DAYTON — For the 24th consecutive year a PGA Tour qualifying tournament will be played at Dayton Valley Golf Club next week. And once again an extremely talented field of 78 players begin an arduous three stage journey with the goal of reaching the PGA Tour via a year of tough competition on the Web.com Tour.
Two rookies in this year’s field began their journey from a foreign country and got to Q-school through the University of Nevada Wolf Pack golf program headed by Coach Jacob Wilner since the 2010-11 season. Grant Booth came from Sydney, Australia and Kaleb Gorbahn hails from Smithers, British Columbia in Canada. Wilner recruited both players to play for the silver and blue and both credited their college golf experience for helping them reach this critical conjecture in their careers
“Any Aussie golfer who takes the game seriously wants to play in America because it’s the best competition,” Booth explained. “I think the way the college system is here, that it’s the way to go because each tournament you play it’s almost like a small pro event.
“All the fields are really deep, and the scoring is really low, so you have to be aggressive with your style of play,” he continued. “It’s either sink or swim.”
And Booth sailed through his collegiate career at Nevada like Michael Phelps slashing through an Olympic prelim. In his senior season he led the Pack in scoring in eight of 11 events and set a single season scoring record of 70.61. He was named to the All-Mountain West Conference and Ping All-West Region teams. He also finished with the Pack career scoring record of 71.86.
Booth’s achievements as a collegian at Nevada led to the highlight of his young golf career when he received a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour Barracuda Championship at Montreux Golf and Country Club. He made the most of his opportunity by making the cut and finishing in a tie for 64th with +10 points in the Stableford scoring format.
He also won the Barracuda Bonus for scoring the most points on the 18th hole by making eagle there in two of the four rounds. The bonus allowed him to designate $50,000 to charity. He donated $25,000 to the Jarrod Lyle family and Foundation in honor of fellow Australian golfer and PGA Tour pro who succumbed to cancer just prior to the tournament. The remaining $25,000 went to local charities supported by the tournament.
The experience, that included being paired with former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell in the third round, should prove invaluable as he navigates the demands of tour qualifying.
“Considering I didn’t drive the ball well that week but was still able to cash a check in my first PGA Tour event, that gives me confidence going forward,” Booth said. “I have a lot of positives to take from that week and can apply that mind set when it comes to the biggest situations.”
Gorbahn played on the Wolf Pack golf squad for two years after transferring from NAIA Holy Cross College in South Bend, Ind. He was a steady contributor along with Booth to this past seasons Nevada team that is considered one of the best in program history. A three-sport star in high school growing up in British Columbia, the Dayton qualifier will be his first professional competition. However, that doesn’t daunt the long hitter who also sports a typically rugged Canadian attitude.
“Yeah, it’ll kind of be a ‘baptism by blood,’” he chuckled. “But I wouldn’t be here if I was not confident I could get through. I’m not here to try to finish number 20 or something and make it on the number. I’m here to win it.”
Gorbahn feels comfortable playing a Dayton course he is familiar with from playing Wolf Pack team qualifiers there over the years. He thinks it will set up well for both he and Booth.
“You’ve got a lot of good players coming out to play a course that’s very scoreable if it’s soft. And, you can make a good amount of putts here,” Gorbahn said. “So, I feel you’ve got to go low to remove any doubt of getting through.”
Contrary to the approach many players in the field take to playing the Dayton Valley course, Booth feels that he has to hit driver on many of the holes to negotiate the trouble. On the other hand, Gorbahn has the length to hit hybrids and irons over the trouble. But both players agree that getting on the greens and putting will be key and they have some local knowledge advantage.
“The greens are always good at Dayton, so you just get on the greens and make a heap of putts,” Booth surmised.
Another advantage the Pack grads may have is the inspiration of one of last year’s Dayton qualifiers, Cameron Davis. A high school mate of Booth in Australia, Davis won the prestigious 2017 Emirates Australian Open. He went on to play in 14 Web.com Tour events including a win at the Nashville Golf Open Benefitting the Snedeker Foundation. He finished sixth in the Web.com Tour finals and earned a spot on the 2018-19 PGA Tour and also became the 34th player that has played in a Dayton Q-school and earn a PGA Tour card.
“We were very good friends and played on the state team together,” Booth explained. “It’s good for us to see what Cam has done because we can be doing the same thing. To see someone close to you do that it gives you a bit more belief that it’s not too far away – you just have to keep going for it.”
Also in the field is McQueen High graduate Trent Virden of Reno who will be playing in his second Dayton Q-school. He finished tied for 56th place in 2014 at 7-over par. A three-sport star for the Lancers, he chose to pursue a career in professional golf and has been playing regional pro events in addition to working in the mortgage business. He had to go back to Pre-qualifying to get into this year’s Dayton field. He finished in a tie for 24th at 2-under par in the tournament at Lantana Golf Club in Lantana, Texas on Aug. 29-31 to qualify.
Other notable players in the field include three previous medalists in a Dayton Q-school. Dusty Fielding, Richfield, Utah, was low qualifier in 2012 at 12-under; Tyler Weworski of Carlsbad, Calif., was low medalist in 2013 at 14-under and Colombian David Vanegas finished at 21-under to be at the head of the 2016 Q-school class.
The 72-hole tournament runs Tuesday through Friday with tee times starting at 9 a.m. and players teeing off in threesomes from both the 1st and 10th tees, barring the possibility of frost delay. Gallery is free to the public.