LA QUINTA, Calif. – Q-School’s beauty is its simplicity. Any player who forks over the four-figure entry fee can compete for a PGA Tour card. The thousands of entrants have been whittled down to 173 lucky souls who’ll compete Nov. 30-Dec. 5 at PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament and Stadium courses in Q-School’s final stage.
The field includes former major champions – Lee Janzen, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel and David Duval – and Ryder Cup participants, including Jeff Maggert and Boo Weekley. Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, and Travis Wadkins, Lanny’s son, are trying to follow in the family trade. Harris English, a member of this year’s Walker Cup team, is taking his first crack at a Tour card. Corey Nagy and Jeff Corr, the players of the year on the eGolf and Hooters tours, respectively, are trying to earn their way out of golf’s minor leagues.
The list of past PGA Tour winners is long: Tommy Armour III, Bob Estes, Carlos Franco, Robert Gamez, Jason Gore, Nathan Green, Maggert, Len Mattiace, Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Dicky Pride, Andre Stolz, Vaughn Taylor, Marc Turnesa, Weekley, Brett Wetterich and Dean Wilson.
Then there are the players seeking redemption for recent mistakes. Bobby Gates came to the final hole of the 2011 PGA Tour season needing to two-putt from 40 feet to keep his card. He didn’t, and ended the season No. 126 on the money list, $1,431 from keeping his card. James Nitties was one shot off the lead midway through the Nationwide Tour’s final full-field event. A high finish would’ve clinched his Tour card. He was disqualified, instead, after oversleeping his third-round tee time. Nitties finished 26th on the money list (the top 25 earn PGA Tour cards). He was the only player bumped from the top 25 on the money list in the season’s final week. Wetterich finished 29th on that tour’s money list, despite winning his first start of the season. He was in contention at the season finale, the Nationwide Tour Championship, before rounds of 81-78 on the weekend kept him from his Tour card.
Then there’s Ty Tryon, who’s back at Q-School finals 10 years after he earned his PGA Tour card at 17 years old. Tryon, the one-time teen phenom, now comes to Q-School as the married father of a 5-year-old son.
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• Tommy Armour III: The 52-year-old, a two-time PGA Tour winner, played on the Champions Tour in 2011. He had four top-10s in 23 starts to finish 28th on the money list.
• Sang-Moon Bae: The South Korean is No. 26 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Bae, 25, won three times on the Japan Tour in 2011 to lead the money list.
• Doug Barron: He was the first person suspended by the PGA Tour’s drug testing program. Barron was suspended for the 2009 season after testing positive for a beta-blocker and testosterone, both of which were diagnosed by a physician, according to Barron. The Tour since has granted him a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone.
• Rich Beem: The 2002 PGA champion hasn’t finished in the top 100 on the money list since 2003, ending 2010 at 198th and this year at No. 207. He played 2011 under a major medical extension after having surgery last year for a bulging disc in his back. He made just five of 21 cuts this season and earned $135,225. Beem is scheduled to play the Chevron World Challenge’s pro-am on Tuesday, the day before Q-School’s first round.
• Brad Benjamin: The 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion turned pro this year after making the cut at the U.S. Open. He also played in the 2010 Masters, shooting 73-77.
• Jeff Corr: The 2011 Hooters Tour player of the year won twice and finished in the top 5 in nine of 20 starts on that circuit this season. Last year’s Hooters POY, Michael Thompson, earned his PGA Tour card via Q-School and finished 98th on the money list.
• David Duval: The former No. 1 player in the world is at Q-School finals for the second time in three years. Duval finished No. 152 on the money list this year and will have to rely on sponsor exemptions for most of his starts in 2012 if he doesn’t gain his card this week. Duval had to advance through Q-School’s second stage to get to the finals. He has a good history at PGA West, winning the 1999 Bob Hope Classic with a final-round 59 at PGA West’s Palmer Private course, which is not in use this week.
• Harris English: The member of this year’s Walker Cup team already has full Nationwide Tour status after winning on that circuit as an amateur earlier this year. English had a victory, runner-up and third-place finish in seven Nationwide Tour starts in 2011.
• Bobby Gates: The 2011 PGA Tour rookie will be trying to make amends for his final hole of the season, which he three-putt to finish No. 126 on the money list. Gates would’ve kept his card if he could have two-putted from 40 feet. He finished $1,431 behind No. 125 D.J. Trahan.
• Adam Hadwin: The Canadian earned a spot in Q-School finals thanks to good play and a tweak to the Tour’s rules. He finished 39th at the U.S. Open and had top-10s at the Canadian Open and Frys.com Open to earn $440,752 in just five starts. Hadwin, however, wasn’t eligible for the Q-School finals until a recent rules change. He finished the equivalent of 145th on the 2011 PGA Tour money list. The top 150 on the money list are exempt into the finals. However, Tour rules stated that a player must be a member or special temporary member to accept the exemption. Special temporary membership is available to players who surpass No. 150 on the previous year’s money list. Hadwin wasn’t a special temporary member because his 2011 earnings didn’t surpass No. 150 on the 2010 money list. The Tour changed the rule so that special temporary membership wasn’t a requirement for the Q-School exemption, granting him a spot in the finals. Hadwin, at No. 238 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is the top-ranked Canadian in the world.
• Brian Harman: The former University of Georgia player represented the United States at the 2005 and 2009 Walker Cups. This is his first time advancing to Q-School finals after turning pro in 2009. Harman was 10th on the eGolf Professional Tour’s money list in 2011.
• Lee Janzen: The two-time U.S. Open champion had just one top-25 in 19 starts in 2011 and finished 185th on the money list. Janzen’s last victory came at the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, which will host the 2012 Open.
• Bio Kim: The 21-year-old South Korean was the youngest member on the PGA Tour in 2011 after earning his card through last year’s Q-School. Kim won this year’s Nanshan China Masters on the OneAsia Tour.
• Jeff Maggert: The three-time winner on the PGA Tour and three-time Ryder Cup team member made just $101,080 in 18 PGA Tour starts this year.
• Shaun Micheel: The 2003 PGA Championship winner made just 12 cuts – and had just one top-25 – in 27 starts this year. He was 188th on the money list. Micheel has finished in the top 125 on the money list just twice in the past five years.
• Corey Nagy: The former Charlotte standout won the eGolf Professional Tour’s season finale to win the tour’s money title. Nagy won three times in 12 starts this year.
• Seung-Yul Noh: The 20-year-old South Korean is 101st in the Official World Golf Ranking. He won the 2010 Malaysian Open, which was co-sanctioned by the European Tour, and finished 30th at this year’s U.S. Open and Open Championship. He enters Q-School having finished in the top 5 in his past three starts in Asia.
• Sam Saunders: The grandson of Arnold Palmer is making his first Q-School finals appearance. He made 13 starts on the PGA and Nationwide tours in 2011, making five cuts. He finished 10th at the Nationwide Tour’s Panama Claro Championship and 15th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
• Andre Stolz: The winner of the 2004 Michelin Championship at Las Vegas was out of golf for several years because of a lingering wrist injury. At one point, Stolz returned checks to an endorser, figuring he was done competing. He won the OneAsia Tour’s Order of Merit this year thanks to victories at the Indonesia PGA and Thailand Open.
• Ty Tryon: It’s been 10 years since Tryon earned his PGA Tour card as a 17-year-old. He’s now a husband, father and another aspiring Tour player. This is the second consecutive year in which he’s advanced to the finals. He made nine Nationwide Tour starts in 2011, missing eight cuts. He also has played in the past two U.S. Opens. “It’s not the best story if you get out there early and you never get out there again,” he said. “I’m really trying my best to turn that over into a new story.”
• Travis Wadkins: The son of World Golf Hall of Fame member Lanny Wadkins finished 71st on this year’s eGolf Professional Tour money list.
• Boo Weekley: The two-time PGA Tour winner was a member of the United States’ victorious Ryder Cup team in 2008 but finished No. 180 on this year’s money list.