The Last Q-School

By Ryan LavnerOctober 16, 2012, 8:40 pm

LAKELAND, Fla. – Welcome to The Last Q-School. It’s the final time that qualifying school offers direct access to the PGA Tour. It’s the final time that, in theory, a golfer can go from washing carts to courtesy cars. This is a place for up-and-comers and also-rans and has-beens, sure, but it will always be a place for dreamers, too.

Meet Anthony Aruta. He’s a 32-year-old club pro from Long Island. He was playing so well in area tournaments this summer, he decided on a whim that this would be the year that he finally attempts Q-School. “It’s worth a try, right?” he asked.

Only problem: It’s expensive – like, $6,000 expensive (if you have to go through pre-qualifying, which he did), and Aruta didn’t have that kind of disposable income. A few members from the Mill River Club in Brooksville stepped in and offered to foot the bill.

PGA Tour Q-School first stage sites and scores

“If this doesn’t work out, then I’ll go do what I normally do,” Aruta said Tuesday, after an opening-round 69 at Grasslands Golf & Country Club in the first stage of qualifying. “And if it does, well, I guess I’ll have a different life for a while.”

A different life? The thought still seems unimaginable to David Branshaw.

This is his 16th Q-School. Sixteenth. He only arrived at that number after counting on his fingers for 45 seconds. He apologized for the delay. After a while, you see, the sites and the checks and the scores begin to run together.

“There’s always a little bit of nerves,” he said of Q-School. “You gotta perform in this tournament – there’s no next week. You gotta do it this week.”

This has probably been the most difficult year of Branshaw’s career. His numbers aren’t gaudy, but he’s one of the most accomplished players competing at this site.

He’s made 191 starts on the Tour, winning twice – most recently in 2005, at the Tour Championship – and amassing more than $1.05 million in earnings. (He’s also earned another million and change on the PGA Tour.) Just last year, Branshaw was playing full-time on the then-Nationwide Tour, but he lost his card after missing the cut in 15 of 24 starts.

Now, he can’t even get a spot in those same fields. Now, he’s stuck playing one- and two-day events on the West Florida Golf Tour. Now, he’s just one of 78 players who hopes the putter cooperates for four days.

“It’s been a long year for me,” he sighed.

On Tuesday, Branshaw, 43, wore a yellow shirt and baggy khaki pants. He surveyed chip shots with a towel slung over his left shoulder and a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. He shot 71.

A caddie? Nope, not here. Couldn’t find one. All the good loopers are in Jacksonville, he says, for the event. Or they’re in Georgia, for the Fall Series tournament. “I could get one of my buddies at home,” Branshaw said, “but he’s working. He’s got a job.”

So, instead, Branshaw dropped $200 on a new Sun Mountain push cart. And after each round, he’ll break the thing down and cram it into the trunk of his car and make the 50-minute drive back home to Tampa, which is fine, except it serves as a reminder that he doesn’t want to be at Q-School in the first place.

“It’s confusion,” he said. “I don’t understand it. I had a bad year (in 2011), but so what? I always had a safety net, and they took it away. Is there no category for someone who has made so many cuts (111)? I don’t think I should be here.

“It’s very frustrating, you know, but that’s golf. If you don’t play good, you don’t have a job. Such is life, right? You don’t do good in your job, they can fire you, right? There are no more second chances.”

No more second chances. Joey Lamielle doesn’t quite believe that, at least not yet.

This is his sixth Q-School, and he still has vivid memories of his first one, in 2006, right here in Lakeland, the fall after he graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University.

He was so nervous standing on the first tee on the first day, he said, “I couldn’t feel my legs.” That day he shot 79, but he would rally over the final three days to advance. Two years ago, he needed to run off seven consecutive birdies – 90-foot putts, near-hole-outs from the fairway – just to make it on the number. Now, though, he’s 30 years old, a mini-tour regular, and a guy “constantly looking for the next buck to go out and play.”

So, seriously, why does he keep attempting Q-School?

“Because I’m stupid,” he said after an opening 71, only slightly joking. “It’s a dream, you know? Each year, I feel like I’m closer and closer and closer. Without a doubt, it’s a grind. I can’t tell you how many times, especially in the past two years, that I’ve said, ‘I’ll give it one more week and I’m done.’ Absolutely there have been times when I’ve wanted to pack it in and I’m frustrated and I’m pissed. But that’s golf and life.

“Every time I get to that low point, it seems like I’ll go shoot 64 out of the blue. It keeps teasing you. The man upstairs has a sense of humor, I guess. He likes to see how many times he can kick me in the face before I don’t get back up. But there’s no quit in me, man. No quit.”

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Stricker leads in hometown event; Daly three back

By Associated PressJune 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

MADISON, Wis. – Steve Stricker made himself at home at the top of the leaderboard on a rainy and breezy Friday at the American Family Insurance Championship.

The hometown star and tournament host shot an 8-under 64 at University Ridge to take a one-stroke lead over Brad Bryant in the PGA Tour Champions event. Because of the wet conditions, the players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways.

John Daly, Colin Montgomerie and Steve Flesch shot 67. Daly returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for three events.

Splitting time between the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit, the 51-year-old Stricker had his 30th consecutive Champions round under par, the fourth-longest streak in tour history.

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.

Fellow Madison player Jerry Kelly and Illinois coach Mike Small, Stricker's teammate with the Illini, were at 68 with Bernhard Langer, Scott Verplank, Jeff Sluman, Glen Day, Billy Mayfair, Doug Garwood, Jerry Smith and Rocco Mediate. Defending champion Fred Couples had a 69.

Stricker played alongside Vijay Singh and Davis Love III. Singh shot 81, and Love 72.

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Aphibarnrat keeps promise to M. Jutanugarn

By Randall MellJune 22, 2018, 9:25 pm

Moriya Jutanugarn was inspired by a special fan Friday who kept a promise to her.

She will be looking to use that boost to make this a memorable new chapter in the Jutanugarn “Sisters Act” story.

Three weeks after Ariya won the U.S. Women’s Open for her second victory in 2018, Mo is in early position in Rogers, Ark., to join her sister as the tour’s only two-time winners this year.

Mo put up a 7-under-par 64 to get into early contention at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She was tied for the lead among the morning wave with Aditi Ashok, who is looking to inspire the entire nation of India by winning a first LPGA title for her homeland. Lizette Salas and Mirim Lee also shot 64s in the early wave.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Moriya got in contention with PGA Tour pro Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the gallery following her. A fellow Thai, Aphibarnrat promised Mo he would come watch her if she won an LPGA title. She broke through for her first victory in April at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open, and Aphribarnrat lived up to his promise showing up this week.

“He's like my brother, and it’s very nice to see him,” Moriya said. “Really happy for him, as well, because he is having a very good year this year.”

At the Masters, Ariya caddied for Aphibarnrat during the Par 3 Contest.

Aphibarnrat said he is a big fan of the Thai sisters and also planned to watch Ariya in the afternoon.

“They inspire me,” Aphibarnrat told LPGA media official Christina Lance after the round.

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Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

“Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

“Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

“Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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Only putting is holding McIlroy back

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

“I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”