December 1, 2008

The Cruelest Week Of Golf

161 players vie for 25 PGA Tour exemptions in the marathon affair, better known as Q School

LA QUINTA, CA -- The cruelest week in golf begins on Wednesday in a California desert spa renowned for its winter warmth and subsequent powers of rejuvenation that don't square with the fate awaiting a preponderance of those competing there.

This is the annual PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, better known as Q School, where dreams go to die. This year, 161 players vie for 25 PGA Tour exemptions in the marathon affair, 108 holes on two difficult courses, the Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses at PGA West in La Quinta.

Albeit, Q School isn't necessarily the career-ender that it once was, before the formation of the Nationwide Tour that now serves as a safety net for those who don't qualify for the PGA Tour. The rest of the field is still assured a place to play, enjoying at least some status on the Nationwide Tour.

Still, the Nationwide Tour is a dubious consolation prize for all involved, but more so for veteran PGA Tour players who lost their equilibrium and fell into the abyss known as obscurity. This is where the most compelling stories are often found.

Notah Begay III, for instance, is a four-time PGA Tour winner, friend and former Stanford teammate of Tiger Woods, who has not played the PGA Tour full time since 2004 and since has battled a chronic back injury and depression. Begay survived the second stage of Q School by shooting a seven-under par 65 in the final round to vault to a tie for ninth.

There are former major champions playing (Mark Brooks) and Ryder Cup members (Chris Riley). There are a host of past champions from the PGA Tour, including Brooks, Riley, Begay, Olin Browne, Carlos Franco and Jason Gore.

There are upstarts, too, foremost among them Ricky Barnes, the former U.S. Amateur champion, who turned pro in 2003 and finally has arrived at the threshold of PGA Tour membership; and Richard Lee, the former U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up who turned pro in the summer of 2007, at the age of 16.

At Q School, however, the past is not prelude, and neither is potential, both of which contribute to Q School's intrigue and ultimately its brutality.