WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Brian Stuard had already come up agonizingly short of a PGA Tour card twice in the past 12 months. It wasn’t going to happen again this week.
He made sure of that Tuesday when he hit a 7-iron from 170 yards within 5 feet of the final hole of PGA Tour Q-School. Stuard rolled in the putt for a second straight birdie and his first PGA Tour card.
Stuard’s Tour card was hardly a certainty until that shot landed. He had bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 to fall outside the cut line.
“He didn’t make a bad swing the rest of his way,” his caddie, Russ Bethel, said. “There was a lot of determination in his eyes. He wasn’t going to let this happen again.”
Stuard hit a sand wedge within inches of the 17th hole for birdie. He rolled in the 5-footer at 18 to shoot 72 and tie for 19th at 10-under 422. Twenty-five players earned PGA Tour cards by shooting 9 under or better for six rounds at Bear Lakes’ Links and Lakes Course.
Among others that earned PGA Tour cards were former Walker Cup players Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel and Cameron Tringale. Horschel earned his PGA Tour card on his 23rd birthday.
Tournament medalist Troy Merritt and fellow former Boise State player, Graham DeLaet, also advanced.
Merritt, 24, shot five scores in the 60s to hold at least a share of the lead after each round. He finished at 22-under 410 (67-69-68-67-70-69), one shot ahead of Jeff Maggert, who at 45 was making his first Q–School finals appearance.
Merritt’s victory was worth $50,000. The second-year pro also won the Nationwide Tour’s Mexico Open earlier this year.
The Q-School champion gets a $50,000 check, but there’s no trophy presentation on the 18th green.
“The trophy is to get to play with the big boys next year,” Merritt said.
Merritt was one of nine players who earned their first PGA Tour card Tuesday. Five of them had to go three stages of Q-School. None of them had as much hardship as Stuard, though.
This time last year, he was one of those hard-luck cases that Q-School is famous for. Starting the final round in sixth place, he shot 74 and missed his card by three shots.
He entered this year’s Nationwide Tour Championship at No. 23 on the money list. A missed 8-footer on the final hole left him ranked 26th, one spot from a Tour card.
“I’ve been close a couple times,” Stuard said, “so it was nice to finally finish strong.”
Fowler, 20, advanced with two shots to spare, but his first Q-School experience was hardly without drama. He flirted with 59 – and took the lead – in the third round, but started the final round on the final number to earn a PGA Tour card. He started his sixth round with a three-putt bogey, but eagled the par-5 third and shot 70. He tied for 15th at 11-under 421.
Despite earned more than $500,000 in three PGA Tour starts as a pro this year, Fowler’s status on either the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour was going to be determined this week.
“I’ve had to deal with expectations for a little bit now,” Fowler said. “I’ve just grown to ignore it in a way.”
As with any Q-School, there are players who stumble down the stretch to lose their cards. Fowler’s fellow Bear Creek Golf Club member, Tom Pernice, was one of them. Pernice won on this year’s Champions Tour, but came to Q-School because he wants to stay on the PGA Tour as long as possible. He hit his approach to No. 18 into the water to make double bogey and fall two shots short.
Josh Broadaway, 31, was seeking his first PGA Tour card after playing the past three seasons on the Nationwide Tour. The cross-handed player shot 78 Tuesday to fall three shots short of a card.
James Hahn, 28, has never held PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour status. He would’ve earned a PGA Tour card if he’d two-putted from 70 feet on the final green. He knocked his birdie putt 10 feet by and missed the next one as well. His four-putt left him two shots outside the cut line.
The round of the day belonged to Australian David Lutterus. He started the final round two shots outside the cut line, then shot 64 to easily advance.
Lutterus had one top-25 finish in 23 starts in 2008, his first on the PGA Tour. He played the eGolf Tarheel Tour this year, winning twice and finishing 15th on the money list.
Lutterus faltered in the final round of the 2007 Q-School, which was held about two hours away outside Orlando, Fla. He watched as one of his playing partners, Y.E. Yang, remained calm and shot a low score to earn his card. Yang won this year’s PGA Championship, and Lutterus tried to mimic that calm disposition Tuesday.
“I was actually enjoying it (today),” Lutterus said. “I’ve learned to enjoy the pressure situations, which two years ago it was the opposite way.”