LA QUINTA, Ca. — Dong-Hwan Lee of South Korea wiped away a single tear when he realized he had earned a ticket to the on the PGA Tour. Moments later, Edward Loar stood tall as he spoke about two shots into the water on the last two holes at Q-school that sent him back to the Web.com Tour.
Amid this familiar contrast of emotions, a sense of nostalgia swept across the California desert late Monday afternoon.
“To get this one is extra special, knowing that next year guys won’t have this opportunity,” said Scott Langley, one of 26 players who graduated in the final edition of this six-round tournament that offers a ticket to the richest tour in golf.
There were 25 cards earned in Monday’s finale while Brad Fritsch, the 26th graduate, simply improved upon his status after graduating from the Web.com Tour earlier this year.
The Tour next year will end a half-century of tradition when Q-school will only provide cards to the Web.com Tour.
The Tour is changing its structure to make it more competitive than ever. The players who failed to reach the FedExCup playoffs will meet in a series of four tournaments called “The Finals,” and the 25 players who earn the most money from those events will get their cards
That was on the mind of so many players who sweated out six days over two golf courses at PGA West.
Lee birdied his last three holes for a 5-under 67 on the Stadium Course to win Q-school, which gives him the highest priority of the 25 players who earned cards, along with a $50,000 first-place check. Ross Fisher of England, who won two matches at the Ryder Cup two years ago in Wales, was among those who finished one shot behind.
Fisher has played plenty in America, mostly the majors and World Golf Championships because of his world ranking. But when he heard about the PGA Tour’s change, he skipped the season-ending European Tour event in Dubai to get ready for Q-school.
“This game can go high and it can go low,” Fisher said. “Last year for me was not great. This year has been a work in progress. But it was the last year of Q-school, and it was nice to create a bit of history to be one of the guys at the last one.”
Camilo Villegas, who won back-to-back FedExCup Playoff events in 2008, had to return to Q-school and missed his card by two shots. Villegas said he would hope for sponsor exemptions to try to get back his full status.
Heath Slocum, only three years removed from a FedExCup Playoff win in which he beat Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington with a birdie on the last hole at The Barclays, also failed to get through. Slocum needed a birdie on his last hole, but a bad swing came at the wrong time. He pulled his tee shot into the water and made bogey. A day earlier, Slocum’s ball moved a fraction of an inch before a putt and he called a one-shot penalty on himself.
“They say crazy stuff happens in Q-school, and it does,” Slocum said. “That’s never happened before. That’s one shot. You never know when one shot can help.”
Among those earning their cards was Erik Compton, who only four years ago nearly died of a heart attack while driving himself to the hospital. He made it in time to survive and get a second heart transplant.
“This is hell week,” said Compton, who said he slept only two hours each of the last two nights. “There was a sense of urgency for me. I don’t know if my health is going to hold up. If I could only go to the Web.com Tour, I probably would beat myself up.”
Robert Karlsson, another former Ryder Cup player whose game was in such disrepair that he withdrew from the British Open this year because he didn’t know where the ball was going, made it with three strokes to spare.
The list also includes Donald Constable, who had to go through a pre-qualifier and then three more stages of Q-school to reach the PGA Tour.
The status was more confusing for Si Woo Kim, the 17-year-old South Korean with a flawless swing who already is known by PGA Tour players who have competed against him, a list that includes Rickie Fowler. “This guy can play,” said Fowler, who faced him in the Korea Open last year.
Yes, but he might not be playing that much.
Kim, even though he earned his card, cannot become a Tour member until he turns 18 on June 28. The only way he can get into PGA Tour events until he turns 18 is through sponsor exemptions (no more than seven) or through Monday qualifying. Whatever FedExCup points he earns until his birthday will not show up on the list until he officially becomes a Tour member.
But he’s in, and as most players believe, talent comes through under any circumstances.
Loar can only hope that’s the case.
It took the former Oklahoma State star 13 years just to reach the Tour, and he was in good shape to return going into the final day of Q-school, just three shots out of the lead. But he showed some nerves early, began dropping shots and found himself only one shot inside the cutoff when he stood on the tee at the par-3 17th, an island green. His 9-iron came up short and went into the water, leading to double bogey. Needing a birdie on the last hole to get his card, his approach drifted left and into the water.
He missed by two.
“It’s obviously a hard day for everyone. What else can I say?” Loar said. “I tried hard. We all know how cruel the game is. I can learn from it. I persevered for 13 years, so hopefully, this won’t set me back too much.”
Final-Round Leaderboard: 1. Dong Hwan Lee 407 (-25) South Korea; T2 Ross Fisher 408 (-24) England; Steve LeBrun 408 (-24) United States.
Round by Round Leaders: Round 1 Steve LeBrun 64 (8-under); Round 2 Meen Whee Kim 132 (13-under); Round 3 Meen Whee Kim 198 (18-under); Round 4 Dong Hwan Lee 269 (19-under);
Round 5 Steven Bowditch 337 (23-under); Round 6 Dong Hwan Lee 407 (25-under).
- A total of 1,588 players sent in applications to participate in the 2012 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
- Eight pre-qualifiers, along with 14 first- and six second-stage regionals were held to reduce the field. A total of 172 players advanced to the final qualifying stage, which consisted of six rounds with no cut.
- The top 25 players and ties received PGA Tour cards for 2013. The next nearest-number-to-50 earned fully exempt Web.com Tour cards for the first 10 events in 2013, and the remainder of the field receives conditional Web.com Tour status.
- Twelve players qualified by making it through all three stages – Lee Bedford, Donald Constable, Derek Ernst, Dusty Fielding, Vince Hatfield, Stephan Jaeger, Si Woo Kim, Joakim Mikkelsen, Henrik Norlander, Bhavik Patel, Ryan Sullivan and James White.
- A total of 598 players teed off in the eight pre-qualifiers and competed for 301 spots (and ties).
- A total of 1,061 players teed off in the 14 first-stage qualifiers and competed for 255 spots (and ties).
- A total of 453 players teed off in the six second-stage qualifiers and competed for 115 spots (and ties).
- A total of 49 players were exempt into the final stage of the tournament.
- A total of 76 players in the field of 172 made their first appearance in the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
- The cut-off came at 17-under par 415 for the group.
- There were seven 2012 Web.com Tour graduates (Lee Williams, Brad Fritsch, Morgan Hoffman, Brian Stuard, Andrew Svoboda, Nicholas Thompson and Jim Herman) in the field trying to improve their eligibility standings for the 2013 season. Brad Fritsch, who was No. 18 in the Web.com Tour, is the only player from this group to improve his number. Fritsch finished T7 this week at Q School to improve his number. All seven have earned PGA Tour cards for next year via the Web.com Tour. These players did not count toward the top 25 and ties that earned their PGA Tour card through Q-School, or against the next number nearest 50 to determine fully-exempt Web.com Tour membership.
- The last international player to win Q School was England’s Brian Davis in 2004. Sweden’s Mathias Gronberg won in 2003. No player from South Korea has ever won the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.