Considering all that he’s accomplished in a 20-plus-year PGA Tour career – five victories and $18.6 million in earnings – the last place one would expect to find Billy Mayfair was at Qualifying School battling to keep his status for the 2011 season.
But the two-time USGA champion – he won the 1986 U.S. Amateur Public Links and the 1987 U.S. Amateur – had slumped in the last two seasons, slipping to 159th on the PGA Tour money list in 2009 and 142nd this year. While Mayfair could have earned his way into a number of 2011 events by virtue of his top-150 standing on the 2010 money list, the Arizona native came to Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge in Winter Garden, Fla., looking to improve his status.
It was Mayfair’s first visit to Q-School since he graduated from Arizona State and turned pro 22 years ago. Back then, he was one of the country’s best amateurs, fresh off an appearance in the 1987 Walker Cup Match and having been selected as the college Player of the Year.
“Most of my friends following me then had dark hair,” the 44-year-old Mayfair told Golfweek.com. “Now they’re all gray.”
But Mayfair isn’t quite ready for retirement. With a final-round 2-under-par 70 on the Crooked Cat Course on Monday, he edged William McGirt and 2009 U.S. Amateur runner-up Ben Martin for medalist honors in the six-round event. Mayfair finished with a 108-hole total of 411 (18 under par) to earn $50,000 and more importantly, become one of 29 golfers to collect a 2011 PGA Tour card.
The next 50 finishers earned full Nationwide Tour cards for 2011, with the remaining golfers in the 153-player field receiving conditional status on the 2011 Nationwide Tour.
“A win is a win,” Mayfair told PGA Tour.com. “I don’t care if you win this or if you win your match play back at home. 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.”
Five other past USA Walker Cup players also earned PGA Tour cards, led by 2009 participant Cameron Tringale, who shot a final-round 68 at Crooked Cat to finish fourth (413). Tringale, a three-time All-American at Georgia Tech, played on the PGA Tour in 2010, but made just five cuts in 22 starts. He tied for 19th last year at Q-School.
Michael Putnam, a member of the 2005 team, had already earned his PGA Tour card by finishing 25th on the Nationwide Tour money list. But the University Place, Wash., native and Pepperdine University graduate decided to participate in Q-School with the hope of improving his status so he could get in more West Coast events at the start of 2011. His decision paid off as he shot a final-round 69 at Crooked Cat to share sixth at 414 (14 under).
Kyle Stanley, a Gig Harbor, Wash., native who played in the 2007 Match and was an All-American at Clemson, closed with rounds of 69 (Panther Lake) and 68 (Crooked Cat) to share ninth at 13-under 416. His final round included an eagle-2 at the par-4 ninth hole.
“That was probably the best finish of my life,” Stanley told the Independent Mail of Anderson, S.C. “It’s surreal right now, but I’m sure it will hit me before long that I’m on the PGA Tour.”
James Driscoll, the 2000 U.S. Amateur runner-up and 2001 Walker Cup participant, was a medalist in the second stage of Q-School, and the former University of Virginia standout continued his fine form in the first four rounds with scores of 68-68-69-66 to put himself in solid position to return to the PGA Tour. A 75 on Sunday still had the Boston native among the top 10 entering the final round. He shot a 72 at Crooked Cat to share 16th at 11-under 418. This will be Driscoll’s fifth season on the PGA Tour after finishing 157th on the money list in 2010.
And 2007 Walker Cup member Billy Horschel, who shot a USGA-record 60 at the Chaska (Minn.) Town Course in the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 2006 U.S. Amateur, garnered one of the final spots, despite a final-round 74 at Crooked Cat. Thanks to a bogey by fellow University of Florida golfer, Will Strickler, on his final hole, Horschel was able to get his card on the number (9-under 420).
Horschel missed most of the 2010 season with a wrist injury, but was planning to play the 2011 season on a medical exemption. That won’t be necessary now that he has a PGA Tour card. Horschel will still be considered a PGA Tour rookie in 2011 because of his limited starts this past season.
Martin and Driscoll weren’t the only U.S. Amateur runners-up who had reason to celebrate on Monday. Michael Thompson, who lost to Colt Knost in the 2007 final at The Olympic Club and was the low amateur at the 2008 U.S. Open, shared 16th position with a final-round 70 at Crooked Cat.
Martin, who graduated from Clemson in May and turned pro after playing in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, had entered the final round tied for the lead with Mayfair. He handled the pressure well with a 1-under 71 to tie for second.
And for the first time since 1985, an African-American successfully navigated Q-School. Former Stanford star Joseph Bramlett, who qualified for the 2010 U.S. Open, shot a 68 at Crooked Cat to tie for 16th. The last African-American to survive Q-School – Tiger Woods has never gone through the process – was Adrian Stills 25 years ago. At this year’s U.S. Open, Bramlett, who endured two wrist injuries while at Stanford, played a couple of practice rounds with Woods.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard my dad cry before,” said Bramlett, who qualified for the U.S. Amateur at 14. “To end that 25-year [African-American] drought means the world to me, my family and everyone who has helped me along the way. It’s an honor. It truly is an honor. Like I’ve said before, it’s been a long time. I’m just thrilled to see it start to change.”
For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Bramlett, Q-School also delivered its usual heartbreaking moments.
Jeff Quinney, the 2000 U.S. Amateur champion, closed with a 74 at Crooked Cat and missed his PGA Tour card by one stroke. Former Walker Cup participant Erik Compton, who has undergone two heart transplants, finished bogey-bogey and missed earning full-time Nationwide Tour status by three strokes.
Two other past Walker Cup participants, Jason Gore (1997) and Nicholas Thompson (2005), also will have to settle for the Nationwide Tour in 2011 after they finished tied for 41st (423).
Danny Lee, the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion who won a European Tour event in Australia as an amateur in 2009, also will playing the Nationwide Tour in 2011 after tying for 64th (426).
Others who will have partial Nationwide Tour status in 2011 include two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and past Walker Cup members Edward Loar, Chris Nallen, Billy Hurley III, Brock Mackenzie and Matt Richardson (Great Britain and Ireland).
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.