Kelly Kraft wasn’t aware of the impact that 8-foot putt on Augusta National’s 18th green would have on his first Q-School attempt. He just wanted to play two more rounds at the famed course, and who could blame him?
Kraft made that lengthy bogey putt on his 36th hole of this year’s Masters to make the cut on the number. Playing the weekend in a major championship comes with many benefits. One of those perks – an exemption to Q-School’s second stage – is paying off this week.
“I’m glad I made that putt,” Kraft said.
That exemption is helpful to young pros seeking their first shot at the PGA or Web.com tours. Players like Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth and Hunter Hamrick, all of whom competed in the NCAA Championship just five months earlier, as well as last year’s NCAA (John Peterson) and U.S. Amateur (Kraft) champions, bypassed Q-School’s first stage after making the cut in a major.
Q-School is a 17-round process for those who start from the beginning. “The chips aren’t stacked in your favor,” Peterson said of players who start at Q-School’s pre-qualifying stage. Only seven players who started at pre-qualifying last year made it to the final stage; none of those players earned a PGA Tour card.
Peterson finished fourth at this year’s U.S. Open, earning enough money to ensure Web.com Tour status for 2013. That alleviates some of the pressure that comes with Q-School. Starting at second stage also helps. “To (skip) two stages cuts the tournament in half,” he said.
Being exempt into second stage also ensures a player will get his first choice for a qualifying site. Hamrick, who finished 46th in his pro debut at this year’s U.S. Open, is at Hombre Golf Club in Panama City Beach, Fla. It was the only of the six second-stage sites that he’d played before, and the tight 6,811-yard layout is better suited for his game than a wide-open, 7,500-yard behemoth.
“It helps a lot, whenever you can schedule yourself and get prepared,” the former All-American at Alabama said.
Q-School’s second stage isn’t just for the youngsters, though. It’s a crossroads. Former major champions face off against collegiate golfers. They may be separated by two-plus decades, but they share the same goal: a PGA Tour card.
The second stage is especially important for the young players. Veterans often have some sort of conditional status on the Web.com or PGA tours to fall back on. New pros are guaranteed at least conditional Web.com Tour status if they can make it to final stage; they go home empty-handed if their Q-School quest ends this week.
Some players arrive with large staff bags emblazoned with their names, and for the lucky ones, corporate logos. Others have just their college stand bags. Current collegians Spieth (Texas), Sean Dale (North Florida), Andrew Yun (Stanford) and Jace Long (Missouri) are in second stage.
Past PGA Tour winners like Jesper Parnevik, Notah Begay, Carlos Franco, Joe Durant and major champions such as Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem are teeing it up this week. Recent Ryder Cuppers Robert Karlsson (2006, ’08) and Ross Fisher (2010) also are taking a crack at second stage, as is Kyung-Tae Kim, a member of the International team at last year’s Presidents Cup. Jamie Donaldson, No. 48 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and 49th-ranked Alex Noren are competing, as well.
Here are some players to watch as second stage gets underway:
Plantation Preserve Golf Course & Club, Plantation, Fla.
• Ross Fisher, a member of Europe’s victorious 2010 Ryder Cup team.
• Jamie Lovemark, the 2010 Web.com Tour player of the year.
• Manuel Villegas, the younger brother of three-time PGA Tour winner Camilo Villegas.
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TPC Craig Ranch, McKinney, Texas
• The leading money winners on the Web.com Tour in 2008 (Matt Bettencourt), 2009 (Michael Sim) and 2011 (J.J. Killeen).
• Jordan Spieth, a 2011 Walker Cupper and first-team All-American. Another current collegian – North Florida’s Sean Dale – is in the field here.
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Redstone Golf Club (Member), Humble, Texas
• Kelly Kraft, the 2011 U.S. Amateur champion. Kraft failed to advance out of the second stage of European Tour Q-School last week.
• Patrick Reed, who earned more than $300,000 on the PGA Tour this year via Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions.
• Missouri senior Jace Long, No. 13 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He won his pre-qualifying and first-stage Q-School events.
• Alexander Noren, the No. 49 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, was a two-time winner on the European Tour in 2011.
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Southern Hills Plantation Plantation Club, Brooksville, Fla.
• Brandon Brown, the leading money winner on the NGA Tour in 2011 and 2012.
• Robert Karlsson, a member of Europe’s 2006 and 2008 Ryder Cup teams.
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Hombre Golf Club (Bad/Ugly), Panama City Beach, Fla.
• Jamie Donaldson, No. 48 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He won this year’s Irish Open and was seventh at the PGA Championship.
• John Peterson, the 2011 NCAA champion who finished T-4 at this year’s U.S. Open.
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Bear Creek Golf Club, Murrieta, Calif.
• Stanford’s Andrew Yun, the 2012 Pac-12 champion.
• Patrick Cantlay, the 2011 Haskins Award winner as college golf’s player of the year.
• Kyung-Tae Kim, a member of the International team at the 2011 Presidents Cup.
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