Martin: Swafford optimistic about Nationwide Tour

Hudson Swafford (left) and Russell Henley

LAKE MARY, Fla. – There’s plenty of knowledge for new pros to gain on the Nationwide Tour, plus the opportunity to earn a PGA Tour card. Focusing on those positives has helped Hudson Swafford lessen the sting of falling short at Q-School.

Swafford, who turned pro after the 2011 NCAA Championship, was tied for 24th entering the final round of December’s Q-School. The top 25 earn PGA Tour cards. A final-round 73, including a double-bogey at his eighth hole, left him two shots short of earning a PGA Tour card.

“I was pretty disappointed, because I definitely gave myself a shot,” Swafford said. “It was bittersweet, but you can’t overlook the Nationwide Tour. It’s an opportunity. You have to see it as that.”

Earning a Nationwide Tour card in his first Q-School still puts Swafford ahead of many of his college contemporaries, many of whom will spend 2012 playing mini-tours and Monday qualifiers. Swafford’s rookie season begins Thursday with the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship in Bogota, Colombia, the first of 27 events on this year’s schedule.

The top 25 money earners at season’s end will graduate to the PGA Tour. Swafford, Georgia teammate Russell Henley and Canada’s Adam Hadwin are among the tour’s top rookies.

Hadwin made $440,752 in just five PGA Tour starts in 2011, including a fourth-place finish at the Canadian Open and seventh-place showing at the Frys.com Open.

Swafford was an All-American at Georgia. He won on the eGolf Professional Tour shortly after helping the Bulldogs to a runner-up finish at the 2011 NCAA Championship. Harris English, one of the PGA Tour’s top rookies, and Henley also were on that team. Henley won the Nationwide Tour’s Stadion Classic last year as an amateur before representing the United States at the 2011 Walker Cup.

English, who also played the Walker Cup, has made his first four cuts on the PGA Tour, including two top-25 finishes. Henley said he’s happy for his former teammate’s success, but also is pleased with his position.

“As great as it is to be on tour, for me, I feel like I have a lot to learn and I need to take all the steps going up the ladder,” Henley said. “I’m excited to start (on the Nationwide Tour).

“It’s getting used to playing that many tournaments, getting used to travel and just playing pro golf. It is a change, no matter how you look at it.”

The tour takes a week off after the Colombia event, and then conducts consecutive tournaments in Panama and Chile. The tour’s domestic debut will be March 22-25 in Louisiana. The next event, the Soboba Golf Classic, has a $750,000 purse, the third-largest of the year.

Moving the Soboba from September to April 5-8 helped eliminate some of the schedule’s early-season gaps while also moving one of the year’s most important events to the front of the schedule. The season concludes Oct. 25-28 at the Nationwide Tour Championship at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas.

• • •

TOP RETURNING MONEY WINNERS

  • 26. James Nitties, $174,850
  • 27. David Lingmerth, $170,980
  • 28. Josh Broadaway, $169,293
  • 29. Brett Wetterich, $167,300
  • 30. Jeff Gove, $166,440
  • 33. Darron Stiles, $155,436
  • 34. Matt Davidson, $153,309
  • 35. Camilo Benedetti, $151,654
  • 36. Will Wilcox, $149,123
  • 38. Luke List, $142,600
  • 39. Cliff Kresge, $142,132
  • 40. Paul Claxton, $140,544
  • 41. Brenden Pappas, $137,918
  • 42. Brian Smock, $136,037
  • 43. Aaron Watkins, $130,950
  • 44. Rob Oppenheim, $129,594
  • 45. Matt Hendrix, $129,427
  • 46. Bubba Dickerson, $127,806
  • 47. Casey Wittenberg, $127,772
  • 48. B.J. Staten, $127,010
  • 49. Alistair Presnell, $125,525
  • 50. Aaron Goldberg, $125,223
  • 51. Steve Friesen, $122,926
  • 53. Kirk Triplett, $117,168
  • 54. Ryan Armour, $115,706
  • 55. Andrew Svoboda, $108,213
  • 56. Roger Tambellini, $107,707
  • 57. Justin Bolli, $106,717
  • 58. Craig Bowden, $105,027
  • 59. John Kimbell, $104,392
  • 60. Travis Hampshire, $101,690

• • •

NOTABLE ROOKIES

Stuart Anderson: The Illinois State alumnus has represented Canada in multiple World Cups. He won the 2011 Canadian Tour Championship and was runner-up three times on last year’s NGA (formerly Hooters) Tour.

Brad Benjamin*: The 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion also made the cut as an amateur at the 2011 U.S. Open.

Joseph Bramlett*: The Stanford grad and 2010 Northeast Amateur champion earned a PGA Tour card at his first Q-School. He finds himself on the Nationwide Tour after finishing 196th on the PGA Tour money list in his rookie season.

John Chin*: The 2010 first-team All-American from UC Irvine ranked No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, behind Henley.

Jeff Corr*: The 2011 NGA (formerly Hooters) Tour player of the year will struggle to get starts after finishing T-144 at Q-School. Corr is a rookie after turning pro 10 years ago.

Chris DeForest*: The Illinois graduate will be one of the longest - if not the longest - players on the Nationwide Tour in 2012.

Derek Fathauer: The former Louisville Cardinal made the cut at the 2008 U.S. Open as an amateur, then was runner-up at that year’s Q-School. He finished 203rd on the 2009 PGA Tour money list. He missed his Tour card by a stroke at last year’s Q-School at PGA West, the same site where he earned his card in ’09. He was 22nd on the eGolf Professional Tour money list in 2011.

Erik Flores: The 24-year-old, a 2009 UCLA graduate, missed his PGA Tour card by a shot at Q-School. He has made no Nationwide Tour starts before this season. He was 14th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings as a senior.

Brendan Gielow*: The former Porter Cup and Northeast Amateur champion represented the U.S. at the 2009 Walker Cup. He finished No. 34 on the eGolf Professional Tour’s money list in 2011.

Paul Haley: He advanced through Q-School in his first try, finishing 54th to earn a full Nationwide Tour card. Haley won the 2011 ACC Championship at Georgia Tech.

Adam Hadwin*: He earned $440,752 in just five PGA Tour starts last year, highlighted by a T-4 at the Canadian Open and T-7 at the Frys.com Open.

Russell Henley: He won on the Nationwide Tour last year as an amateur. He also represented the U.S. at the 2011 Walker Cup and was co-low amateur at the 2010 U.S. Open (T-16). He was the 2010 Golfweek college player of the year.

Bio Kim*: The 21-year-old South Korean was the youngest member of last year’s PGA Tour. He finished 162nd on the money list. Kim also won the OneAsia Tour’s China Masters.

Mike Lavery: The UC Irvine graduate finished in the top 11 in six of his final seven starts on the 2011 NGA Tour, including four top-3 finishes. His father, John, played minor-league baseball in the Oakland A’s and Cleveland Indians’ organizations.

Ben Martin*: The 2009 U.S. Amateur runner-up was runner-up at Q-School in his first attempt. He finished 164th on the PGA Tour money list in 2011.

Corey Nagy: The former Charlotte All-American was the eGolf Professional Tour’s player of the year. He won three times, including the season-ending event, to claim the money title.

Philip Pettitt: He was the 2009 NGA Tour rookie of the year, having won twice and finished in the top-15 in more than half of his starts. He was third on the money list in 2011.

Jim Renner: He had a solid rookie season on the PGA Tour in 2011, but finds himself on the Nationwide Tour after finishing 152nd on the money list.

Sam Saunders*: The grandson of Arnold Palmer has started to make a name for himself. He earned Nationwide Tour status with a T-109 at Q-School finals.

Hudson Swafford: The former Georgia All-American won on the eGolf Professional Tour in 2011. He turned pro after teaming with Henley and Harris English for a runner-up finish at the 2011 NCAA Championship.

Travis Wadkins*: The former Wake Forest player is the son of World Golf Hall of Famer Lanny Wadkins.

Chris Wilson: The former Big Ten champion at Northwestern will be looking for a bit of redemption after finishing 213th ($76,481) on the PGA Tour money list as a rookie. He was 15th on last year’s NGA Tour money list.

Brent Witcher*: The Valdosta (Ga.) State product won the 2009 Jack Nicklaus Award as the Division II player of the year.

*-conditionally exempt

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