The second stage of PGA Tour qualifying school is on this week at six U.S. sites. The top performers from each will head to the final stage, Nov. 28 through Dec. 3, at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., where the usual complement of heartening and heartbreaking stories will develop as players win (and miss) PGA Tour cards for the 2013 season. It's a good time to pay attention, because this is the final year for the Q-school as it is now constituted.
Twenty Canadians are in action this week. Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., has already qualified for the final stage because he finished No. 30 on the lower-tier Web.com Tour's money list. Golfers who finished No. 26 through No. 40 earned a pass into the final stage. Brad Fritsch of Ottawa finished at No. 18 and won his 2013 PGA Tour card; golfers in the top 25 on the Web.com earned promotions.
Still, Fritsch has entered the final stage to try to improve his position, which would make it likely he would get into more PGA Tour events; the higher he finishes, the better his chances of getting starts.
It's too bad that this year marks the end of players going directly to the PGA Tour from Q-school. A qualifying school tournament will still be played, but it will provide a route to the Web.com Tour rather than the PGA Tour. The data show that players moving up from the lower tier have a greater chance of succeeding on the top-level PGA Tour than those who get in from qualifying school, as rigorous as it is. But a successful full season on the Web.com provides more experience and leads to more success.
Still, the end of the direct route from Q-school means a loss of compelling human-interest stories. Canadians in particular might remember Mike Weir's multiple appearances before reaching the PGA Tour. He first earned his exempt status during the 1997 Q-school at the Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Club in Haines City, Fla.
Weir was playing the qualifying series for his sixth time. The top 35 and ties in the final stage made it to the 1998 PGA Tour. Weir got through, and was in tears when he finished his sixth and last round in the final stage.
"It was just a gut-check all day," Weir said then. "I can't even imagine a major championship being tougher than this."
Weir finished No. 131 on the 1998 money list, and had to return to Q-school because he was outside the top 125 who maintain their exempt status. He won that Q-school, and then went on to capture the 2003 Masters and seven other PGA Tour titles. He is struggling now as he tries to find his game, but he'll be able to play full-time on the 2013 PGA Tour. He is using one of the two exemptions he has earned off his position in the top 25 on the PGA Tour's career money list.
Weir's Q-school story is the most compelling where Canadian golfers are concerned. But the way David Hearn got to the PGA Tour the first time is also quite a tale. The Brantford, Ont., player was in great shape heading down the stretch in the last round of the final stage in December of 2004 at PGA West, but started to stumble. He holed a crucial par-saving putt of 15 feet on the 17th hole, and then a monster putt for birdie on the last hole to win his card.
"Way too much drama for my liking," Hearn said in a telephone interview shortly after he finished.
Weir's brother, Jim, was watching the telecast. In an e-mail, he wrote, "I have not been that nervous for a player since my brother was going through his Q-school experiences."
Hearn played the 2005 PGA Tour but didn't retain his card. He made his way back for 2012 through the Web.com (then Nationwide) Tour. Hearn finished No. 97 on the PGA Tour's money list this year, winning just more than $1-million (U.S.). He finished two spots behind his friend and fellow Canadian Graham DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask. They therefore qualified for the 2013 PGA Tour, meaning no qualifying school for them.
And, come next year, no qualifying school for any other golfers either, not one that will get them directly to the PGA Tour anyway. Q-school has been played since 1965, but it's soon goodbye, and that means a loss for golf-watchers. The drama of a gut-wrenching Q-school finish is irreplaceable.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein