Final Exam Over


PGA Tour (75x100)WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The final day of PGA Tour Q-School is the matriarch of multiple-choice exams, with a lineup that includes winners, losers and others.

On Monday at Bear Lakes Country Club the former is a group that includes a wedding-day special: something old (Tour veteran Jeff Maggert), something new (freshman phenom Rickie Fowler), something barrowed (hard charging David Lutterus) and something blue (Boise State products Troy Merritt and Graham Delaet).

The losers cover the competitive spectrum, starting at Josh Broadaway – who started the final turn well within the safety of the top 25, signed for a 78 and has a seat reserved at Nationwide Tour orientation later this week – to Andrew McLardy, who secured a Tour card on the number at 9 under but cost himself valuable early-season starts with a closing 77. Truth is there is no scale capable of measuring the biggest loser at Bear Lakes.
Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler hangs his head, but he was one of the survivors Monday. (Getty Images)
But then Q-School is all about the ambiguous middle ground between black and white. Not since the BCS started deciding national championships has the line between victory and defeat been so blurred depending on player and perspective.

Merritt took medalist honors at 22 under to further boost a stock that has been slow to match the talent. Virtually unnoticed by Division I schools, Merritt walked on at Boise State and hasn’t stopped high-stepping since.

“All he’s ever done is win,” said one long-time observer late Monday afternoon. Twenty-one victories in college, to be exact, followed by a steady climb through the mini-tours and Nationwide Tour.

A clubhouse away, slumped on a bench with a cup of coffee in one hand and a busy cell phone in the other was Julien Trudeau. Trudeau had just signed for a closing 70 which he knew was not going to be enough to push him from obscurity and occasional insolvency to the PGA Tour, yet the smile on his face made it impossible to distinguish between his fate and the fate of Merritt.

“I can’t believe I’m even here,” said Trudeau, making his first finals appearance. “I’ve got David Duval over there and (Tim) Herron showing me how to hit that little butter fade. I finally feel like I can do it.  I finally feel like I belong.”

Forgive Trudeau if his glass is a tad too full. He’d come up short at second stage three times, twice as a player and once as a caddie, so perspective comes easy. He’s also flirted with more financial margins this year than the AIG.

Which begs the delicate question, Did he ever think about quiting?

“Which month of the year are you talking about?” he deadpans.

So he finished at 8 under, one shot outside the Tour bubble and is bound for a year on the Nationwide Tour. Life goes on. Life is good.

“I was talking to Spencer (Levin) and he asked, ‘What is it going to feel like next week to play golf with your buddies?’” Trudeau laughs. “We’ve got a game next week at my club and I’m going let my caddie play. I’ll carry the bag. Hope he doesn’t make me carry the staff bag.”

Not far from Trudeau’s perch was Tom Pernice Jr., foot propped up on a bench in the locker room and completely at ease, at least externally, with the type of late-round collapse that often defines this week. Pernice, you see, was inside the number through 107 holes, pulled his tee shot into the pond where Tour dreams go to die on the 18th hole on the Lakes Course and double bogeyed his way out of card.

Yet if Pernice was dying inside, you couldn’t tell.

“I didn’t come here to not make it so you’re disappointed,” said Pernice, whose safety blanket includes limited veteran status on Tour next year and a Champions Tour card. “Sill, I had a chance I just didn’t get the job done today.”

Maybe a career of solid performances, combined with the golden parachute of the over-50 circuit, helped soften the blow. Maybe Pernice hides his disappointment well. Either way, neither Pernice nor Trudeau had the look of men ready to hurl themselves off Bear Lakes’ post-modern clubhouse.

The same could not be said for Jay Williamson, at least not when he teed off Monday afternoon closer to Nationwide oblivion than the annuity that has become the modern Tour. Williamson is a 42-year-old father of two with a meat-and-potatoes game and a mind that moves too fast for his own good sometimes.

“Hardest week of my life,” sighed Williamson, who ran his Q-School record to 7-for-8 with his 11th-place finish. “I wish I could say I wasn’t nervous, but I haven’t had a good enough career.”

Williamson’s reward was a card with his name and picture on it. No trophy and a check not large enough to cover his expenses for a week, but he embraced his metaphorical chalice with all the zeal of an Open champion hoisting the Claret Jug.

That’s the way it goes when you’ve etched out a career on the fringes of the biggest Tour in the world. That’s the way it goes when you’re a self-described “part-time player” who struggles with nerves and expectations, not high fades and 6-footers.

“This is one of my greatest achievements,” Williamson said. “The problem is I know how hard this is.”

It would be unfair to say Fowler, the up-and-coming star who never looked as if he was more than a single shot away from securing his first Tour card, doesn’t understand the gravity of his accomplishment. But to fully grasp Monday’s happenings one needed a perspective litmus test.

It is the beauty of Q-School, win, lose or other.