First-timers prepare for q-school debuts

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Steven Fox, the 2012 U.S. Amateur champ, had to take final exams before heading to q-school.
December 05, 2013
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM

Q-school is stressful enough. Try taking it after final exams. That’s the task facing some players competing at the final stage of the Tour Qualifying Tournament at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

They’re in q-school while still attending school, a testament to their quick success as pros. While only a few are still in classes, at least a dozen players who were on college campuses this spring advanced to q-school’s final stage, an accomplishment that guarantees them at least conditional Tour status for next season. Two current college golfers -- Cal's Michael Kim, the 2013 player of the year, and Southern California's Anthony Paolucci -- will compete as amateurs Dec. 12-17 at PGA West’s TPC Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses (click here for a look at what players are competing for at final stage).

The first-year pros range at q-school finals range from a trio of Walker Cup competitors and the past two collegiate players of the year to players who were never All-Americans and not even the No. 1 players on their collegiate squads.

Steven Fox, the 2012 U.S. Amateur champion, had to take two finals in Chattanooga, Tenn., before flying to an even bigger examination in California. In one sense, final stage is easier than second stage where you either "go big or go home," Fox said. He would've started 2014 without any status had he missed at second stage.

“You don’t want to say you’ve done the hard part,” Fox said, “but you’ve gotten somewhere (by making final stage). A little of the pressure is off.”

He turned pro in September after completing his career at Tennessee-Chattanooga; he’ll try to balance his first Tour season with the six credit hours remaining in his business management degree.

Fox missed the cut in all nine PGA TOUR starts he made as an amateur in 2013. Winning the Havemeyer Trophy earned him starts in some of the game's toughest tournaments, including three majors and invitationals like the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance and Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.

Fox has seen recent success after working with instructor Brad Rose, who also teaches two-time TOUR winner Scott Stallings. Fox finished 11th in his pro debut at PGA TOUR Latinoamerica’s Puerto Rico Classic, then finished fifth at q-school’s second stage with rounds of 74-66-64-72.

Kim, one of three amateurs in the q-school field, had to take one final early because it conflicted with q-school. He was finishing a paper for his Native American studies class while his q-school competitors were focused solely on their short games and swing planes.

Kim, who's in the midst of his junior season, was exempt into q-school’s second stage after making the cut at this year’s U.S. Open (T-17).

“One of the reasons I decided to play this year is because I’d have less pressure, because the worst-case scenario is that I’d just go back to school,” he said.

Other players don't have that safety net. Justin Thomas also would be in the midst of his junior year in college, but he turned pro in September after helping the University of Alabama win the NCAA Championship and the United States win the Walker Cup. His q-school finish will decide what sort of status he have at the start of the 2014 Tour season Q-school is unique, but like any tournament, low scores are always better. A higher finish at q-school means better status and more Tour starts in 2014.

“It’s stressful,” said Thomas, who beat out Jordan Spieth to be college golf's player of the year in 2012. “The more you think about it, the more you can get in trouble. I’m just going to try to take it as another event and make as many birdies as possible.”

Homa and Thomas were the only two U.S. players from this year's Walker Cup -- a team, match-play competition between squads from the United States and Great Britain/Ireland --  who turned pro after the United States' victory in New York in September; Kim also was a member of that team. Homa and Kim also were teammates at Cal, which won 11 of 14 competitions in 2012-13. The Bears' season was considered one of the best in college golf history.

Homa and Thomas both made their PGA TOUR debuts as professionals at the Open in October. Homa finished ninth, then finished 30th at the following week's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Thomas has made the cut in four of six PGA TOUR starts, including as a 16-year-old at the 2009 Wyndham Championship.

Recent Walker Cup participants have found quick success on the PGA TOUR. Harris English, Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth have already won on the PGA TOUR after representing the United States in the 2011 Walker Cup. Six of the 10 members of the 2007 U.S. team, including Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson, have won on TOUR. 

Homa, Thomas and Kim are off to a promising start as they try to replicate the success of their fellow Walker Cup alums.

FIVE TO WATCH (first-year pros, or those who have yet to turn pro) AT Q-SCHOOL
1. Max Homa, Valencia, Calif.:
The 2013 NCAA individual champion has made two PGA TOUR starts as a pro. He finished T-9 in his pro debut at the Open in October, then finished 30th at the following week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

2. Michael Kim, Del Mar, Calif.: Kim, college golf’s player of the year in 2013, is competing as an amateur. He made the cut at both the U.S. Open (T-17) and The Greenbrier Classic (T-38). He is a junior at Cal.

3. Justin Thomas, Goshen, Ky.: He beat out Jordan Spieth to win college golf’s player-of-the year award in 2012. He’s made the cut in four of six PGA TOUR starts.

4. Daniel Berger, Jupiter, Fla.: He turned pro after his sophomore season at Florida State, where he was a first-team All-American after finishing runner-up at the NCAA Championship. Berger's father, Jay, is the director of men's tennis for the USTA and was the head coach od the 2012 U.S. Olympic tennis team.

5. Anthony Paolucci, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.: Paolucci, a junior at the University of Southern California, was medalist at his second-stage site in California. He finished 29th in the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open while still in high school.