Canadian PGA Tour player gets last spot for Bob Hope Classic after player withdraws

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Matt McQuillan

Matt McQuillan

With one phone call on Wednesday morning, Matt McQuillan’s plans for the week changed dramatically.

The PGA Tour was calling to let the Kingston golfer know one final spot was available in the Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, Calif., after Donnie Hammond withdrew because of a groin injury.

“I found out about two hours before (Hammond’s scheduled) tee-off time,” said McQuillan, a tour rookie after graduating from qualifying school last month. “I was told to come to the golf course before the first tee time just in case something would happen. It turned out the guy with (the last) tee time (withdrew). It was exciting.”

The excitement sure didn’t end there. Taking advantage of the last-minute invitation as the third and final alternate to gain entry, McQuillan caught fire on the back nine and finished at seven-under-par 65 on the PGA West Palmer Course.

That puts McQuillan, 29, in a tie for fourth, just two strokes back of Derek Lamely of Belleville, Ill., entering the second of five rounds.

Not bad for a guy who had no idea he’d be playing until the first round already had started — Hammond was in one of the final groups of the day.

“You never really know,” McQuillan said when asked if he expected to get in. “We (him and caddie David Linquist) were excited for the week and just looking forward to getting going. We went through the normal preparation (like they) would for any other tournament just in case. If I didn’t get in, I was still sticking around here and practising.”

McQuillan, who was working at a pizza restaurant in Kingston just three years ago while taking a break from pro golf, had four birdies and his first PGA Tour eagle on his back nine (he started on No. 10). The eagle came on his 15th hole, a par-5, when McQuillan hit the green with his second shot and then drained a 13-foot putt.

“It was great,” said McQuillan. “I hit two perfect shots to get it in the centre of the green. I had a simple putt and I dropped it.”

It’s been a whirlwind five-day stretch for McQuillan, who made his PGA Tour debut on Friday at the Sony Open in Honolulu, Hawaii.

There, he shot two-under-par in his first round and made the cut by draining consecutive birdie putts on his final two holes of the second round.

After finishing in a tie for 54th, McQuillan spent Monday travelling back to California and didn’t get into bed until 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Later that morning, he headed to PGA West to play the 36 holes on the two courses he hadn’t played at the four-course site.

“It’s been a grind, a long couple of days,” said McQuillan, who is staying in Palm Springs (about a half-hour away) in a residence owned by fellow Kingston native Graham Sly.

McQuillan played the Palmer course before heading to Hawaii. He made Palm Springs his home base after Christmas.

McQuillan said the long practice day Tuesday paid off in the first round at the Hope.

“I’ve been working on something the last few days,” McQuillan said. “It’s kind of hard to trust something new out on the course, but I’ve been talking to my caddie about it and just trying to trust it.

“It’s just about staying relaxed.”

McQuillan is the top Canadian. Stephen Ames of Calgary and Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C. are at three-under and former Masters champion Mike Weir shot even-par in his first round of the year on the tour.

The cut (low 70 and ties) is not made at the Hope until after the fourth round on Saturday.

If McQuillan needs inspiration, he can do some research on John Daly. Back in 1991, the then-little known Daly grabbed the last spot in the PGA Championship in Carmel, Ind. when Nick Price withdrew to be with his expectant wife.

All Daly did was win the thing.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” McQuillan said. “Hopefully, the putts keep dropping and I stay relaxed and have fun.

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Matt McQuillan makes cut in first PGA event

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Matt Mcquillan

Matt Mcquillan

Though it was not a super Sunday in Hawaii, Matt McQuillan’s debut on the PGA Tour certainly will go down as a success.

The Kingston golfer made the trimmed-down cut with a big finish in the second round of the rain-delayed Sony Open on Saturday, allowing McQuillan to play the final 36 holes on a gruelling Sunday.

While McQuillan settled for a tie for 54th (56 players played the final two rounds instead of the usual 70 and ties due to the rain-out on Thursday), just earning Sunday playing privileges was quite a feat for a man ranked 1,000th in the world golf rankings. For his efforts, McQuillan earned $12,705 US.

McQuillan, who was five-over for the final two rounds to finish at two-over for the tournament, qualified for Sunday play by notching birdies on his final two holes on Saturday. He made a clutch 12-foot birdie putt on his 17th hole and then two-putted on his final hole ― the par-5 ninth ― to move on.

“He wasn’t sure if he needed one or two (birdies heading to his 17th hole),” Kevin Dickey, McQuillan’s coach, said. “When he walked up to (the final) green, he knew he needed to two-putt.”

Playing 36 holes with no more than a half-hour break on Sunday proved to be a daunting task.

In the big picture, however, the result has to please McQuillan. Twenty-seven rookies teed off at the Sony Open and just five were still playing on Sunday.

Three Canadians were in the field (the others were David Hearn of Brantford and Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C.), but only McQuillan survived the axe.

And 144 players started play and many big names exited before McQuillan, including Vijay Singh, John Daly and Charles Howell III.

“Overall, it’s fantastic,” Dickey said. “He’ll make some money and everything helps in the re-shuffle. He got up and down quite a bit. He knows even when he’s not playing great, he can hang in there.”

American Mark Wilson won the tournament at 16-under.

McQuillan heads back to California on Monday. He is the third alternate for this week’s Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, so he has to play the waiting game.

Next week’s Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego features a bigger field ― meaning McQuillan is a very good bet to get in for that tourney.

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Home town crowd awaits Canadian’s debut on PGA Tour

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MattMcQuillan

Matt McQuillan

The plan right now is for Matt McQuillan to play in his first-ever PGA Tour event at next week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, but maybe not. Wherever McQuillan does make his debut, television ratings will spike at least somewhat as the historic city of Kingston tunes in.

His homies sure had the social media outlets buzzing as they watched McQuillan, 29, tie for 16th at qualifying school last month, which touched off a flood of e-mails and phone calls.

“I’ve had just great support and it was definitely magnified after Q-school. Everybody had their well wishes and I appreciate all of them,” he said. “It’s great to have lots of followers and people’s support and I just hope I can perform well.”

Before he does that, he has to know when he’ll get a chance to perform. He’s No. 31 on the priority list for getting into tournaments, which means, at least early in the season, McQuillan will have to wait until the Friday before each event before knowing if he’s in or out.

Still, he’s taking care of business. Last week, McQuillan was in the California desert, playing practice rounds for the Bob Hope Classic, another tournament he hopes to get into after the Sony. Whatever event marks his debut, McQuillan is armed with the confidence of a solid performance at Q-school.

“I’m sure it will be pretty overwhelming at first, but I think once the first tee shot is hit, I’ll settle in nicely. I’ve always been pretty good at doing that,” said McQuillan, now happy that he decided to return to golf after a two-year absence.

Before earning his card, McQuillan had taken a couple of stabs at Q-school, the previous try coming in 2005, but he took off the 2007 and 2008 seasons to work at home.

“It was financial issues. I just ran out of money and I felt a little tired of asking people for it,” he said.

“Working in Kingston over those two years made me realize how good I had it playing golf for a living and I was getting keen about getting out there again and was fortunate enough to find some support from home,” McQuillan said.

Much of that local support came from members at the Garrison Golf and Curling Club, where McQuillan played most of his life, so he set out once again, mostly playing the eGolf mini-tour around the Carolinas and the Canadian Tour, so his rocket to the PGA Tour seems somewhat unlikely.

“I do see where people are coming from with that,” he admitted.

“I’ve been playing competitive golf for a number of years and always realized I had the potential to get to the next level, but without performing, you start to have some self-doubts, but I had a lot of support from back home and people believed in me that I can do it and finally believed it myself,” McQuillan added.

After his 11-under performance at Q-school, he says his confidence is solid, but it was a little shaky at the beginning.

“It was, probably going into the first stage,” he said. “I hadn’t played particularly well most of the year. There were some good tournaments, but not as many as I’d like.”

Towards the end of the season, McQuillan and Kevin Dickey, who has been his coach for 16 years, decided it was not only time for some minor swing changes, but also some attitude adjustment.

“It was mostly being more positive on the course and accepting that mistakes are going to happen and all you can do is move forward,” he said.

Move forward he will, if not next week then likely the week after, but even though most people in the gallery won’t know him, McQuillan knows there are familiar faces back home giving him an added push.

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The winner of the PGA Tour Q-School finals is…

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stricker-will-caddie

Graduation Day

Veteran Billy Mayfair, a five-time PGA Tour winner, birdied his next-to-last hole on Monday to break a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard and claim medalist honors as the six-day, 108-hole PGA Tour Q-School finals came to an end.

A total of 29 PGA Tour cards for 2011 were awarded, as the cutoff came at 9-under par 420. A total of 26 players finished at 10 under, but two players in that group (Michael Putnam and Justin Hicks) had already earned their cards by virtue of finishing among the 25 leading money winners on the 2010 Nationwide Tour and did not count toward the total of 25. Therefore, the cutoff fell to 9 under par and allowed three additional players (Scott Gordon, Billy Horschel, Will Strickler) to collect a card for next year.

Mayfair shot a 2-under 70 in the final round on the Crooked Cat course at Orange County National and finished at 18-under par 411, one shot better than William McGirt (68/Crooked Cat) and Ben Martin (71/Crooked Cat). Mayfair, 44, was making only his second career trip to Q-School and his first since successfully navigating Q-School in his first attempt back in 1988, when he tied for 21st. He finished No. 142 on the 2010 PGA Tour money list, with a tie for third at the Turning Stone Resort Championship his best finish.

“A win is a win, I don’t care if you win this or if you win your match play back at home,” said Mayfair, who earned $50,000 as medalist. “A W is a W and I’ll take the feather in my cap. But watching these young kids, watching Ben (Martin) and Bio (Kim) play today under the pressure, I mean they had a lot more pressure riding on this than I did. Basically I was playing all week to be able to play through April. After April, I was going to be able to play pretty much everywhere I wanted to anyway with my status. It was good to win, but man, there are some good young players and fearless.”

Also winning a card was Joseph Bramlett of Stanford, who becomes only the second golfer of black heritage on the PGA Tour — the other, of course, is Tiger Woods. He shot a 4-under 68 at Crooked Cat to finish at 11 under and tied for 16th.

On the final hole of the final round of the final stage, Bramlett delivered a putt that had him roaring, pumping his fist and high-fiving his caddie in celebration.

“It’s an honor. It truly is an honor,” the 22-year-old Bramlett said, soaking in the moment. “Like I’ve said before, it’s been a long time. I’m just thrilled to see it start to change.”

Bramlett rallied from 33rd at the start of the day to make the cutoff by two strokes. He finished 11 under to tie for 16th.

“We’re popping the champagne, baby,” Bramlett’s father, Marlo, said by phone from San Jose, Calif. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t drink. So we’ll give him a bunch of water bottles when he gets back.”

Woods wrote on Twitter: “Congrats to Joe Bramlett for making it through Q School” and “Amazing feat considering he sat out a whole year with wrist injury. Can’t wait to play with him next season.”

Bramlett bogeyed his first two holes but rallied with incredible putting. He finished with seven birdies that included one on the 17th, where he missed the fairway, was forced to lay up and made a 25-foot putt.

And just for an exclamation point, Bramlett knocked in an 8-foot putt to save par on the 18th that avoided the agony of having to sweat out the final groups.

“He’s so clutch. You almost expect it to go in every time,” his caddie, Don Allio, said.

Bramlett grew up outside San Jose in a multiracial family — his father is black, his mother is white — and endured the odd stares at junior events when his parents followed him on the course. He plastered posters of Woods on his bedroom wall after the 1997 Masters, and he later competed in the Junior World Championship in San Diego with a team sponsored by the Tiger Woods Foundation.

When he was 14, he became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in 1992. He was All-America his freshman year at Stanford, when he helped lead the Cardinal to an NCAA title. Bramlett flew straight home to California to try to qualify for the U.S. Open, losing out in a playoff.

He also overcame two injuries to his wrist that nearly derailed his career at Stanford.

“I never doubted it would happen,” he said. “This has been my dream since I was a little kid.”

McGirt ran off a string of five consecutive birdies starting at No. 10 Monday to surge up the leaderboard and assure himself a spot on Tour next year. McGirt moved from 13 under to 18 under with the run and eventually finished with a 4-under 68, putting him at 17 under par and tied for second place.

McGirt, 31, just completed his rookie season on the Nationwide Tour by making 17 cuts in 24 starts. He had eight top-25 finishes, including a season-best tie for third in his first start, the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open. He finished No. 34 on the 2010 money list, which exempted him into this week’s final stage. He has made a total of two career starts on the PGA Tour and missed the cut in both, including this year’s Shell Houston Open.

Martin was tied for second after the first and second rounds, was the outright leader after the third and fourth rounds and shared the fifth-round lead with Mayfair.

Second-year pro Cameron Tringale rode an early hot streak to a PGA Tour card. Tringale started his round at Crooked Cat eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie and was quickly at 17 under par. He would add one more birdie and a double bogey, and shot a 4-under 68 to reach 16 under and solo fourth.

Scott Stallings birdied his final two holes to earn his first PGA Tour card. Stallings shot a 1-under 71 at Crooked Cat and wound up 12-under par 417. One year ago Stallings, 25, missed his Tour card by a single stroke after a bogey on his 15th hole and three consecutive pars to close his round.

Strickler bogeyed the final hole for a 4-over 76 but managed to hold onto his Tour card. Playing in the next-to-last group, Strickler’s bogey dropped him back to 9 under for the week, but still good enough to finish tied for 27th and earn his card. Had Strickler made par, exactly 25 players would have gotten their cards, but the bogey allowed Gordon and Horschel at 8 under par to sneak into the group.

Gordon had three-putted the final hole from 50 feet, missing a 3-footer for par, and dropped to 9 under. He  was on the outside looking in and waited more than an hour and a half before Strickler’s hiccup put him back inside the cutoff number.

Three players ran off streaks of five consecutive birdies Monday and all of them wound up earning Tour cards for next year: McGirt (Nos. 10-14/CC), Bramlett (Nos. 8-12/Crooked Cat) and Chris Baryla (Nos. 1-5/Crooked Cat). Baryla finished at 12 under par this week but had decidedly different results on the two courses. He shot scores of 72-73-74 in Rounds 1, 3 and 5 on the Panther Lake course (par 71/6 over par), and rounds of 61-71-66 in Rounds 2, 4 and 6 at Crooked Cat (par 72/18 under par)

Brett Waldman, best know as the caddie for Camilo Villegas, wound up tied for 64th place, which guarantees him a spot on the 2011 Nationwide Tour if he wants it.

“We had a nice little conversation after he finished the Chevron (World Challenge on Sunday),” said Waldman. “He said it has always been a dream of yours to play on the PGA Tour. He said he was pulling for me and if I decide to play he would respect that. He also said if I did qualify, then I should play. So obviously I’ve got some decisions to make with my family.”

Also among the notables who didn’t qualify out of Q-School: two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton and veteran Briny Baird, who lost his card on the final hole of the year at Disney World to finish No. 127 on the money list.

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Last year’s U.S. Amateur runner-up heads to final round up by 3 strokes

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BenMartin

Ben Martin leads by 3 strokes

Ben Martin, the runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Amateur, carded a 4-under 67 on the Panther Lake course at Orange County National on Friday to move to 13-under 201 through three rounds of the PGA Tour Q-School finals. He enters Saturday’s fourth of six rounds with a three-shot lead over fellow Clemson University golf standout and teammate Kyle Stanley (who had a 69 at Panther Lake).

Zack Miller, James Driscoll and Cameron Tringale are four shots back at 9 under. Miller carded a 67 at Panther Lake, while Driscoll and Tringale had 69s there.

Second-round leader Chris Baryla carded a 2-over 73 at Panther Lake to fall to 8-under and a tie for sixth. Brett Waldman, the caddie for PGA Tour star Camilo Villegas, carded a 71 at Panther Lake and is tied for 37th.

The top 25 after Monday’s sixth round earn PGA Tour cards for 2011. The next 50 are exempt on the Nationwide Tour.

The best rounds of the day were a 65 on the Crooked Cat course, and 66s from Joe Affrunti, Billy Horschel, Nate Smith, Luke Hickmott, Paul Stankowski and Bio Kim.

Jonathan Kaye was disqualified on Friday, while John Riegger, Darron Stiles, Joe Ogilvie, George McNeill and Pablo Martin all withdrew.

Martin completed his degree at Clemson in December of 2009 but did post-graduate work in order to compete for the Tigers last spring. He is a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference selection.

Martin and Stanley are joined in the field by four additional former Tigers: Charles Warren (tied for 10th), Tommy Biershenk (tied for 42nd), Brent Delahoussaye (tied for 104th) and Eliot Gealy (tied for 118th).

Four players have posted all three rounds in the 60s this week: Martin (66-68-67), Driscoll (68-68-69), Tringale (69-67-69) and veteran Billy Mayfair (69-69-68).

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