The grueling and potentially life-changing event known as the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament is underway and as always, there are no shortage of subplots. This year's Q School features a field of 162 players hoping to put together one good week in order to vault to the game's highest level for the 2011 season.
From recent college graduates, to former winners on the PGA Tour, to career journeyman, the crop teeing it up at Orange County National Golf Center in Winter Garden, Fla., is as diverse as ever. Some of the more noteworthy names are two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, former teen phenom Ty Tryon and 2008 U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee.
In all, there are 16 former PGA Tour winners playing this week. The top 25 and ties after the six-day event will earn their PGA Tour cards for next year, while the next 50 and ties will have playing privileges on the Nationwide Tour.
Billy Mayfair and Scott McCarron are among that group of former winners having to try to earn their tour cards again. McCarron, who made news early in the year with his less-than-flattering remarks regarding Phil Mickelson using old Ping Eye 2 wedges, was in position to lock up his tour card for the next two years with a win at the Reno-Tahoe Open in July, but a final-round 81 dropped him to a tie for 35th place.
Then there's the amazing story of Erik Compton, who continues to follow his PGA Tour dreams despite having had two heart transplants. Compton already got through one qualifier this year when he earned a spot in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
As for Tryon, who became the youngest player ever to make it through Q School in 2001 at the age of 17, he was never able to stick on the PGA Tour. Lee, a New Zealand native, became the youngest winner on the European Tour at the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic at the age of 18 (A record 17-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero recently broke), but hasn't produced much since either.
For players like Tryon and Lee, there is still plenty of time to find their games again, even if it doesn't come this week. For others like PGA Tour veteran Briny Baird, who opened with a disastrous 79, the chances of finding success are starting to fade.
One golfer in his infant stages of being a pro, former Clemson University star Kyle Stanley, got off to a fast start on the first day of the pressure-packed tournament with a seven-under 65 to grab the early clubhouse lead. But as Baird and others who have been through this long and arduous process can attest, it's only going to get tougher over the next five days. As Janzen tweeted after opening with a 74: "Qschool. Nothing fun about it!"
-- Alex Myers