School of Hard Knocks
For 169 pros, Q school '98 might be a final chance to make the grade
Welcome to the zombie jamboree. The annual PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament—Q school—has also been called golf's bar exam, the most grueling week in sports and many less printable names, but its evil spirit might best be evoked by a number. Total entries this year: 911.
Golf's gantlet, staged over two months at 21 courses across the U.S., advances to its third and last stage this week at La Quinta, Calif., where 169 survivors report to PGA West and La Quinta Resort for six rounds that will decide who makes the big show and who beats the bushes in 1999. The top 35, plus ties, will go directly to the golden Tour, where courtesy cars wait at every curb and the 100th-best guy makes more than $300,000. Losers go to the Nike tour, where you might get a courtesy bagel.
"It's hard to keep your breakfast down," says Jeff Brehaut, a 12-year pro who has flunked Q school 11 times. In '93, at PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Course, Brehaut needed a par 4 at the 108th and final hole to win his card. He put his drive in the fairway; then the butterflies in his stomach staged a hostile takeover of his swing. His approach shot found a pond fronting the green—twice—and a snowman put him out in the cold again.
When Brehaut returned to PGA West last week to practice, he says, "I couldn't help taking a look at that hole. If I'd made a par, what would my life be like?" At least this year's qualifying will be done at the neighboring Tom Weiskopf Course. "The Weiskopf course is tough," he says, "but there aren't any holes that make your butt pucker up."
Q school isn't love and kisses even for the best players. David Duval failed in his first try. Tom Lehman flunked out five straight times. Mac O'Grady washed out 16 times in a row, then led the final stage after 36 holes in 1981 only to shoot 80-80 and go home in tears.
Casey Martin fell short in stage two this year, making Robert Gamez the biggest name at the finals. After slipping through Q school in the fall of '89, Gamez, a dashing dude who was one of the first to wear wraparound sunglasses on Tour, won twice in '90 and was rookie of the year. But he hasn't won since. He was injured in a car wreck this year and missed 15 of 24 cuts to sink to 195th on the money list. Like 16 other 1998 Q schoolers who have Tour titles to their credit, he lost his card. Now the glam Gamez is just another hopeful like Brehaut, whose '92 Explorer has 130,000 miles on it and who didn't relish forking over the $4,000 tuition for Q school.
"Seven is a lucky number," says Brehaut. "I've been to the finals six years in a row. Maybe on my seventh try I'll get the job done."
On the Beam
The latest cure for putting problems is laser light. More than 25 Tour pros, including Steve Elkington, Lee Janzen, Colin Montgomerie and Payne Stewart, have seen the light this year, a red beam emitted by Dave Pelz's LazrAimer. The $400 device can help correct what short-game specialist Pelz sees as the most common cause of putting woes: bad aim. Players spend years tinkering with their putting strokes, but as Pelz says, "If you don't aim right, you won't make many putts."