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.