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    • Different strokes for different folks at Web.com Tour Q-School

    • Jon Curran made a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole of Q-School to finish inside the top 45. (Cohen/Getty Images) Jon Curran made a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole of Q-School to finish inside the top 45. (Cohen/Getty Images)

     

    LA QUINTA, Calif. – Jimmy Gunn didn’t turn pro until he was 27, playing full-time amateur golf and caddying at Scotland’s historic Royal Dornoch before trying to turn his passion into a profession. Six years later, he was at the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament's final stage for the first time.

    His competition at PGA West included Justin Thomas, a PGA professional’s son who first made a PGA TOUR cut at 16 years old. Thomas, now 20, also was making his debut at Q-School finals, just months after turning pro and a year after beating out Jordan Spieth for college golf’s top awards.

    The 152 men who assembled at PGA West on Dec. 12-17 for the final stage of the Web.com Tour’s Q-School all had different stories. Gunn and Thomas exist on disparate ends of the spectrum. Everyone at PGA West shared the same goal, though: try to secure as many starts as possible on the Web.com Tour. With the Web.com Tour being the sole route to the PGA TOUR, each additional start carries added importance.

    The Web.com Tour’s eligibility ranking – the list that determines who gets into tournaments – is in flux throughout the season. Every four events, players are re-ranked based on the current season’s earnings. Q-School’s top 45 finishers, like Thomas (T-32) are exempt through the first two re-ranks, guaranteeing they’ll stay high in the rankings for the first eight events. The top 10 at Q-School, like Gunn (T-6) stay atop the reshuffle for the first 12 events; Q-School's winner, Zack Fischer, is fully exempt for the entire season.

    This was the first Q-School that didn’t offer PGA TOUR cards. Those prizes were gone, but pressure remained. For many in the field, this was the biggest week of their career. Tuesday’s final round had the same familiar scenes of Q-Schools past. Players were greeted by tearful hugs, high-fives and handshakes after climbing down the scoring trailer’s four metal steps. Cell-phone calls were made and pictures were taken to commemorate the occasion.

    “It’s one thing if you win or lose a tournament, but here you either leave with a schedule or without really having a schedule,” said Thomas, who helped Alabama win the NCAA title and the United States win the Walker Cup in 2013. “It was nerves I really hadn’t felt before. It’s extremely stressful, and such a long week. It’s unlike anything you can really prepare for.”

    Q-School has gotten the best of many players. It also provides the opportunity for inspiring displays of fortitude.

    Thomas was in danger of leaving PGA West with little status after a third-round 78 that included a quadruple-bogey 8 on the PGA West Stadium Course’s 18th hole. A final-round 65 on that same course helped him finish 32nd. Brett Lederer shot 14-under 130 (64-66) in the final two rounds to finish 26th at 15 under. Fischer shot 75 in the first round, but was 34 under par in the next five rounds to win by two shots. Sebastian Vazquez rose more than 100 spots on the leaderboard in the final three rounds, finishing 26th after closing 63-66-68.

    Jon Curran holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to finish in the top 45 without a shot to spare. He also holed an 85-yard wedge shot on the final round’s fifth hole. The Vanderbilt alum, a pro since 2009, had the best season of his career this year, but a Q-School miss would have soured the success.

    “You have to continue to prove yourself,” said Curran, the NGA Tour’s 2013 player of the year. “Whether it was PGA TOUR status or Web.com Tour status available, you have to break the tape at the finish. I had a great year … but you have to play well at Q-School to have the year really mean anything.”

    In Curran’s first Q-School attempt, a 9 at the final hole kept him from advancing to the final stage. Blayne Barber knows how Q-School’s importance can create cruel outcomes. Barber, a member of the United States’ strong 2011 Walker Cup team, was without status this year, his first full year as a pro, after he disqualified himself from Q-School’s first stage in 2012 for signing an incorrect scorecard after improperly assessing himself a penalty for brushing a loose impediment in a hazard.

    He easily earned Web.com Tour status this time, shooting five sub-par rounds to finish 22nd. Barber couldn’t leave PGA West without one last rules run-in (he also was disqualified earlier this year for signing an incorrect scorecard while in contention halfway through a Web.com Tour event), though. Before signing his scorecard Dec. 17, Barber stood in the rules trailer mimicking a putting stroke to two rules officials. His ball had moved on the 18th green before he addressed it and he wanted to ensure he didn’t need to add a penalty stroke. Better safe than sorry. After being exonerated, he was free to celebrate his first Web.com Tour card.

    “I’m thankful to get through. There’s a sense of relief knowing I’ll have somewhere to play next year,” Barber said. “It was a long six days. I’m glad it’s over.”

    He’s not the only one.

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