David Duval flunked Q-school twice, and both times came away feeling good about himself.
Because at least he tried.
The question is how many others, who haven't achieved nearly as much, will even bother.
Duval was one of those can't-miss college stars — he had the 54-hole lead at a PGA Tour event as an amateur — but in his first attempt to get on tour, he failed miserably. He didn't even make the 72-hole cut for the final two rounds of qualifying school.
"Failed miserably? Thanks," he said with a chuckle. "Actually, I birdied five of the last 10 holes in the fourth round. Moved right up to the number to make the cut. Then watched that arrow move right up to 2 under and I was out. But I gave it my best shot."
Duval returned last year with a resume unlike any other at Q-school — a 13-time tour winner, British Open champion, former No. 1 in the world. He didn't want to be there. But without a tour card, Duval felt that's where he was supposed to be.
His five-year exemption from winning the British Open ended in 2006. He used a one-time exemption for being top 25 in the career earnings, received an extra year because of health issues at home, then used his exemption for top 50 in career money. He finished 130th on the money list in 2009 to lose his card and faced a tough decision.
Duval could still get in a fair number of tournaments, and since he remained a popular figure in golf, he could count on sponsor exemptions to get him through the year. Instead, he packed away his pride and headed back to school.
"I don't know why you wouldn't," he said. "You do what you need to if you're serious about playing great golf. I'm sure at some point, the people at these tournaments who decide on sponsor exemptions look at who goes to Q-school and tries to do it themselves. Because they know you're working, you're going. You've got to make an effort on your own. Some people don't even try."
Duval failed again. He shot 79 in the fourth round, never recovered and finished in a tie for 78th, a category that doesn't even award full status on the Nationwide Tour.
As expected, Duval got into enough tournaments and received enough sponsor exemptions to put together a decent schedule. And he played well enough in two tournaments — a tie for second at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and a tie for sixth last week in the Frys.com Open — so that he won't be going back to school.
He is No. 99 on the money list with two tournaments remaining. Duval is playing Las Vegas this week, hopeful of a win. At the very worst, he gets to return to The Players Championship next year for the first time since 2006.
Was going to Q-school even worth it?
Duval thinks it was worth at least a couple of sponsor exemptions he received.
"I went to Q-school knowing that I could play well and get through," he said. "And if I didn't, that my status over 15 years and support of these tournaments would be remembered. But I didn't count on that entirely. I still went. Because I think it shows I'm doing all I can."
Duval was among 25 players who had conditional status by finishing out of the top 125 but inside the top 150 on the money list. That essentially puts them only in tournaments that have the weakest fields, and often the smallest purses.
Fifteen of them went back to Q-school, and for good reason. The six who made it through played an average of 27 tournaments this year because they had higher status. Not surprisingly, five of those six look to be a lock to keep their cards this year (the exception is Joe Ogilvie, who is at No. 134 going into Las Vegas).
The nine players who failed Q-school average just over 20 starts. From that group, Duval is the only one who has locked up his card. Robert Garrigus is at No. 122, while Aron Price is at No. 126 and Tom Pernice Jr., a 51-year-old model of hard work and high hopes, is at No. 133.
Among those who didn't go back to school was Chris DiMarco. He has played 23 tournaments and is No. 167 on the money list. DiMarco at least signed up for Q-school this year.
John Daly, meanwhile, didn't sign up again. The two-time major champion has been living off exemptions and his status as a past champion for the last four years, and those offers are starting to dwindle. His first year on exemptions, he talked about having so many that he had to turn some down — a nice problem to have. This year, he has played only 19 events and is No. 193 on the money list.
If he's serious about his game, why not go?
"I would say it's just ego," said Dean Wilson, referring not only to Daly but anyone who doesn't have a card and won't go back to school. "I can't find a reason why not to go. I think I mailed my application in before Canada."
Wilson was runner-up in the Canadian Open, and his play last week at the Frys.com Open makes him secure for next year. He didn't get out of the second stage of Q-school last year, but at least he tried. Relying on his status as a past champion, he played 16 events.
Daly isn't the only player who avoids Q-school, but he has become the face of those who would rather ask for a handout.
One incident at the start of the year spoke volumes.
Tim Herron, who finished at No. 131 on the money list last year, left his wife and three young boys at home in Minnesota to fly to Honolulu for Monday qualifying. He failed. Then he flew to San Diego and failed again. Heading out to his car at Torrey Pines, Herron mentioned that Daly had invited him to take part in a corporate outing that week in southern California.
"I told him that I'd love to help," Herron said. "But I had to Monday qualify."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects to No. 167 instead of No. 16 for DiMarco's money ranking.)