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Bill Dwyre

There is life after pro golf's Q-school

December 12, 2006|Bill Dwyre | Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

This is the week of the Tiger Woods Target World Challenge. Southern California gets to watch 16 of the world's finest pro golfers in this elite event at Sherwood Country Club.

Tom Byrum is a pro golfer. He has played on the tour for 21 years and has won $6.2 million, $3 million less than Woods won this year.

Byrum won't be at Sherwood. The thought never entered his mind. He will be at home, in the Houston suburb of Richmond, thinking about his chances on tour in 2007, and pondering what might have been a week ago in the California desert.

Last Tuesday, at the PGA Tour's qualifying school, over several golf torture chambers in La Quinta, Byrum shot 75 on the final 18 holes of a six-day, 108-hole grind. He three-putted for the first time in the tournament on the par-three 17th, then missed the green with an eight-iron on the 18th and took another bogey.

When they added up the scores, the top 40 golfers (including ties) had earned tour cards that allowed them entry into most '07 events without having to play qualifying rounds. That is a huge deal, in almost all cases a guarantee that your family will have to get by next year with, say, no less than $250,000. A scramble, certainly, but doable.

Those 40 players all shot totals of 424 or less. Byrum was one of four at 425.

Along the way, he needed just one more par, one fewer lipped cup, one fewer side-hill lie.

But lest we get too carried away, this will not be a sad story of a near miss that led to the Byrum family's living in their car and selling pencils on the corner.

This is not about 1999, when Jaxon Brigman signed an incorrect scorecard and missed the tour card by one shot. Or 2000, when Joe Daley rolled in a four-foot putt, which popped back out when it hit an edge of the cup that had been incorrectly inserted. Daley, too, departed one shot shy of his card.

No, Tom Byrum is fine. Moreover, he is representative of the depth, wealth and complexities that make the pro golf tour such a huge success.

Byrum's reaction after missing his tour card by one shot?

"I wasn't devastated," he said. "I wasn't beating myself up. If you are looking for that guy, I'm not him.

"I missed out on the $20,000 that went to all the guys a shot ahead of me, and I wasn't happy about that. But I wasn't one of those young guys, putting it all on this."

Byrum's case is unique. He hadn't played since June, when he had surgery on his right knee. The PGA Tour gave him an injury exemption, meaning that, since he had played only 11 events and still was eligible for 17 more in '06, according to his playing status, he will get those 17 in '07.

Had he been one shot better and gotten his card, it might have meant only three or four more events for him, anyway. Plus, as a past winner -- Kemper Open, 1989 -- he also is accorded a status that might get him into three or four more, depending on how many others with higher status enter.

"There are tons of scenarios for me to have a very good 2007," said Byrum, adding that his first event probably would be the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in early February.

Even lower down the finishing list at the Q-school were Duffy Waldorf, UCLA's charismatic and popular longtime pro, and Lee Janzen, a two-time U.S. Open champion. Each will play plenty next year.

There are spots for the top 125 in money winnings from the previous year, then more spots in less crowded tournaments for Nos. 126-150. Then there are Q-school spots, and spots reserved for successes on the Nationwide Tour, spots for people who have won events or done well in majors and on and on.

Besides all of those, there are sponsor exemptions.

John Daly had a lousy year, but, thanks to sponsor exemptions, you'll see plenty of him because his 350-yard drives and teddy-bear personality sell tickets and charm corporate check-writers. Daly will play at Sherwood, will be by far the lowest-ranked player on tour at No. 193 and will draw among the biggest galleries.

The Target World Challenge winner will get $1.35 million. The top four players by rank in the field -- Woods, Adam Scott, Luke Donald and Geoff Ogilvy -- totaled nearly $22.5 million in 2006 in Tour winnings. In 2004, Vijay Singh topped $10 million, then Woods did it in '05.

The PGA Tour is a horn of plenty. The rich get richer and the others have to stretch a little for that third home in the Hamptons.

"One of the days at Q-school, I played with a young guy from Washington state," Byrum said. "You could see he had lots of talent. A really good player. But then, it all started to get to him. He got upset with his misses and started to think about the consequences. Pretty soon, out came the driver when he didn't need it. Then he was out of the running.

"I wanted to take him aside and tell him to relax, that with his talent he'd make it, that there was enough to go around."

At 46, Byrum should know. Easing the sting of those two closing bogeys at Q-school is the knowledge that his injury-abbreviated season still brought him $101,094 and that his $6.2 million in career earnings averages out to $296,500 a year.

Then, of course, in four years, he can have a try at the similarly lucrative Champions Tour, the mulligan of life for rich men, 50 and over.

Life is not rough in the rough, folks.

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