Lessons Learned at Q-School

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Oftentimes when covering golf, hyperbole finds its way into the descriptions and characterizations of the events that unfold. Excuse the pun, but at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament finals, nothing could be further from the truth.
 
Danny Briggs equated the pressure to the feeling a person gets when he sees a police officer just as he realizes hes making up his own speed limit. On Sunday, Briggs also said that his hands were visibly shaking over his final putt'a two-footer to earn a PGA Tour card.
 
Twenty-year-old Kevin Na said, Ive never been so nervous. And David Branshaw, albeit for far greater reasons than earning a card, said, This morning I was scared.
 
With all due respect to Tiger and Ernie, the thought of letting down 11 teammates cant even coat the bottom of the kettle of the pressure cooker that is Q-School. Other than a little bruising of the ego, the two greatest players in world could probably survive a missed putt at the Presidents Cup. At Q-School, one missed putt could make the difference in earning a nice living, or going back to work in the cart barn at the local golf course.
 
Ted Potter, Jr., the aforementioned part-time cart-room attendant, faltered in the final two rounds, but still qualified for exempt status on the Nationwide Tour. Next year hell celebrate his 21st birthday during his rookie season.
 
At two months older than Potter, the second youngest player in the field, Kevin Na, held on for a final-round 72 for a 21st-place finish. Hell be the youngest rookie on the PGA Tour since Ty Tryon, but he has far more experience. With his ability, chances are that Kevin Na may never again have to send along the $4,000 entry fee to endure six December days of agony.
 
When the dust finally settled after 108 difficult holes of golf played at a snails pace, 34 players improved their lot in life significantly, the next 47 players earned all-exempt Nationwide Tour status, and 90 others will filter through the Orlando International Airport on Tuesday with disappointment in their eyes. Another note to Tiger and Ernie: these guys wont be at the private terminal.
 
Seven men played their way into the top 30 in round six, and three unfortunate souls played their way out. However, those three players arent exactly going to the soup kitchen for next years Thanksgiving.
 
Olin Browne fired a final round 77 to miss regaining his all-exempt status on the PGA Tour, but after finishing 130th on the 2003 money list, Olin will still get into about 20 tournaments next season.
 
Kenichi Kuboya missed short putts all over the final nine, but his success in Japan will more than pay the bills next year. The hard part for him might just be in wondering if hell ever again get this close to golfs grandest stage. As Q-School bears out each year, its not that easy.
 
And Donald Roland Trahan Jr. (D.J.), will play one, and most likely only one, season on The Nationwide Tour. At 10 days shy of 23 years old, D.J. handled the disappointment with the poise of a veteran. He knows that at this point in his young career, a year on the Nationwide Tour will probably serve him well in the long run as hell be better prepared to succeed at the next level.
 
As far as the guys who played their way in on the final day, none were more impressive than Omar Uresti.
 
Uresti was on cruise control after a third-round 63. He looked to be assured of a return trip to the land of six-figure endorsements, courtesy cars, and five-star complimentary lunch buffets. Then a fourth-round 79 followed by a 73, and Omar was reeling with thoughts of opportunity lost. Then, when it mattered most, when all the chips were on the line, when all the ducks were on the pond, when his back was situated firmly against the proverbial wall (choose your clich), Omar summoned all available courage and crafted a masterful final-round 64 on the more difficult of the two courses at Orange County National.
 
Now Omar will be heading back to the PGA Tour, albeit with a new caddie in tow. His wife Anita, who shouldered the bag for most of the year, was fired by joint marital decision; however, she still retains the same percentage agreement. According to Omar, Its about 90 percent.
 
As compelling as the stories were at this years Q-School, nothing compared to the plight of David Branshaw.
 
Since learning of his closest friends lost battle against leukemia after the second round, David couldnt stomach the thought of even teeing it up the rest of the week. Each day, on each hole, and before every shot, David contemplated withdrawing from the tournament in order to fly to Henderson, Ky., to be with Jace Buggs wife Misty and family. Of course it was Davids friends, his family, and most importantly Misty herself, that talked him out of it. Misty continued to reaffirm Jaces wishes for David. Even though Jace was gone, his words, his hopes, and his prayers were answered when David birdied the last for a final-round 68, a fourth-place finish, and a one-way trip to the PGA Tour.
 
Eight hundred people were in attendance at Jace Buggs services that were held at the same time David was battling his emotions during the final-round. And every one of them, as well as the countless others that Jaces remarkable life touched in his short time on earth, inspired David with their collective will in hopes that David could pay tribute to his buddy in the most appropriate fashion either one of them could ever know'to get to the PGA Tour.
 
David Branshaw has worn a lady bug pendant on his hat since Jaces original diagnosis just over a year ago. And according to David, Im taking Jace with me next year to the PGA Tour'every step of the way. As late as the morning of the sixth round David needed to be reminded by Misty and Jaces family that Jaces spirit wouldnt be present for his own funeral. Hes going to be with you tomorrow instead, Misty told David.
 
In all the years they shared together on the Canadian Tour and the Nationwide Tour, David and Jace were never paired together in a tournament round. Next year, on the PGA Tour, the place where both of their professional dreams have always resided, David Branshaw and Jace Bugg will be paired together every round'every step of the way.
 
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