PGA Tour Q-School success stories

By Jason SobelDecember 2, 2012, 5:27 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The stories litter golf’s landscape this time of year, like pine needles gathering under a Christmas tree. We’ve all heard them. The final-hole putt that went halfway into the hole and inexplicably popped out. The approach shot that hit a cart path and bounced on top of the clubhouse roof. The incorrectly signed scorecard.

These are the tales of Q-School’s gloom and doom. They quench our wicked thirst for schadenfreude, but also serve a greater purpose. We learn a lesson with each one, that the line between PGA Tour glory and another year of professional deficiency is as thin as a 1-iron.

And yet, for every sob story – OK, maybe for every five, or 10, or 100 stories – there is one about the guy who made it, the guy who through some combination of talent, grit, determination, perseverance and luck aimed high and achieved his dream. Sometimes these success stories last only a year before the player is right back to Chasing the Dream; other times it can translate into long-term prosperity.

The Last Q-School: Articles, videos and photos

Every so often, there’s a player who enters Q-School with everything on the line and not only earns his way to the big leagues, but takes the fast track to superstardom on the way there. Consider them the ultimate examples of the domino effect. A bad swing here, a lipped-out putt there, and their fortunes would have become misfortune – at least for another year.

Instead, these players have gone from the six-round grind-fest to golf’s penthouse, becoming not only elite talents but household names along the way. With changes to the Q-School format impending, stories such as these will cease to exist in their current form. The following four endure – from players who need no introduction.

Hunter Mahan never played a single event on the PGA Tour’s developmental tour. It’s not terribly uncommon for some players to eschew membership, but it’s rare when one can make the leap and avoid the circuit altogether.

He knows it easily could have gone the other way.

Mahan first entered Q-School in 2003, successfully earning his PGA Tour card. He retained status that first season, then lost it the next year. So he returned to Q-School again, earned his card again and has never looked back.

“I always liked Q-School,” he recalls. “I thought through six rounds you’re going to find out who the better players are and who can make it on Tour. You earn the chance and opportunity to play out there. When you play enough rounds, you play those six rounds, I think it gets weeded out pretty good. The guys who have the mental ability and strength to get through usually do. But there’s a thin line there that separates a career from going quickly or taking a year or two.”

Seven years after his last trip to Q-School, Mahan is the world’s 25th-ranked player, a five-time PGA Tour winner who owns more than $21 million in career earnings.

He doesn’t take it for granted. Mahan understands that while talent and determination have plenty to do with which side of that thin line a player falls, there are some who simply aren’t as fortunate.

“That’s a tough life,” he says of toiling on the developmental tour. “Some of those guys are barely scraping by with families, driving all around. My hat’s off to the guys who do that, who follow their dreams, because that’s not an easy thing. That’s work. It may be harder than someone getting a 9-to-5 job, because that’s travel and pressure. That’s real life more than what we do.”

Many players enter Q-School with some advantage already intact. It can be anything from an exemption into the second stage to a lower level of status that needs improving.

Dustin Johnson wasn’t afforded these luxuries.

When he entered Q-School in 2007, he started not from the middle or the end like others, but right from the start – not that it affected him much. The easygoing long-hitter impressed in first stage, winning by some eight strokes, then easily cruised through the second and third stages to earn his playing privileges.

Since then, the Coastal Carolina product has made his mark by winning at least one PGA Tour title in each of his first five seasons, the first player to do that straight out of college since Tiger Woods.

“I’ve been fortunate enough, since I’ve gotten out here I’ve done really well,” he admits. “It’s hard work, but this is the best place to be, especially if you love to play golf. There’s no better place in the world than the PGA Tour. Sometimes it’s just really hard to get out here. Q-School is really tough, six days of grinding.'

Ask Webb Simpson what most prepared him for Q-School back in 2008 and he won’t point to the six PGA Tour starts he made that year – including three made cuts – but the eight appearances on the erstwhile Nationwide Tour, where he compiled a pair of runner-up finishes.

“If I hadn't have played those events, I don't think I would have gotten in,” he maintains. “But yeah, it set up everything. I came out in '09 and finished ninth and fifth in my first two tournaments.”

And he hasn’t looked back. Simpson tallied eight top-25 results that first season and seven more in 2010 before reaching his breakthrough performance last year. He won twice, had three runner-up results and a dozen overall top-10s, which served as a knowing precursor to his U.S. Open victory this year.

Even though his story remains a Q-School success, Simpson understands the reason for change going forward and believes it could help nurture similar tales in future years.

“It's going to be tough for guys that don't make it this year given it's the last year, but it helped me tremendously, just gave me a quick start,” he says. “It's not going to be that way anymore, but I think what they're doing is good. I think better players will come out of the playoff system.”

There may be no greater tale of instant Q-School gratification than that of Rickie Fowler.

An all-everything wunderkind out of Oklahoma State, Fowler nearly won titles on both the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour in 2009, losing each time in a playoff. Those results were enough to exempt him into the final stage, which he considered a relief in itself.

“The hardest part of Q-School is getting through second stage – it’s only four rounds, everything on the line, it can all come down to one shot, whether you have status somewhere or you have nothing,” he explains. “Once you get to third stage, six rounds kind of gives you a little bit of wiggle room for one tough round, where you can kind of figure some things out.”

For him, that round was the first one. He turned what he thought could have been a round “in the high-70s” into a 74, then went low for the next few days to easily qualify and earn PGA Tour status for 2010.

The rest, as they say, is history. Instant history. Fowler claimed seven top-10s that season, earning not only Rookie of the Year honors, but a captain’s pick for that year’s Ryder Cup team. Less than a year after grinding it out at Q-School, he was competing for his country alongside the greats of the game. Just two years later, he earned his first PGA Tour victory.

“Looking back, I could have been on the for a year, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing,” he says. “I would have had status somewhere, would have been playing for money, would have been able to make a living and get things started, hopefully continue to play well and get on the PGA Tour later. But you’re talking about no Rookie of the Year and obviously no Ryder Cup, which has been one of my biggest accomplishments besides the win. Q-School can definitely make or break some guys.”

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes