BROOKSVILLE — One comparison to PGA Qualifying School is minor-league baseball.
It's a way to bring up prospects.
Q School, as it is known to golfers, is the PGA's annual filter system, using four stages at locations across the country. It is for talented, up-and-coming golfers and veterans who have lost their playing cards and want another shot at the PGA Tour.
If a golfer makes it to the final stage, he will earn either a PGA card for 2009 or at least status on the Nationwide Tour. Second-stage tournaments are taking place through the weekend, including one at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville through Saturday.
"Like any major sport, there's turnover of players," PGA Tour rules official Steve Rintoul said during Monday's practice round before Wednesday's second-stage start at Southern Hills.
"There's a cycle of people who lose their status or guys who want to qualify. And what's good about the tour is we make room for new players to come in and make a name for themselves.
"Even if they don't qualify for the regular tour, getting on the Nationwide Tour is the next-best thing," Rintoul said. "It's a chance to prove themselves. This qualifying here is so important to our business and (to) realign the new players and to find the best players to get on the tour."
Stage is set
At Southern Hills, a 79-player field will be whittled to the top 20 and ties, and those golfers move on to the final qualifying stage, Dec. 3-8 in La Quinta, Calif.
"A lot of young players have aspirations to play at the top level, and this is the starting point," Rintoul said. "This second stage, though, has always been the most competitive of the stages.
"This is like going to a Double-A (baseball) game, and then going to the finals is like going to a Triple-A game, and hopefully, some will graduate to the majors."
Starting with the Pre-Qualifying Stage, which has four tournaments in September, 35 to 40 players from each move onto the first stage. From there, 11 tournaments are held in October, and the top 25 and ties from each, plus players with exemptions, move to the second stage. The second stage advances the top 20 and ties from six tournaments.
The final stage is played over six rounds. The field consists not only of second-stage winners but players who received exemptions into the final stage.
Recently Q School has gotten more attention because of John Feinstein's book Tales from Q School: Inside Golf's Fifth Major. Another Q School story has been the comeback of Erik Compton, who five months ago received his second heart transplant. Compton, who is playing at Southern Hills, was diagnosed when he was 9 with cardiomyopathy, an enlarging of the heart. He received his first transplant in 1992. A heart attack in October 2007 forced another one.
"It's a grind, but at the same time, it's your life, your job," Q School player and Lakeland resident Travis Perkins said. "You got 80 guys out here, and there are only so many spots, and getting through all three stages (after prequalifying) isn't easy. This is your one opportunity, if you have not had (tour) status, and then you don't have to play minitours the following year. That is added pressure, though, the guys put on themselves."
The right seasoning
"I think this is a good test that turns into a filter system for the tour," Zephyrhills resident and Q School player Travis Hampshire said.
"Really, this is all about experience with the Q School: knowing what to do and when to do it, playing under pressure and really not thinking of the outcome and staying in the moment. And once you've been doing that for a few years, you learn to take it one shot at time and get on the tour."
And it's about looking for that big break, with skill and a dash of luck.
"It gives guys who missed out on their (PGA Tour) card another place to play," Land O'Lakes resident and Q School player Brennan Webb said.
"It's run by the PGA, so it gives it a tour feel, because if you're not going to play up there, you're still going to play some minitour or something like that.
"It filters everyone into the one feeder system and gives you an idea on where you stand, how you can be a better player," Webb said, "and of course, make some more money."