Former standouts look to regain form
In the fall of 2011, John Huh was a Los Angeles muni legend and a Korean Tour winner when he earned his PGA Tour card during the Q-school at PGA West.
In his first year on tour, the 22-year-old South Korean, who left Cal State Northridge to turn pro at 18, won the Mayakoba Classic and finished 28th on the money list, earning rookie of the year honors and a spot in the 2013 Masters.
Huh was one of just nine players to keep his card from his Q-school class. This year's crop out of that grueling six-round marathon includes a 17-year-old, a former Ryder Cupper, a two-time heart transplant recipient, an 11-time winner on the European Tour and a king of the Monday qualifier.
Yet 12 of the 25 graduates have previously held tour cards. This has been the trend over the last 20 years, as the Q-school has become less about introducing fresh talent than it is a vehicle for fledgling players to get back on tour.
Since this is the last Q-school class to get an automatic promotion to the big tour -- next year it will only give you a ticket to the Web.com Tour -- who will be the newsmakers among them in 2013?
Huh set a precedent in 2012 that will be hard to match, but there are some very good players in this batch hoping to prove that Q-school can still produce players with staying power.
1. Si Woo Kim
As the youngest player in PGA Tour history to earn a PGA Tour card, 17-year-old Si Woo Kim will be in the spotlight when he can officially become a tour member in June on his 18th birthday.
The South Korean, who finished in a tie for 20th at PGA West, will be something of a novelty on a tour where most players usually reach full maturity in their early 30s. Kim will also have his detractors who believe that he's too young for the rigors of tour life.
The last kid his age to get his card out of the school, Ty Tryon, in 2001, missed 22 of 27 cuts in his two years on tour and has struggled since then mostly on the mini tours.
Kim will essentially be a non-member of the tour until the summer. He can take up to seven sponsor's exemptions and try an unlimited number of Monday qualifiers, but his first few months on tour could be very difficult with the unpredictability of his schedule.
Hopefully, by the time he's a bona fide tour member, the novelty of his age will have worn off and he can just be one of the guys.
2. Patrick Reed
Before the advent of the all-exempt top 125 tour in 1983, a regular tour member could spend half of his year relying on Monday qualifiers to get into events. Hardly anyone except the very top players was assured of a spot in a field.
Nowadays, Monday qualifying -- where players have to shoot in the low 60s to get one of the two or three spots in the field -- is primarily the province of journeymen and young players trying to gain experience.
In 2012, no player was better at Monday spotting than Patrick Reed, a 22-year-old former Augusta State star who used that route to get into six tournaments during the season. Reed, who finished in a tie for 22nd at Q-school, made eight of 12 cuts on the PGA Tour this year, including a tie for 11th at the Frys.com Open.
Reed, who led Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA men's titles, has the pressure-tested game that could work wonders on the weekends at PGA Tour events. His experience and comfort level with Monday qualifiers shows he is not afraid of shooting low scores in stressful situations.
I would not be surprised to see him take rookie of the year honors.
3. Billy Horschel
Billy Horschel is a big-time Florida Gators football fan and a former standout golfer at the Gainesville school. At times, his game and attitude on the course can swing with the alarming swiftness of a blocked kick or a pick-six interception.
In 2012, the 25-year-old former Walker Cupper had a conditional card on the PGA Tour but didn't make enough money in his 17 events to earn full status for 2013. This happened despite making 15 of 17 cuts and taking third at the True South Classic.
Horschel could become a real contender in the coming season if he learns to manage his emotions.
4. Robert Karlsson
In July during a Tuesday practice round at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Robert Karlsson walked off the golf course after two holes and withdrew from the tournament. The 43-year-old 11-time European Tour winner had a seemingly incurable case of the full-swing yips. He couldn't pull the club back from the ball.
At the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in June, Karlsson stood in the middle of the 16th fairway for two minutes struggling to start his swing. Once he pulled it back, he hit a horrid shot.
He saw a sports psychologist or two and solicited the advice of Garcia, who famously had his bouts with compulsively regripping the club early in his career.
Karlsson, who finished 160th on the PGA Tour money list in 2012, got the yips under control and regained his card for next year with a tie for 14th at Q-school. It will be interesting to watch how his season unfolds and if he can keep the yips from inching back into his psyche.
5. Erik Compton
Erik Compton is best known in the golf world as a two-time heart transplant recipient. When the 33-year-old Miami native got his card for the first time last fall, many of us were hoping that the arc to his heroic story would be completed with a win on the big tour.
That's the stuff of made-for-TV-movies and books.
But the former Georgia golfer struggled this season and had to go back to Q-school, where he finished in a tie for seventh to relaunch the dream.
Regardless of his future number of cuts and top-10s, Compton is already a major success story. But he wants more. His heart troubles might be the most prescient thing you know about him, but he also wants to be known as a PGA Tour winner and a guy who makes a successful living at playing golf. That's the heart of the matter.