months later, he performed so well that he doesn’t have to worry about Q-School for a while. He won the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, earned €750,000 and a five-year exemption.
European Q-School ends Dec. 9. There is a four-round cut, with the top 70 and ties getting through to the last two rounds.
Entry fee for the Euro Q-School is €1,350. As Khan proved, it could be a shrewd investment. On the other hand, it could be a complete waste of money.
Two down, five to go.
Colin Montgomerie has snared two of this year’s successful European Ryder Cup team members to play for Europe in the Royal Trophy on Jan. 7-9 at Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin, Thailand.
Edoardo Molinari and Peter Hanson are the Ryder Cup stars who have joined Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, a member of the 2008 European team, to play for Montgomerie.
Now, all that Monty needs to do is persuade five of the remaining nine who played at Celtic Manor, and the captain wouldn’t need to play himself. Matteo Manassero, the European Tour rookie of the year, said Monday he’ll also join the team.
The biennial event pits the European team against the Asian team, and is played in Ryder Cup style. Ryo Ishikawa, Kyung-tae Kim, Seung-yul Noh, Yuta Ikeda, Shunsuke Sonoda and Wen-chong Liang have confirmed their places on the Asian team led by captain Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki.
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.
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.”
As Azahara Munoz addressed the crowd Friday night at the Rolex awards reception in Orlando, Fla., her sincerest words were not even understood by most in the room. Accepting the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award, Munoz made it through nearly her entire speech before wiping away tears as she addressed her mother in Spanish from the podium. It was a private moment among a sea of spectators, with a clear message of gratitude from the 23-year-old Spaniard.
Munoz, who had three top-10 finishes and 10 top 25s, spoke to the difficulty of transitioning from four years of collegiate golf at Arizona State to the pro game, but also thanked the friends and players who have helped her along the way. She ended her address with a heartfelt thank you to the award’s namesake, who sat like a proud parent on the stage behind her.
“I can only hope that one day I can make a sliver of the difference that you have made,” Munoz said.