The finale of 2012 Q School marked the end of an era in terms of qualifying for the PGA TOUR, and the history books will show Dong-hwan Lee as the last winner of the event as we know it.
Beginning next season, Q School will provide only a path to the Web.com Tour. Thus, this was the last chance for a player to chase the dream of playing on the PGA TOUR without likely having at least a one-year detour to the Web.com Tour.
There is always the chance for a player to convert a Monday Qualifier or a sponsor exemption into enough cash to earn status, but those examples are few and far between.
When looking at the 26 graduates, there are many PGA TOUR veterans including nine regulars from the 2012 season. (Note that Brad Fritsch tied for seventh in Q School after already advancing via the Web.com Tour.) There is also a group of younger players ready to get their feet wet on the game’s biggest stage and on the heels of excellent amateur careers.
Of the grads, only Chez Reavie has a victory to his name. With the strength of this class, it is only a matter of time before he is joined by one of the members of his graduating class in a winner’s circle.
This year’s graduates face challenges that those in the past have not. Namely, with the elimination of the Fall Series, this will be the shortest PGA TOUR season in any of their professional careers to date.
The ramifications are widespread. The obvious impact is that these 26 men won’t have the luxury of the Fall Series -- with historically weaker fields -- to earn cash down the stretch. It won’t be just the absence of those events that harm them. Many TOUR mainstays will opt to play an extra event or two more than normal since they don’t have the Fall Series as a safety net. Any current TOUR player that doesn’t have a 2013-14 card locked up is a threat to take starts that normally trickle down to Web.com Tour and Q School grads.
I’ve broken down each of the graduates, highlighting several relevant areas. A look at their TOUR record, where applicable, will allow insight as to how consistently a player has been with making cuts and converting those into top 10s.
The Summary and 2013 Expectations are fairly self-explanatory, and I’ve projected if a guy will finish inside the top 125 to maintain his card, in the 126-150 range for conditional status, or outside the top 150. Those who finish 126-200 will be part of a four-tournament playoff (i.e. Web.com Tour Finals) for PGA TOUR cards in 2013-14.
I mention a current or recent PGA TOUR player of which the graduate reminds me. For known veterans, it would go without saying that they remind me of themselves but I’ve listed another contemporary that speaks to their ceiling. The comparison could be that a player’s stats line up similarly; the events in which he excels or other more arbitrary reasons. Think of it like a U.S. Open first-round pairing sheet. The parallel is there; you just have to figure it out!
I also highlight a few tournaments that could lend themselves well to the player. Keep in mind, that’s subject to them gaining entry.
Name: Dong-hwan Lee ** ROOKIE **
TOUR record: one event (MC at the 2007 Open Championship)
Summary: Owns two wins on the Japan Golf Tour, the most recent at the 2011 Toshin Golf Tournament. While not a familiar name for many mainstream golf fans, Lee ranked sixth in the all-around ranking, 10th in driving accuracy and 21st in GIR on the 2012 Japan Golf Tour. He entered Q School 224th in OWGR.
2013 Expectations: He will get plenty of starts early in the year and, if his navigation of Q School is any indicator, I expect him to finish inside the top 125. Given his driving accuracy and GIR rankings, expect him to show up when accuracy is at a premium.
Reminds me of: Seung-yul Noh
Impact Tournaments: Sony Open in Hawaii, The Honda Classic, RBC Heritage
Name: Ross Fisher ** ROOKIE **
TOUR record: 37 events; 24 cuts made; six top 25s; two top 10s
Summary: It’s no shocker he made it through barely two years removed from competing for the Europeans in the Ryder Cup. It’s somewhat laughable that he's technically a rookie, but that’s the case. He’s a world-class player and a bomber, but 2012 wasn’t his best year. However, don’t forget that he came close to winning several majors in 2009. He finished inside the top 30 in all four that year and was fifth at the U.S. Open held on Bethpage Black. He also finished T13 at the Open Championship after fading with a final-round 75.
2013 Expectations: Assuming he devotes his schedule to playing enough events in the U.S., as it appears he will, he will finish inside the top 125. Look for him to be a factor in any tournament where length is at a premium.
Reminds me of: He needs no comparison, but I’ll say Bubba Watson.
Impact Tournaments: Farmers Insurance Open, Waste Management Phoenix Open, Wells Fargo Championship
Name: Steve LeBrun ** ROOKIE **
TOUR Record: three events; one cut made (T46 in the 2012 U.S. Open)
Summary: He’s a grinder that has spent his share of time on the Web.com Tour and mini tours. In 2012, he went 14/21 on the Web.com including six top 25s and four top 10s to finish 56th on that money list. He was 25th in GIR on the Web.com Tour and seemed to do well in events where scores were higher, including a fourth at Miccosukee with a 5-under tally and tied for ninth with a 1-over at the Panama Claro Open. He played in the Second Stage of Q School the day after the birth of his second child.
2013 Expectations: This is a tough year to be an unheralded 34-year-old rookie. He’s playing good golf but he must adjust quickly on the fly in a shortened season. He will have to take advantage of events that reward par as a good score, likely meaning the Florida Swing is a key to his success. Despite a great number and some recent good form, too many years of unspectacular golf leave him outside the top 150.
Reminds me of: William McGirt
Impact Tournaments: The Honda Classic, Tampa Bay Championship, FedEx St. Jude Classic
Name: Richard H. Lee
TOUR Record: 24 events; 12 cuts made; four top 25s; one top 10
Summary: He ran out of time in 2012. He was a rookie on TOUR who made the cut in six of his last seven events, including a tie for sixth at the Justin Timberlake, after adjusting to life on the game’s biggest stage. His stats were strong, finishing 10th in driving accuracy, 20th in GIR, 59th in strokes gained-putting, 37th in birdie average and 74th in the all-around category.
2013 Expectations: He may compare well in 2013 to what Charles Howell III did in 2012. That means contending once or twice, posting a handful of top 25s and making the cut most of the time to easily finish inside the top 125.
Reminds me of: Charles Howell III
Impact Tournaments: AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Reno-Tahoe Open, Wyndham Championship
Name: Billy Horschel
TOUR Record: 49 events; 26 cuts made; eight top 25s; three top 10s
Summary: He’s coming off a year where he learned how to make cuts, surviving 15 of 17, including a third at the True South Classic. He cashed in his last 11 starts to finish 147th on the money list. Minus the putter, his stats were solid across the board. He ranked 22nd in driving accuracy, 14th in GIR, 17th in total driving, 35th in all-around ranking, 36th in scrambling, but 113th in strokes gained-putting.
2013 Expectations: This should be the breakthrough season for the former University of Florida All-American. With plenty of early starts in his pocket, I expect him to make some early money and finish inside the top 125.
Reminds me of: Ryan Moore
Impact Tournaments: Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Travelers Championship, True South Classic
Name: Kris Blanks
TOUR Record: 102 events; 52 cuts made; 15 top 25s; seven top 10s; two runners-up
Summary: He was in the midst of a below-average 2012, making just 11 of 23 cuts with one top 25 before injuring his shoulder in July. Between the John Deere Classic and the Second Stage of Q School, he wasn’t able to work on much other than putting. The additional time with the flat stick may have been the formula for his Q School success, as he ranked 185th in strokes gained-putting in 2012 before the injury. His ball-striking seems to have picked up where it left off despite little practice. He was 26th in driving accuracy and 45th in GIR in 2012.
2013 Expectations: This is a dangerous one because we don’t know if his play over his last 10 rounds is sustainable. His mindset for Q School was a very simple one of trying to sprinkle in a few birdies with a bunch of pars. Given his history of making about half of his cuts in over 100 events, I like him in the 126-150 range.
Reminds me of: Ken Duke
Impact Tournaments: Puerto Rico Open, RBC Heritage, Travelers Championship
Name: Erik Compton
TOUR Record: 56 events; 34 cuts made; two top 25s
Summary: After numerous starts over the years before finally gaining status, his rookie season ended with him earning checks in 16 of 26 events, but with just one top 25. While it would be logical to think his final-round scoring average trailed off due to conditioning following two heart transplants, he actually had a final round scoring average (71.43) almost identical to his pre-cut average (71.35). He finished the year 165th on the money list and in the middle of the pack in strokes gained-putting at 94th, but struggled in GIR (154th) and driving accuracy (138th).
2013 Expectations: He will get starts early thanks to his number, and it is important that he make the most of them. With just two top 25s in 56 starts, I don’t see him cracking the top 150 this year.
Reminds me of: There really is nobody quite like Compton when you factor in what he’s overcome medically.
Impact Tournaments: Humana Challenge, The Honda Classic, John Deere Classic
Name: Brad Fritsch ** ROOKIE **
TOUR Record: five events; one cut made; zero top 25s
Summary: As the only player to earn a card via both the Web.com Tour and Q School, he improved his number from 18th on the Web.com Tour to virtually assure him of earning more starts early in the year. He finished his year with top 20s in four of his last five starts, upping his top 25 total to 10 and his top 10s tally to seven.
2013 Expectations: I had him in the 126-150 range before Q School and, as tempted as I am to elevate him, the competition is just too stiff to bump a 35-year-old rookie up any higher. His week at Q School verifies my feelings following a successful season on the Web.com Tour.
Reminds me of: Will Claxton
Impact Tournaments: Puerto Rico Open, Travelers Championship, True South Classic
Name: Jin Park
TOUR Record: 39 events; 14 cuts made; one top 25
Summary: Since failing to retain his PGA TOUR card in 2008, Park has played the Web.com Tour. He made 10 of 20 cuts in 2012, with the highlight a tie for third at The Rex Hospital Open. He ranked 35th in putting average and 11th in driving accuracy.
2013 Expectations: With limited PGA TOUR success and having failed to graduate from the Web.com Tour in each of the last four seasons, I’m inclined to chalk Q School up as a flash in the pan. His lack of length – 139th in driving distance – limits the type and number of courses where he can be a factor. I don’t see him cracking the top 150.
Reminds me of: Kevin Kisner
Impact Tournaments: AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Puerto Rico Open, John Deere Classic
Name: Fabian Gomez
TOUR Record: 26 events; 16 cuts made; three top 25s; one top 10 (all totals occurred in 2011)
Summary: A year after cashing 16 times on the PGA TOUR, he had a solid year on the Web.com Tour. He saw the weekend in 14 of 23 starts, including five top 25s and a runner-up at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. The driver held him back, ranking 118th in total driving, but managed a 46th spot in the all-around ranking.
2013 Expectations: There is some reason to be optimistic as he is making more cuts than he’s missing on all levels. His number should be good enough to get into plenty of events on the West Coast. To be sure, he can’t be trusted in tournaments where the driver is the make-or-break club. Given the talent of the other grads this may be a stretch, but I’ll take him in the 126-150 range.
Reminds me of: J.J. Henry
Impact Tournaments: Puerto Rico Open, FedEx St. Jude Classic, True South Classic