Waldman opts for N'wide Tour in 2011

Brett Waldman during the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

Brett Waldman during the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

Sean Foley has studied the swing, the overall product, and given it the thumbs up.

“He has always been good, but now he has perspective and understands the game and himself better,” Foley said.

Was he talking about his newest student, Tiger Woods?

Nah.

He was offering praise about the newest face on the Nationwide Tour, Brett Waldman.

Of course, he’s not a very new face to the pro golf landscape, because for eight years Waldman has been a prominent caddie on the PGA Tour, most recently with the high-profile Camilo Villegas. But giving in to the competitive fire that has burned within for years, Waldman has given up that lucrative job in 2011 to fulfill a dream and play professionally.

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Brett Waldman during the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

Having finished T-64 at the final stage of the recent PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, Waldman did not make it to the big leagues, but the Nationwide Tour is the next best thing.

“It was a tough decision, a very tough decision,” said Waldman, who played collegiately at Kansas State and Central Florida before giving pro golf a try. When in 2002 he failed to make it through the second stage of Q School, he accepted an offer to caddie for Tom Pernice Jr. Later he worked for Ben Crane before embarking upon a successful run alongside Villegas.

Given that the flamboyant and talented Villegas has won three times and earned $9,263,145 in the last three years alone, Waldman doesn’t deny that “I had a nice, financial bag.”

But, still, the urge to chase a dream was just too good to pass up.

“Not a lot of people get a second chance,” Waldman said. “I’ve come this far, why not give it a chance?”

He was referring to the fact that he had handled the pressure at pre-qualifying, first stage, and second stage just to make into the final stage. At times during the final stage, it appeared as if he were destined for a PGA Tour card – especially when he backed up a 68 with a 72 – but Waldman then shot 71-72-75 to fall down the leaderboard. When he closed with a 68, however, he moved forward a little, settling in at 3 under 426, seven off the number.

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Caddie Brett Waldman and Camilo Villegas at Pebble Beach.

In fact, if there’s one thing Waldman can certainly take pride in, it’s the way he closed things out during his Q-School march. At first stage, he was in danger of missing the cut when he played his last 10 holes in 3 under, getting in on the number with birdies at 15 and 16. At second stage, he played the last 12 holes of his final round in 4 under to finish one inside the cut.

For his four final rounds, Waldman registered scores of 70, 69, 68, and 68 – a cumulative 13 under.

That is perhaps one reason Waldman heads to the Nationwide Tour with a sense of excitement. He also takes with him the knowledge that two of his biggest fans have provided priceless support – his wife, Angel, and Villegas.

“I couldn’t have asked for more. She’s encouraged me all the way and was the one who talked me into going to Q-School,” Waldman said. “And Camilo? I talked to him last night. I apologized to him, because I felt I was leaving at a time when we had unfinished business.

“But he has been unbelievable the whole time. He was so supportive.”

Waldman said he has been “overwhelmed” at the support he has received from fellow caddies and a good number of players. That’s no surprise to Chris Mundorf, who one year ago faced a similar decision and did like Waldman – he chose to play the Nationwide Tour and give up his job as Troy Matteson’s caddie.

“I can appreciate what he’s doing and I’m happy for him,” Mundorf said. “But Brett’s situation is hugely different than mine. Brett has full status, I didn’t, so I didn’t start getting tournaments on my number until June.”

Waldman’s decision intersected beautifully with the release of the Nationwide Tour schedule. He’s studied it already and revealed he’ll be there in Panama for the opening tournament (Feb. 24-27), then he’ll go to Colombia for the second event (March 3-6). That’s right, Colombia, Villegas’ homeland.

“I already asked him, ‘Will you be there?’ ” Waldman said, laughing. “I mean, I won’t be as popular as he is down there. He’s a rock star there.”

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Brett Waldman and Camilo Villegas at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Alas, it’s highly unlikely that Villegas will be in Colombia that week, given that he’s the defending champion at the Honda Classic, which will also be played March 3-6. It was a great effort, that Honda triumph, with Villegas closing with a 68 to win by five in cold, whipping wind, and Waldman concedes that’s the type of memory that made this such a tough decision.

Knowing Villegas has the talent to win major championships sat at one side of the debate, but at the other was this: “I just didn’t want to look back six months from now, or a year, and be living with regrets,” Waldman said.

He said there are equipment and endorsement deals in the works, but Foley offered assurance that Waldman already has a key component: Impressive power.

“I’ve seen him hit out there past very good players,” Foley said. “He’s long, very long. Length is not a problem.”

In fact, Foley doesn’t think anything about this story is a problem.

“It is always nice to see someone achieve their dreams,” he said.

• • •

Waldman’s decision to switch jobs is just one piece to a sort of caddie shuffle out on the PGA Tour.

Obviously, Villegas will be in search of a new caddie and one candidate is Paul Tesori, who had only recently been let loose by Sean O’Hair. It was a logical move by Villegas, because Tesori is a respected veteran who had already planned on being at the Chevron with O’Hair.

With Mike Weir sidelined with an elbow injury, O’Hair put a call out to Brennan Little and eyebrows were raised. But O’Hair downplayed that at the Chevron.

“Obviously, I’m not getting in the way of (Little) and Weirsy; I have a lot of respect for Mike, he’s a good friend,” O’Hair said.

It appears, however, that O’Hair and Little will be a team.

According to a report in the Toronto Sun, Weir made his return to competitive golf in the Shark Shootout last weekend, but after the final round, Brennan told him of his plans to work for O’Hair in 2011.

Little has been on Weir’s bag for all eight PGA Tour wins, including the 2003 Masters.

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