The pressure at the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School is comparable — some might even say greater — than what’s felt at major championships.
But while par is often a good score at a major, that number wasn’t much help at La Quinta’s PGA West last month.
The field of 160 had to go low to get a 2009 PGA Tour card — lower than ever before, actually. The top 25 players and ties (28 in this case) posted 19-under-par 413 or better for six rounds, two strokes lower than the previous mark in 2001. Medalist Harrison Frazar, who torched the Nicklaus Tournament Course with a 59 in the fourth round, tallied a 32-under 400 to tie Stephen Allan for the lowest winning score in the history of the event.
Five players with Southern California ties earned full-time status for the coming PGA Tour season. Here’s how they did it and what to expect from them in ’09.
Local tie: The San Diego native was a force on the local junior golf scene before a stellar collegiate tenure at UNLV.
How he got in: A clutch par save from a bunker on the par-4 18th hole at the Nicklaus course (his 108th hole) sealed his spot on the cut line. A final-round 69 was especially sweet because it came on Riley’s 35th birthday with his brother Kevin on the bag.
Credentials: Riley has earned nearly $10 million on the PGA Tour, highlighted by a victory at the 2002 Reno-Tahoe Open.
Quotable: “I was nervous all day. Usually you’re nervous the first couple of holes, but it never went away,” Riley said about Qualifying School pressure.
What to look for: Riley and his wife, Michelle, have two young daughters, and the Tour veteran has kept golf in perspective. While still not a dominant ball-striker, his short-game prowess should enable him to pop up on leaderboards again.
David Berganio Jr.
Local tie: Berganio, who plays out of Sylmar, grew up in Pacoima and started playing golf at age 12 when his parish priest gave him a starter set of Chi Chi Rodriguez clubs.
How he got in: After beginning the final round on the cut line of 14-under par, Berganio shot lights out on the Nicklaus layout, making seven birdies and no bogeys for a 65 and a top-10 finish. In a format where every mistake is magnified, Berganio didn’t have a single blemish on his card during the last 54 holes.
Credentials: One of only eight players to win the United States Amateur Public Links title at least twice, Berganio had high expectations when he turned pro 15 years ago. He has three Nationwide Tour victories and a playoff loss to Phil Mickelson at the 2002 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Quotable: “I was a hotshot amateur. To this day, I felt I’ve never really fulfilled my potential because of injury,” he said after securing his card.
What to look for: Berganio has been hampered by back problems for five years. He can make some noise if he stays healthy, but it will be interesting to see if he can handle the full-time grind again physically.
Local tie: Kelly moved to La Quinta a few years ago to hone his game year-round and play PGA West and other desert courses as often as he likes.
How he got in: Kelly shot a 68 in the last round of second-stage qualifying at Beaumont’s Oak Valley Golf Club to eke into the final stage on the number. His status wasn’t nearly as dicey at PGA West, as a 66 in the first round and no rounds above 70 easily got the job done.
Credentials: With only one PGA Tour start (the 2005 U.S. Open, where he missed the cut), Kelly will be learning on the fly in 2009. He’s bounced around mini-tours and spent much of 2008 on the Canadian Tour.
Quotable: “Being down here, living here and playing these golf courses has helped a ton,” said Kelly, who moved to the desert from Washington. “Knowing the greens, knowing my lines off the tee, knowing where I am going to hit — I pretty much know what I’m going to hit off every tee.”
What to look for: Kelly could get an early chance for a strong showing in front of friends and family at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. His lack of experience on Tour might hurt him at first, but it’s a long season and he showed enough game at Q-School to suggest he could finish inside the top 125 on the money list.
Local tie: The Lakewood resident was a CIF champion in high school and won the 1998 United States Junior Amateur crown.
How he got in: Oh posted a double bogey on his first hole of the final stage en route to a so-so 71. He quickly reversed his fortunes with a 63 and punctuated his performance with 68.
Credentials: One of the region’s more accomplished juniors, Oh was 21 when he won the 2003 Mark Christopher Charity Classic at Empire Lakes in Rancho Cucamonga. He hasn’t made many headlines since, but he finished third on the Golden State Tour money list last year.
Quotable: “When I won in 2003 at the Mark Christopher, I was really nervous. Out here this week, I wasn’t as nervous,” he said after his Q-School experience.
What to look for: Despite having never played in a PGA Tour event, Oh seems confident heading into his rookie year. The talent is there, and if he can develop the consistency that was lacking during his time on the Nationwide Tour, he has a chance for success. But it could take time.
Local tie: The Northridge native played golf at Granada Hills High School and briefly at College of the Canyons. He’s worked odd jobs to support his golf journey, from delivering pizzas to being a caddie at Sherwood Country Club.
How he got in: Along with Troy Kelly, Vranesh was one of eight players to make it through all three stages of Q-School. Vranesh medaled in the first stage at Beaumont’s East Valley Golf Club, then made it on the number at the second stage in Lantana, Texas, despite a 76 in the final round. At La Quinta, he began the final round at 12-under par and tied for 38th. A flawless 65 vaulted him to 19 under and secured his card.
Credentials: Vranesh, 31, is the definition of a journeyman golfer. He had conditional status on the Nationwide Tour in 2007 but made only one cut, and he’s toiled on circuits such as the Gateway and A.G. Spanos tours. Vranesh has received motivational wisdom from his cousin, Major League pitcher Jon Garland, who attended the final round at Q-School.
Quotable: “Just like you play baseball or football, you don’t play to just play, you play to be with the best and be the best,” a teary-eyed Vranesh told the Golf Channel after earning his card.
What to look for: Vranesh has a handsy swing, which could foster streaky play. He’s completed one dream, so the next step is to make some cuts. He is friends with fellow pros Charley Hoffman and Pat Perez, so advice on staying grounded is there if he needs it.