Biershenk, Gangluff realize dreams at Q-School

Tommy Biershenk hits a tee shot during the final round of the 2011 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament on December 5, 2011 at the PGA West Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif.

Tommy Biershenk hits a tee shot during the final round of the 2011 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament on December 5, 2011 at the PGA West Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif.

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LA QUINTA, Calif. – Tommy Biershenk was working on a North Carolina farm two years ago, earning $500 a week as he tried to keep his golf dreams alive. Stephen Gangluff was folding sweaters and washing carts last year at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va. Now both are on the PGA Tour.

The graduating class from this year's Q-School includes its share of hot young prospects and past PGA Tour winners. The players who’ve stared down their golfing mortality only to reach the game’s pinnacle, the PGA Tour, are Q-School’s best fodder, though.

“My time just hadn’t come,” said Biershenk, 38, who earned his first PGA Tour card. “I knew if I just stayed patient and waited, that things would come around, and fortunately, thank God, I reached my goal.”

Twenty-six other players attained that goal Monday (two of the players that finished T-27 or better already had graduated via the Nationwide Tour). Richard H. Lee, who missed his card by a single shot last year, played his final five holes in 5 under to earn his card with a shot to spare.

Colt Knost, the 2007 U.S. Amateur champion, best illustrated the emotions associated with the 108-hole event. Knost double bogeyed his final hole after hitting his tee shot in the water. He earned his card on the number, but still shed tears during post-round interviews.

“It’s just tough, six days for a whole year,” Knost said. “It’s a tough week. I’m just glad it’s over.”

Harris English finished 13th, but is the man we may remember as the year’s top graduate. He won on the Nationwide Tour as an amateur, then posted two top-3s in five starts on that circuit as a professional. He graduated from this year’s Q-School a few months after representing the United States at the Walker Cup. Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes and Jeff Overton also earned a Tour card the same year as playing the Walker Cup. That’s good company.

English was one of four Georgia players to earn a Tour card Monday. Brendon Todd, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harman also advanced. Todd was this year’s medalist, finishing at 17-under 415, one shot ahead of Gangluff.

Bobby Gates, who missed his Tour card by less than $1,500 after three-putting his final hole of the 2011 season, redeemed himself by finishing third at 15 under par. He tied with Seung-Yul Noh, one of three Korean players to earn a PGA Tour card.

This is the second consecutive year that multiple 20-somethings from Korea earned PGA Tour cards. No country, other than the United States, has had more Q-School graduates over the past two years than Korea's five.

Sang-Moon Bae, No. 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and Noh, who’s ranked 101st, were the two top-ranked players in the field. Bae has won three Japan Tour titles this year. Noh won on the European Tour last year and finished 30th at this year’s U.S. Open and Open Championship.

Their graduation came at the same site, PGA West, where Y.E. Yang earned his PGA Tour card at the 2008 Q-School. He had to hole an 8-foot bogey putt on his final hole to graduate without a shot to spare. He won the following year's PGA Championship, a victory that inspired players like Bae and Noh to come Stateside. Had Yang missed that 8-footer, he would've been without PGA Tour status for 2009 and almost certainly wouldn't have gained entry into that PGA.

Golf works in mysterious ways.

Biershenk walked away from the game after earning just $11,418 on the Nationwide Tour in 2003. He played sporadically while working odd jobs to support his family, including some “country boy, redneck farming,” to raise money for the 2010 season. He once helped euthanize an ill alpaca.

Biershenk knows well both sides of Q-School. He missed his card by a single shot last year, saying he bawled “like a baby,” after his near-miss.

“It was certainly a stepping stone in my life,” Biershenk said. “It allowed me to appreciate golf as a job. I learned that if I wanted to make it playing golf, I had to work extremely hard to achieve my goals, through hard work and determination.”

Dreams do come true. Q-School proved that again, just as it does every year.

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