Two area golfers graduate from Q-school


Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.

He swears he never looked at a leaderboard. Not once. He knew he was playing well. He let his tee times tell him how he stood.

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Former Florida golfer Billy Horschel looks on during the PGA Tour qualifying Q-school golf tournament at PGA West on Monday in La Quinta, Calif. (AP Photo/The Desert Sun, Omar Ornelas)

The later Billy Horschel went off, the better.

Through six grueling rounds at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., the former University of Florida golfer kept trying to avoid the flaw that had him playing in the PGA Tour's Qualifying School in the first place.

That one bad round.

“There were a few rounds out there, I threw some money away,” Horschel said.

Horschel finished 147th on the Tour money list last year, placing him outside the top 125 finishers who didn't need to requalify to play big-boy golf. It meant a fourth trip to Q-school with nothing on the line except your future.

“It was a little disappointing that I didn't get my card, but I knew it would be tough,” he said. “I was fully prepared all year to go to Q-school.”

When the scores were added up at the end of the six rounds Monday, the one bad day had never materialized. Horschel's rounds of 70-65-66-71-69-68 were good enough for fourth place in an event where the top 25 get their PGA Tour cards.

His 23-under score was only two shots off of the winning score of Dong-hwan Lee.

“It's great because I can set my schedule for the West Coast, and if I play well, I can set it up for the rest of the year,” he said. “The goal is to win and win as much as I can. But the second goal is to get into The Players. Being a Florida Gator and living in Jacksonville Beach, that's something I always have wanted to do.”

Horschel wasn't the only local golfer to be among the top 26 (there was a five-way tie for 22nd). Former Buchholz golfer Bobby Gates needed a strong finish and secured his card right on the number.

“I actually thought I missed by one based on what I needed to shoot,” Gates said. “I made a good four-footer on the last hole. I knew it was important, but I didn't know how important. You never want to miss one on the last hole.”

Gates was forced to play at Q-school after missing six of his final eight cuts on Tour. But in his final three rounds at Q-school, he shot 65-69-67. Then he had to wait for 90 minutes to find out if it was good enough.

“We just shut everything off and kept checking every 20 minutes,” he said.

There were plenty of big names who failed to secure their cards. Two former major champions — Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton were among the casualties.

But for both Horschel and Gates, they only needed to look down the driving range to see a familiar face who stood as the perfect reminder of how quickly the game can come and go.

There was a time when Camilo Villegas was a rock star on Tour. The former UF golfer was a star before he ever won anything. It was a combination of his long hair, his good looks and his habit of getting on his fingertips and tiptoes to line up putts that had Villegas involved in endorsement deals before he secured his first victory.

He was the rookie of the year just six years ago. He won three times and reached a ranking of No. 7 in the world.

But there was Villegas, battling it out with 164 other golfers to try to stay alive on the Tour. He finished 144th last year, and I'm sure nobody is going to feel sorry for a guy who won just shy of $500,000 for playing golf last year.

But Villegas has the yips. If you play golf, you know exactly what they are. If you don't, try threading a needle with your job on the line. That's what a four-footer feels like to Villegas.

He was 172nd last year on the Tour in putting inside five feet. At Q-school, he missed short putts on the last three holes.

He missed by two shots.

“It's a little reality check,” Villegas told the New York Times.

It doesn't mean Spiderman will be absent from the Tour next year. He has conditional status and will have more than his share of sponsor exemptions because of his popularity. But unlike Horschel and Gates, he won't be able to set up his schedule.

“It's tough,” Horschel said. “This game can change in an instant. I think Camilo probably got a little distracted.”

That's the game. It can leave as quickly as it can come. You never have it figured out even if you're Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods.

Billy Horschel and Bobby Gates don't pretend to have it solved. They're just happy they'll be teeing it up next to those guys.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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