December 1, 2008

The Waiting is Over

Dreams and Heartbreak on the Final Day

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The emotional gamut ran its course all within a matter of moments on the 18th hole of the Nicklaus Tournament Course on Monday afternoon, the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament delivering on its promise of compelling theater to the extremes.

Brian Vranesh, 31, was waiting tables a year ago. When he holed out to finish a round of seven under par 65, he had completed an improbable journey from working for tips to playing for millions, setting free a torrent of tears that qualifies as a gully washer in this bone-dry California desert.

Moments later, in the group directly behind Vranesh, a dispirited Josh Teater, 29, a veteran of mini tours who was on the verge of a promotion to the big leagues, completed a freefall finish -- triple-bogey, double-bogey, par, double-bogey -- that left the pieces of his shattered dream strewn across PGA West here.

It was, simultaneously blissfully and lamentably, a typical Q school finish.

For Vranesh, it marked the culmination of a decade or more of blue-collar work in pursuit of a career at a white-collar game. He made sandwiches at Subway, delivered pizzas, caddied at Sherwood Country Club outside Los Angeles ("I caddied in Tiger's group in the pro-am right before his tournament," he said), all in support of a golf habit that is finally ready to pay off.

"A year ago I was waiting tables in Scottsdale, at Bobby's, for Bob Mancuso, so I could make money at night and play golf during the day," Vranesh said. "I got to drink a lot of nice wine."

Presumably the corkscrew would get a workout Monday night. Vranesh had much of his family in tow and several were in tears as well, his fiance' Erin Walton and his sister Amy Vranesh among them. His cousin was there, too, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jon Garland, who has a World Series ring from his days with the White Sox and a storehouse of knowledge on performing under pressure that he had shared with Vranesh.

"We've had plenty of conversations about the mental side," Garland said, "about being on that big stage. You've got to keep it as simple as you possible can, fairways and greens."

He took the pitcher's advice and delivered what was tantamount to a perfect game, seven birdies, no bogeys, when anything less would have left him on the outside looking in. He started the day tied for 38th and finished it tied for 18th at 19-under par, the number required to earn a PGA Tour card.

Two years ago, Vranesh made it to the final stage of Q school here at PGA West and was unable to convert. He played 13 times on the Nationwide Tour in '07 and won a couple of times on the Gateway Tour in '08, seeding his mind with the idea that he could play the PGA Tour.

"The hardest thing is you've got to play good two months out of the year," he said. "But I've been hitting it good for a year. And playing in 13 Nationwide events gives you so much to build on."

So while Vranesh is preparing to move onto the PGA Tour, Teater will attempt to regroup from the worst stretch of golf in his life, all things considered, and join the Nationwide Tour.

Teater was six under par on his round and 19 under par for the tournament when he came to the par-5 15th hole on Monday. He hit his second there into the water, took a drop and hit his fourth into the water. After another drop, he hit his sixth onto the green and two-putted for eight.

He double-bogeyed two of the next three and fell to a tie for 62nd and on the wrong end of the extremes that make Q School what it so maddeningly is.