Doug Barron has a newly won Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the Tour, and is in the field at Q-School this week.
Greg Nelson/SI
Thursday, December 08, 2011

Joseph Bramlett is a 22-year-old former star at Stanford who qualified for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and got a sponsor's exemption into last month's Frys.com Open.

Mac O'Grady is a 59-year-old free thinker with an enviable swing whose best golf would seem to be behind him.

They are both in Monterey, Calif., at the Bayonet and Black Horse courses, for the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School, a stress-fest that attracts hopeless romantics, the briefly famous, PGA Tour winners, can't-miss kids that missed, and others.

The 72-hole event began at Houston's Redstone Golf Club on Tuesday, and at five other sites across the country Wednesday.

The major tours are mostly dark this week, with Europe as the lone exception.

Rory McIlroy, sporting a new, blond hairdo, is at the UBS Hong Kong Open, where he's finished second two years in a row.

Others in the field for Europe's penultimate event include Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Y.E. Yang and John Daly.

Stateside, the PGA Tour ended at Disney World last Sunday, but this week nevertheless promises four of the most significant and compelling days in golf, as long as you know where to look.

Stage two is full of college hot shots like Bramlett, but more compelling are the guys who peaked not so long ago (2004 British Open winner Todd Hamilton, who's at TPC Craig Ranch, in McKinney, Texas), the human-interest stories (two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton at Hombre Golf Club in Panama City, Fla.), and the five-minute phenoms (Ty Tryon, Southern Hills Plantation Club, Brooksville, Fla.; David Gossett, Redstone).

James Driscoll, who lost a one-hole playoff to Zach Johnson at the 2009 Valero Texas Open, was the early leader at Redstone after shooting a first-round 66 on Tuesday. Gossett shot 73, while Doug Barron shot 74.

Click here to follow the latest scores from Q-School.

The PGA Tour suspended Barron, 41, for testing positive for a beta-blocker and testosterone last year, but with his suspension over and with a newly won Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the Tour, the Memphis golfer said he felt great Tuesday.

After briefly flashing across your TV screen only to quickly disappear again, he and Driscoll are trying to elbow their way back onto the main stage, but they're just two of many such players.

Like Bramlett and Compton, Tryon qualified for the U.S. Open at Pebble last summer, but unlike them he made the cut. It provided just a glimmer of hope, but really, that's all it takes.

Greg Owen took a two-shot lead into the 17th hole at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in 2006, only to three-putt from three feet and fall into a tie with Rod Pampling, who won the tournament when Owen lipped out his 13-foot par putt on 18.

He's been trying to give himself another chance ever since.

Owen dropped out of the top 125 in '07 but made hay on the Nationwide in '08, playing his way back onto the PGA Tour for '09. He earned a respectable $764,000 that year, only to struggle again this season: 10 made cuts, 183rd in money ($269,000).

Money takes on a different meaning at Q-School.

It costs players $2,500 to enter pre-qualifying, and if they get through that, $4,500 to enter stage one of actual Q-School. The second stage costs $4,000, the third $3,500.

Today, Owen is at Hombre, which will split the field onto two courses called the Bad and the Ugly. For the feared, loathed second stage of Q-School, that sounds about right.

Of the 448 players who got this far, only about 156 plus ties will make the third and final stage — bleak odds, but not terrible.

What's terrible is that there is no safety net this week, making the second stage like the grim salesmanship competition in Glengarry Glen Ross, which compels viewers to feel for old Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) because, well, third place, you're fired.

Tadd Fujikawa, onetime darling of the Sony Open in Hawaii, who won an eGolf Tour event in August, is at the Bayonet and Black Horse courses. So is Brett Quigley, who has won $10.5 million in 14 seasons on the PGA Tour.

A couple of years ago Geoff Ogilvy was asked if there were any more great Australian golfers we should be keeping an eye on.

"Andrew Buckle," Ogilvy said.

Buckle is at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, Calif., for stage two this week. (We're still keeping an eye on him.) So is Bob May, who famously lost a playoff to Tiger Woods at the 2000 PGA Championship.

Then there are the guys you've never heard of but whom you cheer for anyway, like Zane Scotland, who sounds like he should be a Glaswegian children's entertainer but is at Hombre this week.

Golf Channel will televise the third and final stage at Orange County National in Orlando, Dec. 1-6. The top 25 plus ties will get their Tour cards. The rest go to the Nationwide in 2011.

The six-round third stage is the only one that's televised, but it can be hard to watch. Jaxon Brigman shot the qualifying score on the number at Doral in 1999 only to inadvertently sign for one shot worse and miss his Tour card.

Alas, we are a nation of second chances. Brigman, 39, is at TPC Craig Ranch this week, still trying. Unless you prematurely donated your heart to science, you kind of hope he gets through.

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