BROUSSARD, La. – A return to his home state could help Joseph Bramlett return to the PGA Tour.
Next week’s Soboba Classic in Southern California will be overshadowed by the Masters, but it is a major for Nationwide Tour players. Its $750,000 purse is the third largest of the year, all but ensuring that the winner will earn a PGA Tour card at year’s end. The TPC Stonebrae Championship, held in the San Francisco Bay Area, will be played the next week.
“I’m a California boy, so I love going back out west,” said Bramlett, who is seventh on the Nationwide Tour money list. Many pros his age are moving to Florida, especially Jupiter, but Bramlett said he’ll stay in Northern California for the time being. “Everyone’s going off, but every time I go back to San Jose it feels like home, and everywhere else I go is on the road. I’m in no rush to get out of there.”
The Soboba Classic used to be held in September, but was moved to April so the tour could have consecutive events in California. Every winner of the Soboba, which began in 2009, has earned a PGA Tour card that season (the event had a $1 million purse its first two years, but it was reduced to $750,000 last year). The $135,000 first-place check will help this year’s winner finish in the top 25 and earn a PGA Tour card; it took $180,191 to finish in the top 25 of last year’s money list.
Bramlett, a 2010 Q-School graduate, finished 196th on the money list in his rookie PGA Tour season. He turned pro after the 2010 U.S. Amateur, where he made the Round of 16. He also won one of amateur golf’s most prestigious events, the Northeast Amateur, in 2010.
“Last year was a pretty drastic change from what I was accustomed to in college,” he said. “There was a lot of non-golf stuff that I had to get accustomed to, on top of playing golf at the highest level every week.”
Bramlett has tried to look at the positives from last year, especially the lessons learned while traveling the Tour and the course knowledge he gained. Though the results weren’t ideal, he called the experience “beneficial.”
“I was pretty tough on myself last year,” he said. “I have very high expectations for myself, and I definitely didn’t meet them. When you get your head kicked in for that long, you have to look at it, and if you only take the negatives, it’s going to drive you crazy.”
This year on the Nationwide Tour, Bramlett has earned $68,135, almost all of which came from his runner-up finish at the Chile Classic. He also played this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am earlier this year on a sponsor exemption and got within a stroke of the lead during the third round. He dropped to 40th after late struggles, but it still rates as his third-best PGA Tour finish.
Bramlett said his biggest improvement since last season has come in his putting. He took a lesson from famed putting instructor Dave Stockton, a former PGA Championship winner, during the offseason.
“It’ll come when it comes,” Bramlett said about his return to the Tour. “But when I do get back out there, I’ll be more familiar with everything.”
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TOP DOG: Skip Kendall holds the top spot on the Nationwide Tour money list despite skipping last week’s Louisiana Open to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his hometown of Orlando. Kendall finished 53rd at Bay Hill. He won the Nationwide Tour’s season-opening event, the Colombia Championship. It was Kendall’s fourth Nationwide Tour victory and first since claiming the Louisiana Open in 2007. He has earned $112,111 this season.
Rookie Paul Haley II, winner of the tour’s Chile Classic, is second on the money list, less than $1,000 behind Kendall.
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ALL OVER THE PLACE: Edward Loar is a PGA Tour rookie in 2012 after earning his card at Q-School, but he illustrates the split path that many Q-School and Nationwide Tour grads must navigate.
Loar, who has earned $33,883 on the PGA Tour in 2012, will go more than a month between PGA Tour starts. He has filled the gap with Nationwide Tour starts, including a win at the Panama Claro Championship. Loar will play at the Soboba Classic, then return to the PGA Tour at the Valero Texas Open, which begins April 19. That will be his first PGA Tour event for which he has been eligible since the Puerto Rico Open, which ended March 11. Loar finished 25th in Puerto Rico, his best finish this season.
Loar’s Nationwide Tour victory ensures him of at least Nationwide Tour status in 2013. His $99,000 in Nationwide earnings also puts him more than halfway toward the expected amount needed to finish this season in the top 25 on the money list, should he need to do so to retain his PGA Tour card.
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SHORT SHOTS: Andrew Loupe, an LSU All-American in 2011, Monday-qualified for the Louisiana Open and finished 13th to earn a start at the Soboba Classic. Loupe has finished in the top 25 in three of four career Nationwide Tour starts. … Woody Austin finished fifth at the Louisiana Open. The former Presidents Cup player had just one top-10 on the PGA Tour in 2011, a T-6 at the Canadian Open.