Preview: Final stage of Q-school set to begin

Eighteen players who made it through 108 holes of stomach churning last year at Q-school earned their PGA Tour cards, and what did that get them? A return trip to what many consider to be the toughest six days in golf.

The reality of Q-school is that six days is not nearly as difficult as the 10 months that follow.

The final stage of PGA Tour qualifying starts Wednesday at Orange County National in Orlando, Fla., and most of the 166 players would do well to remember the words of Rich Beem. He was asked what his goal was after earning his tour card in 1998.

"Keep my job," Beem said, pausing after each word.

"Are you kidding?" he continued. "I was so lost out there, I didn't even figure out until after the tournament in Hawaii that they gave us free food. I ate hot dogs at that tent between the first and 10th tee all week. I never expected to be where I am now. I wanted to keep my job, or at least say that I played on the PGA Tour for a year."

Next year will be his 10th straight season on tour. Not bad for a guy who was selling car stereos in Seattle.

Beem is one example of why Q-school remains as meaningful today as its first year in 1965. Guys like Beem are why some two dozen players will leave Orange County National next Monday with high hopes.

If nothing else, a PGA Tour card is a license to dream.

Beem eventually found player dining in the months after Q-school, and drinks were on the house when he won the Kemper Open. He was one of three Q-school grads from the class of '98 who were PGA Tour winners the next season. The others were Carlos Franco, who won twice, and Mike Weir, who in five years went from Q-school to Masters champion.

Yes, the hard part is keeping your job, but the good news for Q-school finalists is that 1998 was hardly a fluke.

One only has to look back one year to find George O'Neill. He was an assistant pro at Forest Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla., when he decided to try Q-school again. After failing in eight previous trips, he was the medalist and finally earned his card.

"I'm ready to see what I can do," O'Neill said that day.

He wound up winning the Fry's.com Open in Las Vegas, joining Brian Bateman (Buick Open) and Mark Wilson (Honda Classic) as PGA Tour winners who only a year ago were grinding away in Q-school. Bateman and Wilson got their cards on the number.

This happens more than people realize.

A year ago, J.B. Holmes went from Q-school medalist to FBR Open champion in two months. The year before that, Sean O'Hair narrowly made it through Q-school, then won the John Deere Classic to earn a spot at St. Andrews for the British Open.

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